Tyler Perry doesn’t write it until his characters reveal it

The entertainment mogul, whose new Netflix film is ‘A Fall From Grace,’ says in a Chicago interview that his scripts come from dictating ‘what I’m hearing and seeing in my mind.’

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“A Fall From Grace” star Crystal Fox (foreground) laughs during a Chicago photo shoot Wednesday with the film’s co-stars Phylicia Rashad (left) and Bresha Webb and writer-director, Tyler Perry.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Entertainment mogul Tyler Perry is leaning back in an armchair. Phylicia Rashad, Crystal Fox and Bresha Webb — lead actresses in his newest project, “Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace” — sit forward on a facing couch as the four dish about the film that premieres Friday on Netflix.

“There are so many things running through it,” Perry, 50, said of the first film he’s produced for the streaming giant, also the first release from his Tyler Perry Studios since the October grand opening of the sprawling campus set on 30 acres of a former Confederate army base in Atlanta.

Perry et al. were here for the film’s screening Wednesday night at the Showplace ICON Theatres and chatted at the Peninsula Hotel that morning.

“As I’m writing, I’m really a fly on the wall, listening to the characters and letting them tell me their experience. I’m not judging them,” said Perry, the only writer on his projects. His writer’s room of one, of course, is the subject of much online debate.

“When I’m writing, I just want to know what they’re saying and why they’re saying it. I’m just literally dictating what I’m hearing and seeing in my mind. I don’t set out with a theme in mind. I don’t set out with a message. I just let them go on their journey,” he said. “As they’ll say something which will become my catalyst to find out what they meant, I’ll chase down their motivation. And so I find it in my writing the way that you’re seeing it in the movie.”

With 17 feature films, 20 stage plays and seven television shows (at last count) plus a New York Times best-selling book to his credit, the popular director, producer, screenwriter, playwright, actor, author and philanthropist is continually churning out celluloid.

Best known for the character who stars in many of his films and plays, Madea, the gun-toting, pot-smoking, loud-mouthed grandmother played by Perry himself that early on put him on the map, he has built an empire over the course of a journey from poverty and an abuse-scarred childhood to the epitome of the American Dream.

In 2011, he was named the highest paid man in entertainment by Forbes — which pegged his 12-month earnings at $130 million, and he is the first African-American ever to own a major film studio. Along the way, he has created opportunities for black actors and actresses stymied by racism in Hollywood.

“I adore this man,” said Fox. “From the time he gave me an opportunity to embody a lead like Hannah on [Oprah Winfrey Network’s] ‘The Haves and the Have Nots,’ and to be free to express my perception of her — it’s his creation, but he believes in you — it’s just been a ride of certainty,”

In the thriller, Grace Waters (Fox), a pillar of her community, is dispirited by her ex-husband’s affair, but feels restored by a new romance. Encouraged by best friend Sarah (Rashad), she embraces a second chance at love. But secrets soon erode her short-lived joy, and Waters snaps. Jailed for murder, she is represented by public defender, Jasmine Bryant (Webb). The film co-stars Perry and 95-year-old Cicely Tyson, recipient of a 2018 honorary Oscar.


As her boss (Tyler Perry, left) looks on, a public defender (Bresha Webb, standing) makes the case for a murder suspect (Crystal Fox) in “Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace.”


“This business can make you doubt yourself, and it has. The longer it has taken me to get to anything like this, I have doubted and doubted and doubted. And Mr. Perry has instilled in me, ‘You have to stop that,’ ” said Fox. “I feel I don’t need anybody else’s validation anymore. I feel committed and certain of my gift in ways that I never, ever had. And that’s priceless.”

Webb concurred, on the nurturing that Perry provides to his casts.

“I mean, just sitting here is still like, ‘Pinch me. This isn’t real,’ ” she said, getting choked up. “To sit and be present among these amazing icons, I could never have imagined. It’s so emotional sometimes, when I really take it in. I am forever grateful and so blessed to sit at the table with these giants.”

The prolific actress of screen and stage, Rashad — who in 2004 became the first black actress to win the Tony Award for best actress in a play, for “A Raisin in the Sun” — stressed the game-changing impact of Perry’s work on Hollywood’s entrenched racial barriers.


Tyler Perry greets guests at the October grand opening gala at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

Paras Griffin/Getty Images

“This is what I actually feel about Hollywood. There are places on earth that are considered vortexes. And Los Angeles is one of them. The quality of your thought manifests almost immediately. That’s all I’ve got to say about that,” said Rashad, adding, “I think it’s very interesting what [Perry’s] done. I understand that some major studios on the West Coast are now coming to Atlanta to rent sound stages and space. And that’s an impact.”

As for the film?

“Buckle your seat belts,” said Rashad.

“It’s going to be a bumpy ride,” said Fox.

“Prepare to scream and talk to the TV,” added Webb.

“And I want to invite every white person to see it,” said Perry. “Be open-minded. Don’t automatically assume it’s one thing because it’s an all-black cast. It’s a thrill ride for everyone.”

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