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Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry, co-star of the "Diary Of A Mad Black Woman" Movie!

Tyler Perry was born on September 13, 1969, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has been writing plays since he was 18. As of March 2005, his 8 plays have grossed over $75 millions in tickets and DVD sales. Before becoming a successful film-maker with 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman,' he is already the owner of a successful play company that tours the country and caters to African-Americans. His plays are also recorded and sold as DVDs. Since his first play, "I Know I've Been Changed," became a breakout hit in 1998, Tyler Perry has quietly been making a name for himself as one of the most successful playwrights in underground American theater. Now he's ready to make some noise. "This underground thing was bursting at the seams," says Perry, whose current resume boasts seven plays that have packed theaters across the nation. "There was no way to contain it. ... And there was no way for me to get the stories to the people. I had to find a bigger medium, and that would be film."

Perry, 35, wrote "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," based on his 2001 play, as his first screenplay. The film opens in theaters today and stars Kimberly Elise and Shemar Moore. Perry himself plays three roles, including the outspoken-grandmother-type Madea, who in addition to "Diary" has appeared in his plays "I Can Do Bad All by Myself," "Madea's Family Reunion," "Madea's Class Reunion" and "Madea Goes to Jail."

Perry's drag portrayal of Madea has earned fans for his live shows as well as those who've seen videos of the plays. Frank-speaking, pot-smoking Madea is a hit with churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike. "The great thing about Madea is, she's broken all kinds of barriers between age groups and different people and families," says Perry. "It's an awesome thing to have. It's about everybody."

He says church people take Madea's fondness for marijuana and guns in stride.

"You know what they appreciate about it? The realness of it," he says. "Christians, when you're walking down the street, everybody you meet is not a Christian. Madea does not profess Christianity, but the people around her do. So she represents a whole 'nother dynamic of people that they know and can respect it as long as I don't take it too far."

Perry grew up in New Orleans and turned to writing as a hobby to hash out his painful childhood memories while he was working as a used-car salesman and a bill collector for a law firm.

"In the beginning, 'I Know I've Been Changed,' about adult survivors of child abuse -- those characters, those stories were difficult for me," he says by phone from Atlanta, where he lives.

"... But I was finding my way, finding my therapy in hearing those words spoken every night. So it was tough, but ... it was supposed to happen."

Perry moved to Atlanta in 1992 with $12,000 he'd saved. He rented a theater to put on the show, and though scarcely anyone came to see it, one person who did became an investor. For six years, Perry kept performing the play -- to empty houses. Much of that time, he had no home himself.

"I slept in my car when I couldn't afford the pay-by-the-week hotels," he recalls. "I wasn't the guy who was sleeping in the box. I did have my car. But the only reason I had it is they were trying to repossess it but couldn't find it because they didn't know where I was." What was supposed to be the play's final production, at Atlanta's House of Blues, sold out eight times over and then moved to the Fox Theater and sold out twice. The symbol of Perry's success is in the film; his own mansion was used as the home of Helen (Elise) and Charles (Steve Harris).

"The house was built as a testament to my faith really, more than anything else, so that people when they see it they'll know, 'This is what can happen when you believe,' " he says. "I named it Avec Chateau, which in French means the opposite of homeless, because in my life, my prayer is for as low as I've gone, I've asked God to take me that high."

Perry now knows why it took so long for his first play to register.

"On the spiritual side of it, I was talking about forgiveness in this play, and I hadn't learned to forgive my father," he says. "Once I learned to forgive him and learned the power in that, this entire show changed. It was something that happened on the inside of me first, and then that was projected on the outside."

Having written, directed, produced and acted in theater and now written for and acted in film, Perry will make his film-directing debut with "Madea's Family Reunion." While he has enjoyed Madea, he suspects her days are numbered. "She's had a good run. My intent was to do it for a year, but the fans wouldn't let her go."

Diary of a Mad Black Woman: An Interview with Tyler Perry

Playwright Tyler Perry exits Madea stage left right on to the big screen. In his play turned film Perry mixes drama and comedy like magic. Making the audience feel wounded and cared for with hilarious anecdotes along the way.

Was it your idea to turn this play into a movie?

When I was writing the play I thought there was so much more of this story that I wanted to tell. So if I ever got the opportunity to tell the rest of the story I would. And so when the opportunity came up, I thought, it has to be Diary. It's got to be Diary.

How was the casting done for this film?

Kimberly was first. Every time I would write and I'd get stuck with a scene I would go awe man who would do this? So I called Reuben Cannon who actual did the casting and I said do you think Kimberly would do this and he said well you know she's very selective. So we sent her the material, she read it and said yeah I'll do it. That flowed for me. After Kimberly everybody else came. Of course Shemar being Orlando, there's something in him that a lot of people don't know. That when he comes from in here [chest] like he does in his films ... when he proposed in that room the entire set was silent. He nailed it. It was really powerful. So those guys were the easy ones. Charles was the hard one. We went through three different guys with Charles. Until we got to the guy that was suppose to play Charles. He was supposed to play him so much that he just happened to be sitting on a plane next to Reuben Cannon going to Vegas. They had a conversation and Reuben was like... you're who we've been looking for. So he [Reuben] says what about Steve Harris. I said The Practice guy, why didn't we think of this. So, he is Charles. He made you hate him.

In the beginning of the film, you have Helen [Kimberly Elise] being dragged out by her husband...

Yes. That needed to be establish to determine why she was so angry. I lessened it. I took a lot of the stuff out of it because I didn't want it too brutal. But when she gets revenge it makes it that much more powerful.

Often in films you find that black cast members are beaten and then the black community has to rise above that. What's your take on that type of casting?

I wanted to make sure that we we're all represented well. Not just the females but the males as well. If I'm going to show the bad side of what we can be then I'm going to show the good side of what we can be.

Where does your inspirational creativity derive from?

It comes from me... from everywhere.

How did you come about writing plays?

I was watching the Oprah show and she said it was cathartic to write stuff down. That was when I was about 18 or 19 years old. And I guess I have been writing since then, that day. I had wrote about a lot of stuff I had been through. It was a lot of different characters with different names. And a friend of mine said wow this would be a really good play. And I said maybe that's what it really is and that's how I fell into my destiny. Its' been a 100 miles an hour ever since.

How much adlibbing did you add to the film?

There was a whole bunch that we cut out. When I'm in the moment in the scene, I'm really not myself. Even Uncle Joe had some of the funniest stuff. But it will be on the DVD because I wanted to film to stay true to the story of what Helen was.

Did you ever consider putting a real woman in the role of Madea?

No. That would put me out of a job. The only woman who could be that is my aunt and my mother.

Most black communities in the south have woman of that size. It's the ordinary.

I think that's what makes it so unique. Because it'd be stuff to find a woman that big. Madea is larger than life, literally. When you see this character... she's huge. And that's all apart of the comedy I think.

Do you think some people may confuse her to be a real lady?

Well a couple of years on stage people actually thought she was. Especially if you weren't very close.

What can we expect next from Tyler Perry?

I'm working on Madea's Family Reunion. Then I'm going to go completely left and do a story about a jazz singer and a holocaust survivor in the 1940s that I want to do. So were going into a totally different direction.

What advice do you have for viewers who aspire to do what you do?

For a lot of people it's a lot of different things. For me if you have a natural talent to do things, and then nurture it, educate it into making it better. Do everything you can. It goes back to a passage in the bible... "Your gift will make room for you." And I've always believed that. whatever your gift is and it's given to you no matter what's going on in the world, no matter how many singers, no matter how many writers, your gift will make room for you in that situation. So, I always believe that. If it's your gift nurture it and make it the best that it can be.

Was this the Hollywood Homeless?

No. This is not the Kato Kalin homeless. This is Georgia homeless. It was only a 3 month period and I would stay in a pay the week hotel when I could. Or I would sleep in my car. There are various degrees to it. It's not the out on the street, sleeping in the park.

Do you think other cultures can be open to this type of film?

I say that all the time. If people can just get past the title and just go in and be open to it... it can fit to a lot of possibilities, lots of situations.


The many faces of Tyler Perry

Atlanta playwright brings 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' to the screen. For a few months back in the 1990s, playwright Tyler Perry was so broke he was living out of his car.

These days, Perry lives in a sprawling, French-themed mansion he named Avec Chateau.

"It means 'with home,'" Perry says. "It is the opposite of homeless. I don't need that much space, but more than anything, it's a testament to my faith."
Perry's suburban Atlanta estate doubles as one of the key locations in his urban comedy-drama "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which he adapted for his popular play of the same name. The movie opens nationwide Friday.

Kimberly Elise of "Beloved" and "Woman Thou Art Loosed" stars as a trusting wife who is literally dragged out of her home by her unfaithful husband, a prominent Atlanta lawyer played by Steve Harris from the TV series "The Practice."

Perry does triple acting duty, playing the husband of a drug-addicted wife, hiding behind layers of makeup to play a dirty old man named Uncle Joe and dressing in drag to play a pistol-packing grandmother called Madea. It is Madea, which is short for "mother dear," who coaches Elise's character on how to get even with her cheating husband.

"Madea is a cross between my mother and my aunt and all of those people in my neighborhood," Perry says. "She was a person who was on every corner back maybe 20 or 30 years ago. She looked out for everybody's children in the neighborhood, including her own. But times have changed now."

As they have for the 35-year-old Perry, who grew up in New Orleans but moved to Atlanta in the early 1990s.

Saving his money from working odd jobs as a used-car salesman and a bill collector, Perry invested $12,000 into staging his play "I Know I've Been Changed" in 1992. It was a huge bust, drawing just 30 people its opening weekend.

"It completely broke my spirit," Perry recalls.

But he didn't give up on it.

"It was six years of struggling, of putting the show up once a year and having the show fail once a year," he says. "But there was always someone who wanted to invest in it and take it to the next level."

Finally, in 1998, "I Know I've Been Changed" took off when it played to eight sold-out audiences at Atlanta's House of Blues and went on to tour the country.

"I totally believe in the Bible and I believe in the saying that God won't put more on you than you can bear," Perry says. "I was at the breaking point, and I really feel like God knew it and something had to change."

The play's reversal of fortune was meaningful to Perry in another way, too. It deals with the adult survivors of child abuse, and Perry wrote it to come to terms with his own abusive childhood.

"My father was a man who was extremely abusive, physically and verbally," Perry says. "I was watching `Oprah' one day, and she said it was cathartic to write things down. That became my catharsis, my therapy."

Perry, who does not yet have a family of his own, has since reconciled with his father, who has seen every one of his son's plays.

"I've totally forgiven him," Perry says. "We have good conversations. What I realize is that I can't blame him for what he did not know how to do. He just did what he knew to do.

"I had to forgive that, not only for him but for me," he adds. "It was very important for me to move on with my life, to be whatever husband or father I'm going to be in the future."

Perry followed "I Know I've Been Changed," with the stage production of T.D. Jakes' book "Woman Thou Art Loosed," which he wrote, produced and directed, and with another play, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself," which introduced the Madea character. He's written a total of nine plays, including "Madea's Class Reunion" and "Madea's Family Reunion," which he is adapting into a movie.

"I started doing this character in '99 and people were so taken by her," Perry says. "I only wanted to do it for a year but the fans loved her so much that I couldn't let her go. Every time I would try to get rid of her, they would say, `No, we need more Madea.'"

Not that Perry enjoys the extensive makeovers - about 20 minutes for the plays, closer to three hours for the movie - that he has to go through to transform himself into Madea.

"I hate the lipstick," he says. "I hate the pantyhose. I hate the weight of the (artificial) breasts. I hate having to shave more than anything else.

"So she's not a fun character to play, but as long as audiences want to see her, I'm committed to bringing her to them."

Thanks mainly to Madea, Perry has become so popular that it's hard for him to go anywhere in Atlanta these days without fans recognizing him, even sans makeup.

As he does a telephone interview from his car, a fan comes up to his window to say hello. It happens all the time, Perry says.

"Oh yeah," he says. "That's why I'm sitting outside a restaurant. I sent some people in to get food for me. I will just take it to the house because I won't be able to eat in the restaurant."

Perry misses his privacy but doesn't begrudge his fame.

"It's all a part of it," he says. "If I don't want to be bothered, I won't go out.

"I'm never going to be mean to anybody because it was these people who helped me to get here. So I'm always going to be as nice as I can."

'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' reveals Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry, playwright, actor and screenwriter, has become so well-known he has to check into hotels under an assumed name. And after last weekend, his career looks so sunny he will definitely want to keep his shades on.
Perry is writer, producer and star of Diary of a Mad Black Woman, last weekend's No. 1 movie at the box office, grossing $21.9 million, a whopping $14,771 per screen. The film, which cost just $5 million to produce, stars Kimberly Elise as a wronged woman.

His early days as a car salesman and bill collector are well over. Things have been going swimmingly for Perry for a while; he has made about $75 million staging his seven plays around the USA and owns a palatial Atlanta estate, which was featured in the film.

"I've got millions of loyal fans, predominantly African-Americans, who have supported me over the years," says Perry, 35. "My plays bring in 30,000 to 40,000 people a weekend, but my entire story has been completely underground."

Perry says his plays are born of a time when black entertainers were barred from certain theaters.

"All the money I've made has come from what has been affectionately called the 'chitlin circuit,' " he says. "When African-Americans couldn't play certain venues, they would play this market and do extremely well from the support of the African-American community.
"It's the children and grandchildren of those same people that will come out for you."

Perry uses writing to deal with a traumatic childhood. His first play, I Know I've Been Changed, about adult survivors of child abuse, came from letters he wrote to himself.

In his early 20s, he moved from New Orleans to Atlanta and saved $12,000 to stage the play in 1992. But nobody came.

The next six years, Perry says, he "had about 25, 30 jobs." On weekends he produced the play in small Southern theaters, assuming the roles of director, stage manager, makeup artist, writer, actor and composer. Finally, when he was about to give up, he staged it at Atlanta's House of Blues and drew a sizable audience. From there, his fortunes changed.

Perry attributes his success to spiritual progress.

"The kids in the play would learn to forgive their parents, but I hadn't learned to forgive my father. My own words would come back to haunt me. Once things changed in me, the words became more alive."

He has made peace with his father, who "comes to the shows and cries. We have become good friends, and I learned that parents do what they know how."

Perry's work has been maligned for occasionally jarring segues from serious topics to ribald humor.

"I'll talk about child molestation one moment; then there will be a joke, because some things are very hard to take." he says. " I've received a lot of criticism for that."

He's at work on a film about a jazz singer and a holocaust survivor. "It's a real departure," he says.

But Perry's goals remain the same: "I want to represent forgiveness and hope and finding a way through a tough situation. I want to be a place of good energy. "

Tyler Perry's Mad Hit

Hollywood is in a state of shock over the phenomenal box-office success of a small-budget film called Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which cost $5.5 million to make and has already earned more than $37 million, premiering as the number one film in the country two weekends ago. Reportedly, the film's distributor has already ordered a sequel.
The film's amazing success story is due both to a promotional campaign by African-American-oriented cable network BET, which financed the movie, and to its creator, playwright and actor Tyler Perry, who for almost 20 years has been writing and performing plays for a primarily African-American churchgoing audience, recently in national tours. Some of Perry's works have been made into videos and DVDs, which have helped make him a multimillionaire.

Diary of a Mad Black Woman is Perry's first film to be distributed in theaters nationwide. Its combination of heavy-handed sermonizing and ham-handed dialogue, religious platitudes and crude jokes, has earned the movie mostly terrible reviews, as well as angry complaints from Perry's legion of fans, who have claimed that many white reviewers do not understand the film's significance to black audiences.

I have to confess to being in the dazed-and-confused category. Diary of a Mad Black Woman has a few funny and touching moments, and Perry is a top-notch entertainer, but the movie is a mess, and its message, though certainly upbeat, is too didactic to be taken seriously.

The movie opens with a high-priced lawyer, Charles (Steve Harris), being awarded a prize as Atlanta's lawyer of the year and thanking his beautiful wife of 18 years, Helen (Kimberly Elise).

After driving her home afterward, however, Charles turns into a monster. Without a hint of irony, he calmly tells her to get the hell out of his car so that he can go to his mistress.

Helen's reaction shows that she is not at all shocked either by the affair or by her husband's manner. She looks at him with puppy-dog eyes and asks how he could be so cruel to her. This moment, five minutes into the film, is the first indication that one should not expect realism from Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

In the next scene, Helen shows up at her husband's office bearing a picnic-basket lunch--of course!--only to find him there with his mistress and her baby. Her husband coolly takes the basket from her, says thank you, and leaves her standing in the lobby.

Next scene: Helen comes home to find a moving van in the driveway and the buff, good-looking driver, Orlando (Shemar Moore), loading boxes of her belongings into the truck. She demands to know what he is doing, and he replies that he is only doing what her husband paid him to do.

Helen rushes upstairs, where she finds her housekeeper replacing the clothes in her closet with all-new designer dresses that Charles ordered.

With a naivete that strains even the suspension of disbelief, Helen assumes that the clothes are for her: her husband's way of apologizing. This is not a joke. One is supposed to feel sorry for this lobotomized woman when her husband arrives to find her wearing one of the dresses, only to be told that she is wearing his mistress's dress and that he wants her out of the house immediately. Helen puts up a good fight, but Charles literally drags her kicking and screaming to the door, tosses her outside, then slams the door in her face and locks it.

This film should not be mistaken for melodrama. Die Hard is melodrama; Diary of a Mad Black Woman is in another category entirely.

Perry plays three roles in the film: Helen's lawyer, Brian; Helen's outrageous grandmother and true star of the movie, Madea; and Madea's deadbeat brother, Joe, whom Madea allows to live in her home only so that she can "get his check."

The story--what there is of one--is designed to illustrate God's faithfulness and the power of forgiveness.

In the end, Helen falls in love with the conveniently Christian Orlando and learns to forgive Charles; Charles, who is paralyzed by a bullet from one of his drug-dealing clients, suffers and repents for the way he treated Helen; and Brian's drug-addicted wife is reunited with her family for no other apparent reason than that Perry is hell-bent to give his story a maudlin ending.

Perry is a good dramatist--not to say a good writer--in that there is not a wasted scene in the movie. As gratuitous as some of his gags may be, there are at least no sequences in the movie designed only to get a cheap laugh, which too often is the case in mainstream Hollywood comedies.

On the other hand, this does not mean that Diary of a Mad Black Woman is "character-driven," because Perry's characters are quite simply unbelievable. Though they may be based on familiar African-American stereotypes, they are nothing more than two-dimensional mouthpieces for Perry's simplistic "God will make everything okay" philosophy.

It's not that Perry is wrong to moralize; on the contrary, the problem is that Perry does not hold his characters responsible enough for their behaviors. Instead, he merely waves a magic wand over them at the end to make everything turn out the way it does in fairy tales and Sunday school. This may be comforting to some, but it should not be mistaken for morality.

As to the special significance of the film to African-American audiences, I remain flummoxed.

If there are serious problems to be addressed in segments of the black community--including adultery, materialism, and illegal drug use--they are not seriously addressed by Perry. Unfortunately, in real life, women who behave as meekly as does his Helen will not inherit gorgeous Christian knights in shining armor; corrupt philanderers like his Charles will not learn their lessons and walk the straight-and-narrow after being paralyzed; and drug-addicted mothers will not suddenly find the inspiration to kick their habits after attending their daughters' choir concerts.

Perry may be responding to serious real-world issues, but the way to tackle them is not to fatuously suggest that love will find a way.

Am I missing something?

Lions Gate Re-Teams With Tyler Perry for Next Film, "Madea's Family Reunion"

Following the success this past weekend with the national release of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," Lions Gate Film has announced that it will partner with actor and writer Tyler Perry on his directorial debut, "Madea's Family Reunion." The company released "Woman" with BET Films. The movie, adapted by Perry from his acclaimed play, earned nearly $22 million nationwide (more details on the release will be published in tomorrow's box office column).

Lions Gate will produce and distribute Perry's new comedy, according to company president of producer Mike Paseornek. Perry will direct, write, produce and star in the film, reprising a character he also plays in "Diary of Mad Black Woman." The company plans to release the movie in February of next year.

"Tyler Perry is an incredibly funny, multi-talented artist whose plays, and now films, have developed a hugely devoted following across the country," said Lions Gate's Paseornek in a statement. "He has crafted an unforgettable, hilarious character in 'Madea', and we are looking forward to continuing our relationship with him on his film adaptation of 'Madea's Family Reunion'."

Tyler Perry is a 35-year-old playwright, director, producer and actor from New Orleans. In the six years since he was homeless, Perry has made an impact in the African-American community, with seven shows.

"Mad Black Woman" producer Reuben Cannon will produce the new film. Paseornek and LGF's Peter Block negotiated the deal for "Madea's" with Matt Johnson of Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer LLP and Charles King of the William Morris Agency for Tyler Perry.

How Tyler Perry rose from homelessness to a $5 million mansion

ON a warm and breezy Georgia morning, a tall, toned and down-to-earth Tyler Perry swaggers onto the front porch of his grand palace, dressed to the nines. The 34-year-old new-school playwright, who has, he says, made over $50 million writing and producing plays for the urban theater circuit, says that his 12-acre estate, nestled some 25 minutes outside of Atlanta, is a brick-and-mortar testament to the rewards of faith. Perry should know; in the not-too-distant past, he was jobless, penniless and homeless.

"I wanted this house to be vast. I wanted to make a statement, not in any grand or boastful way, but to let people know what God can do when you believe," he says. "I don't care how low you go, there's an opposite of low, and as low as I went I wanted to go that much higher. And if there was an opposite of homelessness, I wanted to find it."

The estate he named the Avec Chateau, a French phrase meaning "with home," is the opposite of homelessness and a lot of other things.

Valued at approximately $5 million, it perhaps can be best described as 16,000 square feet of paradise. The rear of the Chateau houses two "prayer gardens," a man-made waterfall, tennis court, amphitheater and a negative-edge pool that offers the illusion of crystal blue waters flowing into a stream.

Inside the Chateau, visitors encounter powerful, unpredictable decor that plays a melodic homage to the classic, contemporary, and even the medieval era.

The dominant theme in the foyer is medievalism with a life-sized knight in shining armor "guarding" the large double doors, and an equally threatening armored warhorse peeking around the corner.

An aristocratic marble floor, spiral staircase and square interior columns make a seamless segue into the front room where a cool gray wall blends easily with the blossoming crystal chandelier and the mahogany floor. Perry says the gray hue, like many of the other colors (and wood stains) throughout the house, was achieved by accident.

"Do you know how many times I've painted this house?" he laughs. "The color scheme was trial and error. In the front room, I was looking for a grayish color and the color that I chose was actually blue. So we painted it several different times until we achieved a light gray."

In Perry's vast bedroom, a hardwood maple floor adds vigor to the gentle teal paint on the walls; venture toward the bed, the teal gradually becomes an even softer mint hue. Perry's elevated Henredon Amalfi Coast bed allows him to better enjoy his colossal picture windows. Overhead, a bronzed wrought iron chandelier accentuates the floor, bed and furnishings.

Perry's study, where he writes the popular plays that have reportedly fueled $50 million in box-office ticket sales, is both soothing and stimulating with its cherry wood paneling, large, lightly tinted picture windows and zany leopard-fabric chairs.

"When I was decorating, a lot of stuff just happened by trial and error. When I was on the road, I would send things home that I liked. I just knew that I wanted the study to be really comfortable and relaxing when I come in here to work."

A constant theme throughout the Chateau is the elephant-inspired statuettes and designs, which Perry insists is happenstance.

"I wish I had some great story to tell about my elephants, but I don't," he confesses. "But I do believe that they are a strong, good symbol, and from what I understand, when the trunk is pointed upward, that means good luck will come to you."

Lady luck wasn't too kind to Perry in the very beginning.

As a poor kid growing up in New Orleans, Perry, the middle of four children, says that his childhood was quite depressing due to poverty and physical abuse.

"I was unhappy and miserable during the first 28 years of my life," Perry reveals. "The things that I went through as a kid were horrendous. And I carried that into my adult life. I didn't have a catharsis for my childhood pain, most of us don't, and until I learned how to forgive those people and let it go, I was unhappy."

Perry found his catharsis in the form of a journal, which began his career as a playwright.

"I was watching the Oprah show one day and she said that it's cathartic to write things down, so I started writing down the stuff that was happening to me. I started using different characters' names, because if someone had found my journal, I didn't want them to know I had been through that kind of stuff. That's how my first play [I Know I've Been Changed] started, which features a character who confronts an abuser, forgives him and moves on."

Perry says that at the age of 28, he did the same.

"It's nothing like real forgiveness, a deep-down forgiveness where you don't hold any grudges against people," he says. "I forgave [everybody] for the things they didn't know and for the things they didn't know to do."

In 1992, Perry saved $12,000, rented out a theater, wrote, directed, promoted and starred in his own production of I Know I've Been Change--and it failed miserably; during its entire weekend run, only 30 people showed up.

When the curtains closed, Perry was broke, broken and homeless.

"I was angry. I was bitter. I was angry at God," Perry says.

For six years after that, Perry held a string of odd jobs in order to finance the show, and sporadically lived on the streets when he couldn't afford to pay the rent. Almost everyone, even his own mother, begged him to quit the theater and find a steady 9-to-5 for good.

But Perry refused to give up. Finally, in the summer of 1998, Perry financed the production once again. And this time, he vowed, would be the last time, if the production failed.

That production of Tyler Perry's I Know I've Been Changed opened at the House of Blues in Atlanta and sold out eight times over. Two weeks later, the play would move to the prestigious Fox Theater and sell out 9,000 more seats.

"After the show, every person who had told me no, every promoter who had turned me down, came to me with an offer."

That magical opening night marked a new chapter in Perry's life, and a new chapter in the urban theater circuit as a whole--a genre that has been dogged by criticism from some Blacks in the traditional theater. Perry, as the most visibly recognized player in the circuit, has felt the brunt of this criticism.

"They say that Tyler Perry has set the Black race back some 500 years with these types of "chitlin' circuit' shows. The problem with the naysayers is that they don't take the opportunity to see my shows," Perry argues. "With my shows, I try to build a bridge that marries what's deemed 'legitimate theater" and so-called 'chitlin' circuit theater,' and I think I've done pretty well with that, in bringing people in to enjoy a more elevated level of theater."

At one point, the criticism made Perry feel ashamed of his productions, that is, until playwright August Wilson gave him a few words of advice.

"August said, 'Do what you do. Don't worry about these people, do what you do because I don't think it's bad at all," Perry recalls. "And his words just shed a whole new light on everything."

This summer, Perry will tape the film version of his play, Diary of A Mad Black Woman, and within the next few months, he plans to focus on writing a new chapter in his journal of life, that of Tyler Perry, the family man.

"That's my next major goal, to find a wife who's centered and balanced, and to have four or five kids," he says, adding that he's already furnishing the nursery.

"I've put my private life on hold for too long because I wanted success; I wanted something to offer to my woman and my children," he continues. "Now that I'm at that point where I feel like I have a little bit to offer, I'm ready to be a good husband and a good father, I know I can do it."



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