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Interview - For the Actors and Actresses: What Kind of Employer is Tyler Perry?

Shadow and Act By Kiratiana Freelon | Shadow and Act May 28, 2013 at 3:07PM

Tyler Perry’s two new television shows, “The Haves and Have Nots” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” debut today and tomorrow on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Channel. “The Haves and Have Nots” debuts tonight (May 28) in a two-hour premiere. With 3 new movies and two new television shows this year, Tyler Perry is the largest employer of black actors and actresses in show business. Thus, if black actors and actresses want to be a “working” professional in entertainment, the best thing one can do is get on Team Tyler and stay there.
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Haves & Have Nots

Tyler Perry’s two new television shows, “The Haves and Have Nots” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” debut today and tomorrow on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Channel. “The Haves and Have Nots” debuts tonight (May 28) in a two-hour premiere.

With 3 new movies and two new television shows this year, Tyler Perry is the largest employer of black actors and actresses in show business.  Thus, if black actors and actresses want to be a “working” professional in entertainment, the best thing one can do is get on Team Tyler and stay there.

Is Tyler Perry a loyal employer? How does he discover talent? Are the actors and actresses that work with him just as religious and spiritual as Perry’s core audience? What expectations does Tyler Perry have of those actors and actresses who work with him?

Shadow and Act had a chance to catch up with three actors on Tyler Perry’s new shows. In the three mini interviews below, Palmer Williams Jr., John Schneider and Patrice Lovely discuss their loyalty to Perry (and his to them) and explain how they landed their roles.

- Palmer Williams Jr.

Palmer Williams Jr. calls himself a “25-year overnight” success.  Seven years ago Tyler Perry caught him playing Jesus at New Birth church in Atlanta, and by the next week he was auditioning for a role on “House of Payne.” After six years on “House of Payne” and major roles in three of Tyler Perry’s plays, Williams captured the role of Floyd on "Love Thy Neighbor." In the interview below, Williams highlights Perry’s loyalty and expectation of excellence from those who work for him.

So how long have you been aware of Tyler Perry?

That would have to be well over 15 years ago with "I know I have been changed." Mr. Perry used to visit my wife and I at home. We used to always talk about collaborating one day. He even showed me the first Madea drawings. At the time I thought, “Well good luck with that bro… I hope it works out for you.” Needless to say, I did not think it was going to work out like this. He has always been a go-getter.

There are millions of people who would love to be in my shoes right now but God so chose me to be in this position. And I’m just ever so grateful for it. It was like trial by fire, learning how to be in television. He took a chance on me.

How do you remain loyal to Tyler Perry?

He was loyal to me first. I’m still working. There is a time where a lot of actors will go through mental anguish because they are not working. They don’t know what may have happened with the last show or why they didn't get picked up for the new show. He’s so amazing to where he will cast me in the weirdest way. When I first started doing "House of Payne," he walked by me during a taping. He said, "by they way, you’re going to be in a play right after Christmas called 'The Marriage Counselor' and there will be somebody be in contact with you." He just walked off.

All of sudden right after Christmas, somebody called me and we went right into rehearsal and we were up in Little Rock, Arkansas in late January. I was only supposed to shoot 6 episodes of “House of Payne” and look at me now.

What did you do to get your opportunities and to “get on the good side of Tyler Perry?”

I am a 25-year-old overnight success. I’ve been working for 25 years doing this. It just so happened that God orchestrated it where I was at the right place at the right time. He was at New Birth in Atlanta just worshipping and I was playing Jesus Christ and dancing and Tyler Perry saw me.

Now we know you would never do this, but what could you possibly do to get on the “bad” side of Tyler Perry?

Drop from professionalism and not live up to his expectations of what he expects and knows I can do.

Have you seen people drop their professionalism?

Unfortunately they may not be working with him anymore. I still respect the man even though I am older than he is. I still respect the person who signs my checks so there has to be some sort of respect that is equipping you with the type of finances to maintain my lifestyle for my family. 

- John Schneider

Many people will recognize Jon Schneider from his six years on the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show and 11 years on “Smallville.” In his leading role in “The Haves and Have Nots”, Schneider landed the part after Perry, a fan of his from his "Dukes of Hazzard" days, invited him to audition. In “The Haves and Haves Nots” John plays Jim Cryer, a wealthy judge who wants to become Georgia’s next governor.

When did you first become aware of Tyler Perry and all of his projects?

I wish it was longer ago but it was about a year ago. I feel that I know the car crowd—the people that live on a dirt road and work on a car and pull the engine out with an oak tree—the audience I built with “Dukes of Hazzard.” Someone told me that, although I knew my audience, I should study this guy named Tyler Perryd who knows his audience better than you know yours.

How did you connect with Tyler Perry for the part in “The Haves & Have Nots?” Did your agent see the role and think that you would be perfect?

Now that I know Tyler as well as I know Tyler, I don’t think any agent goes to Tyler about somebody, I think Tyler goes to the (agent). He didn't come to me and offer me the role. He came to me and offered me the audition. He grew up watching the “Dukes of Hazzard” in Hammond, Louisiana. When I came in for the audition, I loved the script. I wanted this role.

Traditionally when black actors have a role on a multicultural television show, the show is produced by a white person and the network is run by a white person. But you are working on a show produced by a black man on a network run by a black woman. What is that like?

Isn't it amazing? It has to be God. And I’m not the token white guy. I’m not like the innocent that’s gonna be killed in episode three. I’m engrained in this show. I feel very fortunate that I was chosen to be that guy in this flagship in this marriage between Tyler & Oprah. At 53-years old, it’s the best thing that’s happened in my glorious career. Tyler Perry said that’s the white guy I want in my show.

How long did it take to shoot the show?

We shot 16 hours in 22 working days. We did 22 episodes of “Smallville” and “Dukes of Hazzard” in 10 months. It’s wonderful quality. It’s nothing less than impossible and he does it everyday.

- Patrice Lovely

When Tyler Perry promised that he would cast two people from current shows and plays in his OWN shows, Patrice Lovely won out. After 25 years of traveling the country non-stop doing gospel plays, she landed her own television show, “Love Thy Neighbor.” She plays Hattie Mae Love, a character from Tyler Perry’s play, "A Madea Christmas."

So Patrice, you have your own show produced by Tyler Perry on a network owned by Oprah Winfrey. How is that possible?

I got everything that God had for me. I would have never fathomed in my wildest dreams to say my boss is Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey; and I come straight from the projects in Troy, Alabama. To walk into where you are supposed to be and kick the door down.

That is God. It’s almost like you have just been pushed. I’ve done 20 or 25 years of theatre, but to me theatre is not work because that’s what I like to do. And then you meet the man (Tyler Perry) and THE lady (Oprah Winfrey) of the world. It’s like you’ve been giving a platter and you just take it, and now do what you do on a higher level.

It’s like mind blowing. I can’t believe that I’m here but I do know that I’ve walked into my destiny, into where and what God wanted me to have. I always get choked up about where I’ve come from. Pentecostal denomination, so you know I was choked to death with one Lord, One Faith.

How did you first connect with Tyler Perry?

He flew into Detroit because he had heard all this hoopla about me from Allen Payne. [After he saw my show in Detroit], his people called me on the phone that night. The next day I was in Tyler’s office, sitting there looking at him face to face. The next week, we were signing papers. I have never done an audition for Tyler. I’ve never sent in a headshot. Tyler gave me my first script and he said "here, do what you do." I took apart where I wanted. I added the meat where I wanted. I performed in the plays “Madea’s Christmas,”  “The Haves and The Have Nots,” “I Don’t want To Do Wrong,” and “Madea Gets a Job.”

Tell Us about Your Career in Theatre, performing in Gospel Plays.

I did Gospel plays all over the country. I have never been at home. This is the first time I’ve been at home. I made a GOOD living because I was in demand. God had given me those characters. God gave me that. He put those characters inside of me. I went from tour to tour with those gifts that God gave me.

Tyler Perry is often criticized for content and quality of his television shows and movies. How does that affect you as an actress in his productions? Do you focus on it? Do you care?

Your hater are your motivators. That’s what keeps Tyler from moving to the next script. Those same haters that have so much to say but don’t have nary a dime in their pocket. They should be on that show “Where Are they Now?” Tyler keeps moving from level to level. He’s with Oprah. Oprah Winfrey… Tyler Perry.

Drew Scott (Darmirra Brunson); Floyd Stanley Jackson (Palmer Williams, Jr.); Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely); Linda Love Harris (Kendra C. Johnson); Danny Harris (Andre Hall); Sam Parker (Jonathan Chase); Marianna Perez (Zulay Henao) from "Love Thy Neighbor." Photo courtesy of OWN
Drew Scott (Darmirra Brunson); Floyd Stanley Jackson (Palmer Williams, Jr.); Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely); Linda Love Harris (Kendra C. Johnson); Danny Harris (Andre Hall); Sam Parker (Jonathan Chase); Marianna Perez (Zulay Henao) from "Love Thy Neighbor." Photo courtesy of OWN
Linda Love Harris (Kendra C. Johnson); Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely); Floyd Stanley Jackson (Palmer Williams) - Photo courtesy of OWN
Linda Love Harris (Kendra C. Johnson); Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely); Floyd Stanley Jackson (Palmer Williams) - Photo courtesy of OWN
Floyd Stanley Jackson (Palmer Williams, Jr.); Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely) - Photo courtesy of OWN
Floyd Stanley Jackson (Palmer Williams, Jr.); Hattie Mae Love (Patrice Lovely) - Photo courtesy of OWN



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