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

by Kiratiana Freelon
May 28, 2013 3:07 PM
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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
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

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  • naomi wood | September 27, 2013 10:55 AMReply

    my name is naomi but i go by AKA_NA or NANA i want to be an actress im really good at it the only thing is i smile alot if i work on that then i will be 100 % good i just wut to say i wut to be a actress on Tyler Perry show and maybe singer.

  • Katie | May 30, 2013 8:16 AMReply

    Ugh, what did I just read. I feel like I need to scrub my eyes with bleach.

  • Maurice emel | May 29, 2013 2:24 PMReply

    How many ppl does TP actually employ on a regular basis? Anyone have a number?

  • BluTopaz | May 29, 2013 11:50 AMReply

    These people truly believe God guided them to go work for Tyler Perry, even the White dude. Wow.

    And LOVE the devout Christian chick talking about "haters not having a dime in their pocket".

  • Ghost | May 28, 2013 11:27 PMReply

    "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?”"

    Who is this fake Madea/Flo/Velma Harper talking about?

    Why are we the only race that get offended if others don't support a product made by a black person? Just because it's black doesn't mean one has to support it.

    I wish the Tyler sheep would get that through their think skulls. Folks just want Tyler to improve and get better before his replacement comes along and gets rid of him. Don't think other studios aren't looking for his replacement.

  • Marie | May 29, 2013 10:47 AM

    Agreed. Perry doesn't move "from level to level," he moves laterally. He keeps doing the same mediocre work in various media with no improvement in sight. Next we'll have Tyler Perry Presents The iPhone App which won't be as well designed as other apps nor work as well as other apps but, hey, it was created by a black guy so it must be great!

  • Just me | May 28, 2013 11:08 PMReply

    Excuse me........but what was that article about?????

  • FactChecker | May 28, 2013 10:25 PMReply

    This article doesn't really shed light on anything or provide a clear picture of what it's like to work for TP, since two of the three actors are "older" and, apparently, never pursued careers in Hollywood, and are unknown to the audience.

    As for John Schneider, he's had a lengthy career on television, and Broadway, and if he chose not to take this role another would be right around the corner.

    I've heard from a couple of well-established, career, actors that TP doesn't always pay his actors fairly.

    The only way to really know the truth, however, would be to speak with more well-known black actors who command a higher salary than -- at least the two interviewed here -- probably do.

    Good for him for putting so many black people to work, but it's not raising their Q score with white audiences, which, unfortunately, is where the money, and huge paydays, still remain when it comes to acting.

  • David | May 28, 2013 8:54 PMReply

    The funny thing is everybody who has ever worked with Perry has never said anything bad about. As somebody who has been to his studio in ATL I half to say all you see is respect black people working. Don't care for much of his work but as a Person I love Mr.Perry.

  • truth | May 28, 2013 11:54 PM

    Is that why the WGA had to threaten to sue him for under paying his BLACK writers when he opened his studio? The night his studio opened they picketed and the union had to FORCE him to pay them the usual union wage.

    Yeah, I lot of fucking respect for black folk right there! STFU.

  • sthn | May 28, 2013 8:37 PMReply

    After reading bits and pieces of this, I need to take a shower....

  • TAZ | May 28, 2013 8:31 PMReply

    I would love to know what thoughts the author of this article had before the interviews....what she thought of the interviews, and whether her opinions changed after the interviews.

  • Paul | May 28, 2013 8:19 PMReply

    I love the answer to the last question. So true. Anyway congrats to own on the good ratings you are about to get tonight and tomorrow night.

  • shadowgirl | May 28, 2013 7:44 PMReply

    Um...HELLO...anybody home? There's no post here. *slams door then leaves*

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