Long before Tyler Perry entered Hollywood, he built an audience through plays that he wrote, produced and often starred in. His strategy was spurred by his pursuit of ownership, and he says his prayers led him to create and showcase stories about religion, family and their triumphs over worldly evils.
Since then, he has built a production empire in Atlanta. As he prepares to open another studio, his 12 soundstages are home to shows including Nick Cannon’s “Wild ’N Out,” “Divorce Court” and BET’s “Sunday Best,” along with his own original content such as “The Haves and the Have Nots” and “If Loving You Is Wrong” on OWN.
His first mention in Variety was on Sept. 5, 2003, for the play “Madea’s Class Reunion.”
In 2003, Variety’s reviewer said, “Tyler Perry is a raw, major talent just beginning to hit his stride.” Do you feel like you’re still hitting that stride?
You know how you go to the airport and you get on the plane? Then it leaves the gate, it gets to the runway and then takes off? All those other steps were leaving the runway. I feel like I’m just taking off.
What would you tell the younger Tyler Perry in 2003?
At 33, I would tell myself to relax, to enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t take any of it in. I was too busy working. I missed like 12 years of my life working, and when I woke up I was well over 40 — and because I was nonstop 360 to 370 performances a year, traveling, writing the plays, “House of Payne” [TV series], movies. So I would tell myself to really, really enjoy it. But that’s all right. I’m enjoying it now.
What’s it like to see your impact on today’s up-and-coming social media stars?
That’s a big gift to say. I think social media vehicles give people platforms, and I’m finding some incredible talent on social media. I love it, because now the whole world can see you. When I was doing it, it had to be onstage and go from city to city to city and then build that audience through grassroots. Now, you go online and you get 10 million views in no time.
Social media star BlameitonKway was in the last play that you did. What was that like?
He and FouseyTube, they’re just so funny and so talented. I feel like they’re definitely going to make that crossover, and if I can be one of the people that helps them to make that cross. … Kway is not only especially talented but brilliantly funny. I thought: “This guy really has something special. I’d love to work with him in the future on something.”
Who were some of your role models when you were starting out?
Totally Oprah Winfrey: she, Berry Gordy, owning their own businesses, doing their own thing. I wouldn’t be in the seat that I am now if I didn’t understand how important it was to own everything you do — own your brand, own your show, own your movies. My father worked for this white man for many, many years. He was a subcontractor who built houses, and he would get so happy he’d get his $800 check once he was finished with the work. But I’d watch the white man sell that house and make $80,000 in profit. I always wanted to be the man who owned the house.
What did you learn while pursuing ownership of your work?
What I learned was that the ownership is non-negotiable. It’s not at all. I have to have that particular part of it because that is where generational wealth is made. That’s where things are established for generations to come for my son and his kids. And if they are as smart about it as I have been, then everything will change. I think that’s how you change entire communities.