Tyler Perry believes in love, but his movies admit it isn't easy. He asked audiences to justify Why Did I Get Married?, and then questioned them again in the sequel. In last year's Good Deeds, he played a man torn between his strong, independent fiancee (Gabrielle Union) and a homeless single mom (Thandie Newton) and now in Tyler Perry's Temptation, he takes fans to some truly dark places.
Temptation stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Friday Night Lights) as Judith, a good woman who wears her moral values on her sleeve, but finds herself tempted to stray from her marriage by a social media millionaire who makes her an offer she can't refuse: he'll fund her private couples-therapy practice—if she'll be his woman.
We sat down for an exclusive chat with writer/director/actor/auteur Tyler Perry to ask if his adultery drama makes a good date movie, how traditional romances like The Notebook might make audiences feel dissatisfied in their own love lives, and retiring Madea, the character that's made him a $323 million fortune.
This is your 13th theatrical film. Are you feeling lucky?
[Laughs] I don't get into luck, but I do feel that it's a message where the timing for it is right.
What do you mean by that?
I mean just with relationships and the things that are going on in the world, with people and relationships and needing an answer to a lot of things. So this movie was really just about what happens when you make the wrong choices, and how it can affect everything in your life—it's a butterfly effect. It can affect your entire future. Things can start off so good, and then one wrong decision can change everything.
Temptation and last year's Good Deeds are almost asking the same question: Can a good person love two people at once? But the answer spins into two different directions.
Sure. But I think this is more passion and lust than it was love. I think Jurnee's character Judith, she just became exposed. And the danger of exposure is the danger of exposure. If you're not careful and you don't understand it when you see it, you don't know what it is, you can make the wrong choices.
Tough question: Is this a date movie?
Yes it is, actually! It is definitely a date movie—it's definitely a husband and wife movie, it's a dating movie, it's a, "C'mon, let's go see this." That's what you want: You want to open the questions about relationships. Absolutely. I'd take a date to it.
If you could spy on a couple walking out of the theater after they've seen the movie, what do you want them to be talk about?
My personal hope for this film is that it not only provokes thought, but also provokes some sort of—dare I say—healing for people where they can look into their own relationships, their own situations. Maybe they'll see themselves on screen and say, "Wait a minute. Is this guy doing that to me? Am I doing that to him? Is this what's happening to both of us?" I just wanted to put a mirror up for a lot of people.
Originally, this was a play. But for the screen, you made the story darker. Why is that?
The stage is so different. When I can do a drama like this, the whole world is opened up to me and I just listen to the characters and see where they want to take me.
Kim Kardashian is hilarious in this. Her dialogue is so mean. Did you work together on coming up with it?
I had an idea of what I wanted the character to be, and when Kim came up, I thought this would be fantastic, it'd be perfect, she should do it. She's just very direct and to the point—and she's funny. I think she was surprised at how the audience reacted to how funny the character is. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised at how great she did.
There's one moment that made me gasp. When Harley kisses Judith, she yells “No!” and then he says, “Okay, now you can say you resisted.” Have people been asking you about that scene?
No, but it obviously affected you.
What does “No” mean in that scene?
For me when I was writing that scene, what it meant was that her "No" and "Stop" and "Stop" and "Stop"—that's her mind saying, "Yes, yes, yes." So when he says, "Now you can say you resisted," it's for her own conscience. She can say that she tried not to. You've done the resisting thing, now let's do this. That's what it represented for me. It wasn't a "No means no" moment. It was very much: You can say you resisted, your mind is clear, now just go with it.
We also have to get why she's drawn to Harley. Did you relate to him as a guy who is so work-driven that he doesn't have a lot of personal time in his life?
Yeah. He doesn't have a lot of room for other stuff, and also he doesn't know how to function in other things. The work is his medication for life, because he doesn’t know how to function in relationships. He gets all intense and he gets mad. The work is the placebo for it, but he needs to work in order to stay sane.
Do Hollywood movies like The Notebook set up expectations that make people like Judith prone to disappointment in their own love lives?
That's interesting. I don't know? Rather than set up expectations, what I think it does is it opens us up to the possibility of, this can happen. They're about love and hope and I think that lots of people are looking for that in their lives. I don't know if it sets up expectations as much as it sells the thought that that's possible.
This is the first film you shot after Alex Cross. Did playing a big role in somebody else's movie affect how you felt back on set as the director?
It was very, uh, freeing to get back to it. Very freeing to get back to it! [Laughs] It was my first time ever being in a film that wasn't my own, aside from a small part in Star Trek. It really opened my eyes to how things are done.
Is the Madea character one that you'll take to the grave, or could you see yourself directing the films, but passing the costume on a different actor?
I don't ever see passing it on. I think the audiences have endeared to what it is. But I will tell you this: When the audience gets tired of her, she will go away. Because it's not one of my favorite characters to do, but I love the joy that it brings to people.