Tyler Perry has taken over for Morgan Freeman (Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider) as the title character in the new movie Alex Cross. The latest installment in James Patterson's book-to-box office detective series premiered at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles on Monday ahead of its Oct. 19 release. In his first turn as an action star and lead of a movie that's not his own, Perry plays a Washington, D.C.-based homicide detective-psychologist locked in a cat-and-mouse game with a deranged serial killer, played by Matthew Fox. Hundreds of stars and supporters turned out for the black-carpet premiere, and The Root chatted with some of them about Perry and the role that has everyone wondering if this is the movie that will prove, once and for all, that the man is more than Madea.
The Root: How do you think fans will react to you in this role, which is completely different from what we've seen you do in the past?
TP: I encourage everybody to see it because it's really awesome and I think they'll enjoy it. I just watched it complete for the first time, and I'm really proud. I feel awesome.
The Root: What did you see in Tyler Perry that made you want him to play the title character in this film?
RC: I saw everything. I saw his gravitas, his intelligence, his anger, his joy, and I knew he could do the whole spectrum. I wanted it to be a new, exciting action hero as well as a deep character guy. I just look at the performance and I feel proud — proud to have worked with him, proud of what he was able to do, the trust he put in me and the leaps of faith he took … It was a painful journey to emotionally live that story; to go from such a happy man to such an unhappy, raging, vindictive guy consumed with negative emotions. He had the guts to do it all, and I just hope we get to do a sequel.
The Root: In Alex Cross, you play a pretty disturbing serial killer. How did you prepare for such a dark character?
MF: Sometimes you just [have to act like a person who thinks], "I'm done living in this world." But this role was very challenging, and that's what I like about it. Tyler and I had great chemistry, considering we're playing two guys who want to kill each other.
The Root: You've been in several of Perry's movies, including Diary of a Mad Black Woman. What's your response to people who say his films don't portray black people in the best light?
KE: I think Tyler fills a niche that is necessary to be filled. They make people laugh, people enjoy his films, obviously there's an audience and his movies usually open at No. 1. There's room for other people to fill the other areas that need to be taken care of. Don't put it all on one person — you've got a lot of talented people who can step into the other places.
TR: Do you think this role will help him silence the negative feedback and prove he can do and be more than the Madea character?
KE: I'm not about [the idea of] proving anything to anybody. I just hope he had a great time. I'm sure his work is amazing, and I hope people go out and enjoy it.
The Root: What are you hoping Tyler Perry accomplishes with this film?
MJW: He's going to show his range and not just be pigeonholed as Madea. Since Madea is such a strong character, it's good to see him do things like this to show what he's about and how eclectic he truly is. He has his brand … and he's got so many elements that go on in his films, maybe they're not meant for everybody. There's not one of his movies that does not have at least eight positive elements for any negative that anybody can say.
The Root: As the screenwriter of Alex Cross, what was your take on the casting when you found out who would be playing each role?
KW: It was really inspired, and I'm so impressed with Tyler and how he embraced this role. This is going to be an extraordinary movie for Tyler and really break him into a mainstream audience. I'm really, really rooting for him, and I think this is going to blow people's minds.
The Root: You guys are real-life siblings and play Tyler Perry's kids in Alex Cross. What was it like to work with him?
YS: It was cool, it was fun on set, and I know he's done a lot of films before. It was definitely a new experience, and this is the first time he's done a solemn detective series … he did a great job.
SS: It was exciting!
The Root: Tell us about transitioning from Simmi, the bubbly host of Disney's Behind the Ears, to playing street-tough Pop Pop Jones in Alex Cross.
SM: Being on the Disney Channel, it's kind of hard to break out of that role — everyone always expects you to be cheery, bubbly, and it's like, "I can do this; I have layers!" I had to really get one-on-one with the character and imagine what her life was like. Also, Tupac and listening to a lot of rap helped, too!
The Root: You're in Tyler Perry's upcoming film We the Peeples. What made you want to work with him?
KH: He gets things done. Sometimes it takes a person from the outside to come in with a fresh approach and get the yeses where people have gotten noes before. He had an interesting approach to entering the business, and he keeps presenting new and exciting things. He really just brings a certain variety, and you can tell how much he really loves entertaining.
The Root: You play a new character in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, which comes out next month. What's it like to be a part of that franchise?
AL: I'm really, really grateful for the role. It's one of those films that validates your existence in Hollywood, and I feel blessed to be able to share my artistry with the world.
TR: What was your reaction when you found out Tyler Perry was playing the lead in Alex Cross?
AL: It's every actor's dream to play different characters, and I'm so excited to see what's going to happen, what he's going to bring on-screen, [and] to see him kick some ass.
The Root: Congratulations on your role in the upcoming Twilight movie, where you play Zafrina, leader of the Amazon vampires. How has Tyler Perry inspired your work?
JS: I am a fan of his philosophy and I really like his way of thinking, and I'm just totally inspired by his life and the way he's made such progress. More than anything I'm inspired by him as a person, and I'm so excited to see him in this more serious role.
The Root: You star in ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars. Tell us about your interest in this film.
LS: I'm a big fan of Alex Cross from Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, and I loved Morgan Freeman in those films. I absolutely can't wait to see Tyler Perry be a badass and have such a departure from what he normally does. I watched the trailer, and I was like "No way!" I was excited immediately because this feels so much like the right thing for him, and it's so awesome to see him explore his opposite a little bit … We'll get to know him a little better.
The Root: Your next film, The Awakened, is a thriller directed by John Savage. What is your favorite Tyler Perry movie?
BB: I hope to work with Tyler Perry one day, and I see everything he does. I like comedy and love all the Madea movies. I know this one is an action movie, and I'm really excited to see him in Alex Cross.