Monday, December 9, 2013
By JULIE HINDS McClatchy Newspapers
Tyler Perry has a lot to say about his upcoming movie "Alex Cross," except when it comes to a certain minor plot point.
Tyler Perry is a homicide detective in "Alex Cross."
"ALEX CROSS," starring Tyler Perry, Edward Burns, Matthew Fox, Cicely Tyson, Carmen Ejogo and Jean Reno. Directed by Rob Cohen. Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, sexual content, language, drug references and nudity. Running time: 1:41
The entertainment titan plays a Detroit homicide detective in the fast-paced crime drama, which opens Friday. And in this fictional police force, one of his fellow cops (Edward Burns) and another member of their investigative unit (Rachel Nichols) are having a secret workplace romance.
It's an unintentional reminder of the sex scandal that fueled the retirement this month of Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee. Does Perry, who was unaware of the Godbee news, have any comment? "I'm just going to leave that alone, because what I've learned to do when it comes to politics is to keep my mouth shut," he says judiciously. "I'm a smart guy."
Indeed, Perry, 43, is one of the most successful men in Hollywood. In two decades, he has built a multimedia empire as an actor, writer, director and producer with credits that include movies, TV sitcoms and stage plays.
Most recently, Perry joined forces with Oprah Winfrey's OWN channel in an exclusive multiyear deal to provide new TV series and projects for the cable network.
But the project that he's preoccupied with at the moment is "Alex Cross," his first attempt at being an action-film star. Perry portrays the title character, who's from the best-selling novels by James Patterson. It's a role filled by Morgan Freeman in two previous movies ("Along Came a Spider" and "Kiss the Girls").
The assignment couldn't be more different from Perry's most famous creation: the loud, fierce and funny grandmother he dons a wig and dress to portray in the hit "Madea" movies. He describes the Alex Cross role as a welcome challenge and a chance to focus solely on acting for a change.
"I went to work as an actor and let go and let producers be producers and directors be directors and just acted, so it was really great for me," he says.
"Alex Cross" is something of an origin story for the fictional hero, who's seen here as a young detective encountering the toughest case of his career -- the search for a vicious serial killer (Matthew Fox) nicknamed Picasso for his habit of leaving drawings at crime scenes.
Besides Burns and Nichols, the cast includes Carmen Ejogo as Cross's wife, Cicely Tyson as his mother, French actor Jean Reno as a Detroit-based international industrialist who may be a target of Picasso and John C. McGinley as a top Detroit cop. It's directed by Rob Cohen ("The Fast and the Furious," "XXX").
Perry prepared carefully to portray Cross. He mostly stayed in character on the set, a Method approach that impressed co-star Ejogo with its dedication. "It was something I thought was very necessary, to be able to stay in the moment," he says. "When you're filming a movie, there's a lot going on. You have to guard the space of the actor. You have to guard the space of the character."
He learned about handling firearms from Darcy Leutzinger, whose Shotokan 911 has worked with films like "Red Dawn" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
And he underwent some intense physical training in Krav Maga, a self-defense art used by many law enforcement groups.
"It was a two-hour workout in the morning and then in the afternoon, there was another two hours of Krav Maga, which is the most physically draining, exhausting workout I've ever had in my life," says Perry. "It's an amazing fighting technique that I kept up after the movie because I enjoyed it so much."
To maintain the film's inherent tension, Perry kept his distance off the set from Fox, who delivers a surprisingly intense performance. The "Lost" actor dropped nearly 35 pounds to achieve the sinewy look of a crazed loose cannon.
"There wasn't a lot of laughing going on around this set," says Perry. "There were a lot of tense moments and it was very serious, and especially the fighting scene -- there was one moment when Matthew and I were fighting and I elbowed him in the temple and almost knocked him out."
Perry made headlines when his deal with the OWN channel was announced a few weeks ago. He describes it as a positive step toward his goal of one day having his own TV network.
"I'm feeling really good about it," he says. "I'm super excited about it, because it's beneficial to both of us at this point. The OWN network is in need of programming. I provide programming. I am in need of the experience of what it takes to run a network."