NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Good Deeds" is Tyler Perry's 12th movie but it marks the first time the actor and director is the central character in a film not based on Madea, the foul-mouthed grandmother he is best known for playing on stage and the big screen.
Although Perry, 42, is far from a critics' darling, he has a fiercely loyal fan base and regularly tops U.S. box office charts with the films he writes, directs, produces and stars in. He was named Forbes' highest-paid man in entertainment in 2011, above Jerry Bruckheimer and Steven Spielberg.
In "Good Deeds", which opens in U.S. movie theaters on Friday, Perry plays Wesley Deeds, a successful CEO controlled by his domineering mother until an unexpected friendship inspires him to rebel.
Reuters spoke with Perry about how he felt exposed playing Deeds, his evolution as an actor, and his role in the film adaptation later this year of James Patterson's crime thriller "I, Alex Cross."
Q: You've said playing the role of Wesley Deeds was a scary experience. How so?
A: "I'm used to having a costume. I'm used to having something to hide behind. This is the first time I feel like a lot of my life is on the screen. People don't really know a whole lot about me on purpose because I live my life very privately, but Wesley Deeds is extremely close to who I am."
Q: Church and Christian religion are usually themes in your films but not in "Good Deeds." Was that a conscious choice?
A: "No, it wasn't. I'm going to speak in a multitude of voices in my career. The message is still just as powerful. The message is just about living your own life. This life is given to you, it's a gift from God and you have to live it to the fullest."
Q: This is your first film categorized as a romantic drama. Any plans to try other genres of film?
A: "Sci-fi. I love sci-fi with a passion but, on the budgets I'm given, it's pretty difficult to do. But I'll take a stab at it in the next couple of years."
Q: You shared your story of being physically and sexually abused as a child on Oprah in 2010. How has your life and work changed as a result?
A: "More people had an opportunity to see me for who I am. I know that, had I not done that, I would not have been able to do this film or 'Alex Cross' where I'm more raw or exposed. Only someone who's been through it can understand this, but you become ashamed, you just want to hide and everything is a little embarrassing. It's been very freeing."
Q: Some critics have reacted negatively to your films and characters. How do you reconcile negative reviews from critics with positive reactions from your fans?
A: "I don't think about critics at all, honestly. I learned very early on that critics are critics. They're people with opinion. If you can't relate to it, I don't think you should speak to it. I've learned to just stay on purpose. I look for truth (in criticism). If it's vitriolic I have no interest in reading it but if it's something that challenges me to grow, I'm open to it. I've had some very harsh critics but there have been 5 or 6 times where I've heard something and I've said, "That, I'll take."
Q: Some people have expressed disappointment that Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayal of maids in "The Help." What do you think of the backlash?
A: "Those kinds of criticisms are rooted in ignorance and if we knew our history a little more, we'd have a better respect for it. My mother was one of those women. She wasn't a domestic worker but she worked at a Jewish Community Center. She would leave us and go take care of rich Jewish children all day. I understand those women, they have a story that needs to be told."
Q: What can we expect from you in 'Alex Cross,' your first starring role in film that's not your own?
A: "I wasn't trying to be Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross. I just did the best job I can do as who I am. The movie just tested in front of an audience and there were people in the focus group who said, 'I just came to see if he could pull it off,' and they were blown away. People think they've got me all pegged. In Hollywood, once you get your lane, that's it. They don't want you to change lanes or shift gears. I think it's going to surprise people. I think they're going to love it."
Reporting By Sabrina Ford; Editing by Jill Serjeant