Tyler Perry: Building studio on former Confederate base is “poetic justice”

Tyler Perry is the creative force behind 22 movies, 20 plays, and eight TV shows. But that’s not all: the 50-year-old writer, director, and actor just built a 330-acre movie studio complex in Atlanta, featuring a dozen sound stages named after black Hollywood icons.

“CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King visited the studio with Perry, where he discussed the “poetic justice” of building the studio on a former confederate Army base.

“Think about the poetic justice in that,” he said. “The Confederate Army is fighting to keep Negroes enslaved in America, fighting, strategy, planning on this very ground. And now this very ground is owned by me.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Perry opened up about his experiences with abuse, his relationship with his son, and his plans to use the studio to help disadvantaged youth.

On realizing his dream of opening his own studio: “I feel like I’m just getting started”

“There was a moment that happened in 2005 at [Oprah’s] Legends Ball… ” Perry recalled. “My movie had just come out, ‘Diary of a Mad Black Woman’ had just come out, first movie. Not a lot of people knew me in the room. And I’m sitting there wondering, ‘What am I doing in this room?'”

“Yolanda Adams is sitting next to me,” Perry added. “I think I said it out loud, ’cause she goes, ‘You belong in the room.’  Leaving there, seeing it, touching it, tasting it, feeling it, the excitement of what it meant to see a woman, a black woman, be able to do that, spoke to me in so many ways. And I’m on video saying … ‘Leaving here, I’m going to dream bigger…'”

“In many ways it seems to me like you’re just getting started,” King said.

“At 28 I went into the shell, ’cause I started touring, doing 300-something shows a year,” Perry said. “So somewhere around 44, 45 I came out of it, and I go, ‘Wait a minute, where did all those years go?’ So now I feel like I’m still 35. So I feel like I’m just getting started. There’s nothing about me that feels like 50, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”

On overcoming abuse as a child: “Telling stories was born out of pain”

“You were homeless, you literally slept in your car,” King said. “You’re 6-foot-5. What kinda car was it?”

“Geo Metro,” Perry said with a laugh. “Pretty tough.”

“This entire journey of telling stories was born out of of pain, born out of heartache, born out of being an abused kid who could go inside of his head and create a world and imagination,” Perry added. “Also that same abused kid watching his mother … getting beat and there’s nothing he can do, my desire and heart to make her laugh and feel better was so strong. And you know, if I could make a joke or if I could imitate her or my aunt and make her laugh, or some of the women she played cards with on Friday nights, all of that was so powerful and so important to me.”

Perry’s past made seeing his studio’s name on a highway sign all the more meaningful.

“The first time I saw it, it was next to Sylvan Road, which I remember when I moved to Atlanta I moved off of Sylvan Road with my cousin and got put outta house, had no money, that kinda thing…” he said. “Then to see my name next to that moment, I just — it took my breath away. I’m like, ‘Okay, you’re on the highway so you can’t stop. You don’t wanna get killed here in this moment,’ but it was really powerful.”

On raising his 4-year-old son Aman: He’s “my healer”

“You have called [Aman] a healer for you,” King said. “What do you mean by that?”

“I look at him and I’m looking at myself at that age,” Perry said. “And I’m wondering how anybody could be cruel and unkind to this level of pure innocence and beauty and love.”

“I had to discipline him one day because was having a problem with the nanny … And he’s just in the bathroom, he doesn’t wanna brush his teeth…” Perry recalled. “So I open the door, and he just freezes and looks at me. I asked the nanny to leave and I sat down with him, got down eye to eye and I’m talking to him. And as I’m talking to him, I’m realizing that I really need to run out of the room because I’m about to start crying. I’m talking to him, I’m telling him how I much I love mom and I love him and how disrespectful this is, and how disappointed I am that he’s behaving this way. ‘You’re such a smart kid. Why are you doing this? You can’t behave this way ’cause other kids do that. This is not what you do…'”

“So I’m trying to finish and he’s just crying…'” Perry said. “He said, ‘Papa, I’m so sorry’ I run outta the room without him noticing it, because it broke me. I realized that nobody had ever talked to me like a person as a child … Nobody had ever talked to me like a human being. Right? So that’s what I mean when I say my healer.”

“Every time I talk to him, every time I hug him, every time I love him, let him know he’s special, there’s something in me that’s being healed,” Perry said through tears.

Tyler Perry’s Atlanta studio to include a compound for displaced LGBTQ youth and trafficked women

On defining his legacy: “The studio’s gonna be what it is”

When asked what he wants his legacy to be, Perry highlighted the studio — but said there’s also more to come.

“That’s gonna be what it is. You know, the studio’s gonna be what it is,” Perry said. “I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about next is pulling this next phase off, building a compound for trafficked women, girls, homeless women, LGBTQ youth who are put out and displaced … somewhere on these 330 acres, where they’re trained in the business and they become self-sufficient. They live in nice apartments. There’s daycare. There’s all of these wonderful things that allows them to reenter society. And then pay it forward again. So that’s what I hope to do soon.”

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