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TYLER PERRY'S GOOD DEEDS (2012)
Release Date: February 24, 2012
Director: Tyler Perry
Screenwriter: Tyler Perry
Starring: Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton
Genre: Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: PG-13
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Over the course of eight years as an actor, writer, director and producer, Tyler Perry has entertained and inspired audiences with his trademark mix of crowd-pleasing broad comedy and rousing inspirational drama. Now, with the release of his twelfth film, TYLER PERRY'S GOOD DEEDS, the filmmaker tackles a new genre: the romantic drama. The part marks Perry's first dramatic role away from his ensemble-based films and places him front and center as leading man. While Perry is no stranger to headlining his films – his starring comic turns as the irreverent pot-smoking grandma Madea are a cornerstone of his enduring popularity – the role of Wesley Deeds, a successful businessman whose seemingly perfect life is upended by an unlikely new friendship, marks a milestone for the actor: a romantic, plain-clothes role that calls for the most personal, unvarnished performance Perry has ever given.
"You give me a costume and I'm comfortable behind that costume, whatever that is," says Perry. "If it's an old man, if it's an old woman, fine, I can do that. Just give me something to hide behind. Playing Wesley is the first time I feel like I've been exposed. I'm a very private person, and with this role I felt like my entire life had to come to work with me."
While TYLER PERRY'S GOOD DEEDS is in no way autobiographical, Perry admits that Wesley's journey is one he knows well, a familiarity which only served to raise the stakes for him as an actor. "A lot of the situations in the film are similar to things I've gone through, so in order to be this guy, I really had to surrender to it," he reveals. "It wasn't an easy decision for me. The truth is, had I not done FOR COLORED GIRLS, which was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life, I wouldn't have had the courage to try this."
"This is probably the most we've seen of the real Tyler," adds co-star Gabrielle Union. "He's bringing all of his life experiences to the role, and it informs the character in ways I think are completely unexpected and original."
Perry's character, Wesley Deeds, lives a life he thinks he wants, until a chance encounter with Lindsey, a single mother who can't make ends meet, calls into question every aspect of his life, from his career to his impending marriage. "What I really focus on in this film is this sense of finding yourself in life," explains Perry. "Wesley Deeds is a man who's lost. He's doing everything that everybody's telling him to do. He's living his father's dream and his mother's dream, and in the process forgets his own. There's an epiphany of sorts when he meets Lindsey."
Citing evidence from his own life, Perry fervently believes the opportunity for transformation can often come from the most unlikely places. "There's that saying, ‘A stranger can be your best friend,'" he says. "I've found there are people who you wouldn't even expect who come and say something or drop the littlest seed or smallest nugget in your life and change everything. That's why this story is really important to me, and why it's so close to my heart."
While Wesley and Lindsey live in worlds that rarely intersect – he's an affluent, successful businessman; she's a working class mother who finds herself struggling to provide for her daughter – they discover that each has something the other needs. "Lindsey comes in and shakes Wesley up," explains Perry. "She doesn't care about his wealth or his privilege or who his father was. She tells it like it is because she has nothing to lose. And he appreciates that. And Wesley has the ability to show kindness to Lindsey and offer her things that she's not used to accepting from people."
Adds British actress Thandie Newton, who plays Lindsey, "Wesley and Lindsey come together by finding their common humanity. Too often, we think we have nothing in common with people from different walks of life when the truth is, we're all part of a humanity that desperately needs the other to create equilibrium. I think stories like that urgently need to be told in the world we live in. We've got to find an understanding where we think there is none."
Observes producer Ozzie Areu, "Tyler is a successful filmmaker because he has the ability to unite talented artists with life-transforming stories that we all can relate to. His films are built on many universal themes that not only touch audiences but attract the skilled actors who bring his words to life."
Perry's talent for writing complex, challenging roles for women has long made him a magnet for high-caliber actresses. He offered the role of Lindsey to Newton based on their experience working together on last year's hard-hitting drama, FOR COLORED GIRLS. "There's a chemistry that exists between Thandie and I that's not written," avows Perry. "It's not scripted. It's not even forced. It's just very natural and very fun. She's a wonderful person."
"There's nothing more bonding than a movie like FOR COLORED GIRLS to bring people together," adds Newton. "Tyler and I wrestled through a very difficult piece and came out the other side. And he trusted that our relationship and our chemistry were going to be something that would give him the confidence, the real connection, to do something new. So of course it was deeply flattering to be asked to do that. And we had a great time. A lot of the ease and enjoyment we have as friends comes across in the movie."
"Thandie Newton is an incredible actress," acknowledges producer Paul Hall. "She can play European or play American, upper class or working class. Lindsey has that ability to walk in both worlds and she has a big arc in her character. We knew Thandie would be able to fulfill that."
Newton had already shown impressive versatility in films like CRASH, BELOVED, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II, but the actress wanted to be sure her portrayal of Lindsey's plight was as authentic as possible. "I wanted her struggle to be real," she says. "I didn't want it to be far-fetched. When I was doing my research for the role, I was so shocked to discover the number of people with good, steady, well-paying jobs who've lost everything in the recession, and who've found themselves without a home. Maybe twenty years ago it would have seemed far-fetched, but not now. This story is very modern."
That said, in one instance it was Perry who challenged Newton to hew closer to reality. In a scene where Lindsey and her six-year-old daughter, Ariel, have to sleep in a janitor's closet, Newton suggested having Lindsey help her daughter through the trauma with a game of make-believe. "Tyler said, ‘No. Lindsey's gone far beyond that,'" she recalls. Instead, Lindsey tells her daughter to be quiet and deal with the circumstances. "And I found that tough. Really tough," says Newton. "But I loved that note, because it was a very painful truth. Lindsey's at the end of her rope. To make everything nice for my daughter wouldn't have been real. That would've been a bit of a lie."
Fortunately, Newton found an able partner to work with in six-year-old actress Jordenn Thompson, who plays Ariel. "She's a star in the making," affirms Newton. "She just brings light and a breath of fresh air whenever she's around. I wanted to bring as many personal little signatures of how I mother my children to our relationship on screen. It was very intense for me."
"Jordenn is very talented," adds Perry. "Instinctively, she gets it. And what I love about her is if she goes very, very sad, she's out of it the next second. It's just like children. They're so resilient."
As Wesley's bond with Lindsey deepens, he begins to question for the first time his seemingly perfect relationship with his fiancée Natalie, played in the film by Gabrielle Union (TYLER PERRY'S DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS, BAD BOYS II, "Flashforward," the upcoming THINK LIKE A MAN). Explains Union, "Natalie's a princess and Wesley's Prince Charming. They come from great families. They went to the right schools. They should be together, they should be happy, but they're both completely unfulfilled."
"They're the billion dollar couple on paper," adds Perry, "but she's completely bored in the relationship and he's completely lost in it. I think it happens to a lot of people in life. You settle, because you don't want to be alone, or because you're told, ‘This is what you're supposed to do.'"
While in lesser hands Natalie might have been reduced to a status-obsessed caricature, Union and Perry were careful to lend the character a complex humanity. "We wanted light to shine from Natalie when we see her, as opposed to being bitchy and pretentious and looking down her nose at Lindsey," explains Union. "The first time she sees Lindsey, she's like, ‘Oh my god, you're so cute! We should hook you up with Bob in accounting!'"
"Gabrielle really made sense of Natalie," says Hall. "The audience understands why Wesley would be with Natalie, because Gabrielle's sensational. She brings that light-hearted sense to Natalie, that ‘Everywoman feel' people can relate to. But she's not afraid to expose the frustration Natalie feels, either."
In one key sequence, Natalie goes out for a night of drinking and dancing with her friends, Heidi and Mark (played by Rebecca Romijn and Jamie Kennedy), and recaptures the feeling of joy that's been missing in her marriage. That sense of camaraderie was easy to re-create, as Union, Romijn and Kennedy are all old friends. "We decided to be a little Method," laughs Union. "After work, and before we would shoot, we would all meet up at our hotel and share stories and laughter. It really helped create this vibe and this history between our characters."
"Heidi and Mark can tell Natalie is not at ease with where her life is going, so they help her figure it out for herself," explains Rebecca Romijn (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, "Ugly Betty"). "They're not telling her what to do, but they're helping her find it herself."
While Wesley struggles with the question of his impending marriage, he also has to grapple with the constant resentment of his troubled brother, Walter, played by Brian White. Walter has squandered years of his life stumbling in and out of rehab and a series of broken relationships, and though he purports to work alongside Wesley in the family business, he only manages to make Wesley's job more difficult. "He's not necessarily aware of what's wrong with him," says White, "but he's self-destructing at every turn."
"I wanted to write Walter to speak to so many people who may be in his position," explains Perry. "Walter's creating his own destiny, and it's really sad. He self-sabotages everything he does. He has a pity party every day. He doesn't know he's creating his own world, his own horror."
Walt and Wesley, seeing the ways in which the other is failing to live up to his potential, challenge each other constantly. Explains White, "We both see what the other should be doing right for themselves to be happy or to be whole. So there's a lot of push and pull there. It's a tug of war constantly with each other, trying to correct each other since we both think we're right."
"Brian White's determination, power and commitment are really impressive," reports Newton. "He's playing this guy who's so messed up, who's so unconscious, who's so angry and self-destructive and misogynistic. He couldn't be playing someone more unlike him and he convinces us all of something he isn't."
The tension between the two brothers is exacerbated by the formidable influence of Wilimena, their domineering mother played with icy power by veteran Tony Award-winning actress, Phylicia Rashad ("The Cosby Show"). "Wilimena does not have the same relationship with both sons," admits Rashad, laughing. "She just bubbles over with joy at the mere thought of Wesley. She looks at him and sees goodness and greatness and continuity. And Walt – she just doesn't get him at all. She does not understand his behavior."
The secrets behind this family dynamic are not wholly revealed in the film, but Perry was careful to explore them in detail with his cast on set. "The backstory was very, very important to me," he says. "Phylicia, Brian and I sat and discussed it because I needed to know what they were thinking."
In the process, Rashad realized she had to modify her character in order to justify Walt's fate as the black sheep of the family. Remembers Brian White, "All of a sudden, Phylicia's whole presentation got darker because of the backstory. For me, it was probably the single most powerful day of work. Through her performance, I understood Walt, what he had been through at the hands of his mother. That one scene helped me for the rest of the movie. When you work with people like Phylicia, you can't help but attempt to rise to their level."
"Phylicia Rashad is phenomenal," says Perry. "I don't know a finer actor. It's very difficult being in a scene with her, because what she's doing in the moment is so mind-blowing. I try to hold my face and stay in character but it's very tough with somebody who's that incredible."
As Natalie's best friend Heidi Foster, Rebecca Romijn plays a symbol of domestic perfection, one that causes Natalie to question whether she wants to pursue the same path. Explains Romijn, "Heidi's a former professional woman who's become a mom. She's a little bit of a glimpse of Natalie's future and Natalie's not sure she's comfortable with it."
"To some people, Heidi's life and her relationship with her husband, John, seems wonderful, but to Heidi and Wesley, it's not what they really want," says Perry. "They don't want the kids. They don't want the house in the suburbs. It might seem perfect, but it doesn't work for them."
Actor Eddie Cibrian ("The Playboy Club," "Third Watch," "CSI: Miami") plays Heidi's husband, John, the loyal CFO of Wesley's and Walt's business who finds himself repeatedly caught between the two brothers. Says Cibrian, "There's an interesting rivalry that happens between John and Walt. Walt says, ‘Hey, I'm blood, you're not blood. I know this company better than you.' And then you have John having to tell Wesley, ‘Your brother is going take you down, and he's going to take the company down.' He has to navigate really tricky waters."
Jamie Kennedy (MALIBU'S MOST WANTED, THREE KINGS) rounds out the cast as Mark Freeze, a designer and good friend of Heidi's who dares to contradict Wilimena during Natalie's shopping trip for a wedding dress. "Mark has a little bitch fit with her and tells her off," says Kennedy with smile. "I get to have fun with his character and jump in, which is what I love to do as an actor. I like to play and kind of have no boundaries."
With the last role of Brenda, Natalie's mother, filled in by iconic model and actress Beverly Johnson, Perry and his filmmaking team began their four-week shoot at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, where Perry has lensed the majority of his recent films. Perry brought together many of the key department heads from his previous films, including longtime production designer Ina Mayhew and costume designer Johnetta Boone. He says, "I like what's comfortable for me. And it's incredible to be able to work with people that I've worked with before and then add new people to the mix. The energy and the chemistry are really awesome."
Perry's manner as a director – focused, flexible and kind – helped define a similar atmosphere on set. During one late-night shoot, Rashad couldn't believe the amount of good will she felt around her. "I remember thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, I haven't felt like this since my early days in theater, where you just come in and you just do the work,'" she says. "You know, nobody was complaining about the hour. Nobody was complaining about being tired, although everybody was tired. There was just this great joy in doing the work."
Comments producer Ozzie Areu, "Tyler cultivates relationships with actors, and strives to create an atmosphere on set that gives them a safe place to explore the material, and collaborate with him and one another. The actors really enjoy and appreciate that, and as a result it shows in their work. He's truly an Actor's Director."
As is often the case with Tyler Perry productions, the cast is quick to point out this creative freedom that Perry allows his actors, particularly when it comes to improvisation and flexibility with the script. Says Newton, "Tyler lets you explore and obviously as an actor, it's very satisfying to feel you can make that kind of contribution. He allows for that while still keeping his stature as director very secure."
Adds Kennedy, "You feel like you've got this great playground to play in. I can't stress it enough: he really makes the process very simple. Sometimes directors get very cerebral and Tyler just gets very emotional. He feels what he wants and it's great."
Perry's faith in the heart over the dictates of the mind is also evident in the message that TYLER PERRY'S GOOD DEEDS imparts. Wesley Deeds is a man who is living a life he thinks he wants, only to awaken to the longings of his heart, which lead him in an entirely different direction. His journey charts the struggles and rewards of finding one's authentic path in life. Observes producer Areu, "GOOD DEEDS will make moviegoers ask questions of themselves as they leave the theater. It's a film with a universal message about love, integrity and respect. I believe this movie has the ability to touch people in a very special way."
Says Gabrielle Union, "The movie urges you to seek the things that really make you feel full as a person. It's touching very deep issues in a very beautiful, simple way."
"It reminds people that they'll be surprised by the places where they'll find the greatest source of wisdom and joy," adds Newton. "And to always be open. Always, always."
For Perry, TYLER PERRY'S GOOD DEEDS exhorts audiences to pursue their own individual vision of happiness. "You can live your life for your parents, for someone else, through the eyes of society and never be happy. Or you can live your truth, accept your truth, accept what's going to make you happy and go for it with all you have. That's what this story is about," he says. "Live your life to the fullest. As long as it doesn't hurt anybody else, live your life the way you think it should be lived."
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2012 Lionsgate