Tyler Perry Gets Tough With an Action-Hero Role


DETROIT - Tyler Perry has a lot to say about his upcoming movie "Alex Cross," except when it comes to a certain minor plot point.

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").

Shot mostly in Cleveland, the action yarn spent two weeks in Detroit filming some of its most eye-catching scenes, including one at the old Packard plant and another at the downtown Michigan Theatre.

There's also a sequence on the People Mover where Picasso wields a portable rocket launcher. Perhaps even more than "Real Steel," the film shows off the Motor City's ability to provide moody, visually striking locations.

Perry says Detroit is familiar territory for him because of the enormous success his stage productions have had at venues such as the Fox Theatre and Music Hall. "Every time I'm there, I'm trying to get over to Pastor Winans' Perfecting Church," he says, referring to preacher and gospel singer the Rev. Marvin Winans.

He was impressed with what the city had to offer as a cinematic backdrop, especially while filming at places like the Michigan Theatre, which is now used as a parking garage. "It looks amazing on film," he says. "To know that those kind of places still exist, it is mind-blowing. Every good director of photography or set designer would come into those places and they'll just drool, because Detroit still has some amazing places that people would love to shoot."

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. This is a pit stop, a very good pit stop for me on my way to my own network, so I thought it would be great to team up and do it right now and so does Oprah. And we're both very, very excited about the collaboration."

Whatever Perry tackles professionally, he seems to conquer. But he laughs when he's asked about what new career directions he's going to attempt next, now that he ha s accomplished being an action hero.

"The list is pretty simple and I'm on point to continue to scratch off the list," he says.

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