Two weeks ago, Tyler Perry was home for a minute.
Perry, the New Orleans native who built a film and TV empire from Atlanta, stopped in his hometown during a seven-city promotional tour for his new movie, “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween.”
As usual, Perry is the movie’s writer, director, producer and star. Doing triple acting duty, he plays title character Mabel “Madea” Simmons, her ornery brother, Joe, and Madea’s straight-laced nephew, Brian. “Boo 2!” opens Friday.
In the sequel, Madea and her crew, Joe, Hattie and Bam, drive her vintage Cadillac to a haunted campground where Madea’s sassy grandniece, Tiffany, is attending an illicit Halloween party.
Perry recently introduced “Boo 2” preview screenings to two packed auditoriums at AMC Elmwood Palace 20. The hometown hero inspired a rock-star welcome.
“Thank you so much,” Perry told fans before the screenings. “I had to come home and do this. I had to come to New Orleans.”
Alluding to divisive times, Perry told his local fans that people need comic relief.
“I tell you, it’s so important that we have a laugh,” he said. “So much is going on this country, we just need to laugh. So, for the next 110 minutes, just take your mind off of everything. Sit back, relax, laugh hard. Slap somebody when you’re laughing! This movie is stupid — stupid funny.”
Before the screenings, Perry spoke to a gaggle of reporters along a red carpet. Hosting an advance screening for one of his movies in his hometown was a rare and special occasion for him.
“Yeah, absolutely, because it’s home,” he said. “I remember doing Madea more than 20 years ago on stage at the Saenger Theatre. To have it come home on a big screen and do a premiere, that makes me feel really good.”
Making a sequel to last year’s Madea Halloween movie, which earned $73 million domestically, was an easy choice, he added.
“It’s all about the audience, because if I had my choice, I wouldn’t put that damn dress on again,” he said. “But because the audiences love it, I’m going to keep on doing it.”
Perry still thinks of New Orleans as home, but the city, he said during an interview the next morning at a downtown hotel, hasn’t felt the same to him since his mother’s death in 2009. Willie Maxine Campbell Perry was an inspiration for Madea.
“Because she and New Orleans were hand-in-hand, coming back here is bittersweet,” the famous son said. “There’s so much about her that I miss.”
Before Perry became a great American success story, he grew up poor in an abusive household Uptown. An episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” inspired him to become a writer. The talk-show star spoke of the cathartic effect writing can offer. Perry wrote his first play at 18.
Perry moved to Atlanta in 1991. The following year, he staged an unsuccessful production of his play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” In 1993, he presented a musical version of “I Know I’ve Been Changed” at the Saenger Theatre. But the play didn’t become a hit until five years later, when sold-out performances at the House of Blues in Atlanta made it necessary to move the production to the Fox Theatre in downtown Atlanta.
Perry has since produced 19 more plays, 17 movies and seven television series. He recently moved his Tyler Perry Studios to 330 acres on the former Fort McPherson Army Base in southwestern Atlanta. When he surveys the property, purchased in 2015 for $30 million, he has difficulty believing how far he’s come.
“When I was growing up here in New Orleans, I always imagined that there was a whole other level of accomplishment for me,” he said. “But I never thought it would be to this magnitude. ... I’m grateful.”
Madea, the no-nonsense, pistol-packing senior who debuted in Perry’s 2000 play, “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” has appeared in 11 plays and 11 movies.
“She’s been very good to me,” Perry said. “I love the joy that she brings to people. I love to see them laughing and smiling. But to be honest with you, my favorite character is Joe. I love that he says whatever is on his mind.”
Both Joe and Madea may say things that offend moviegoers who aren’t in Perry’s core audience, but the writer-director said he can’t change them now.
“They’ve been saying what they want to say all these years,” he said. “Just like most of our parents and grandparents.”
Writing, the talent that opened the door for Perry’s career, remains his foundation and salvation. It’s still a liberating experience for him, and he loves his characters’ multiple voices.
“That was the thing,” he said. “I started writing different characters. That’s how it all started.”