May 27 2011

‘Under My Skin’ Exclusive Interview w/ Lauren London (Pt.1)

From the moment she hit the big screen starring opposite T.I. in the film ATL, Lauren London forever silenced those critics who said her early roles in music videos were anything less than saavy career moves.

If you’ve seen the way Lauren’s dimpled smile and girl-next-door demeanor can light up a screen, you know why her co-starring role with Hayden Panettiere in I Love You, Beth Cooper had fans heading back to the theater to see that more than once, why she was the actress Tyler Perry paired with Bow Wow in his film Madea’s Happy Family, why 90210 and Entourage fans are begging to see her in more episodes, and why nearly a million people are following her on Twitter just to see what she’ll be tweeting next.

When it comes to that .2mm covering all of us human beings have our own unique version of, Lauren London’s version is pretty damn pleasant to look at. But what is really going on underneath all that beauty? We’ve all read what the magazines and gossip blogs have written about her personal life and her career choices, but I recently met with Lauren London to really get under her skin.

The desire to attain “celebrity status” has driven many young people to pursue the elusive dream of stardom. Is that what made you want to be an actress?

I wish that was the case, because I’d be able to handle the attention a little better. No. I was an only child who spent a lot of time alone. Movies kept me company from a very young age, and starting from about seven years old, I wrote little plays and acted out all the parts by myself in my bedroom. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an actor. It’s crazy though, because I’m such a private person. I was never interested in becoming famous. I still struggle with that aspect of my work.

Doesn’t every celebrity say that after they become famous? “I love my craft, but I wish I could just have a normal life.”

(laughs) I’m not complaining and I’m not that famous. I do get recognized, but I’m not being hounded by paparazzi every day. I’m human, so of course I like getting special treatment at times. But deep down that girl from the neighborhood  is still in here. She  might shy away from having her picture taken, and would rather blend in with the scenery sometimes  and just observe.

Have you ever walked away from an interaction with a fan that you wished you could do over?

Yes. Sometimes I say no to pictures because I feel like I’m looking crazy and I don’t always get a chance to really explain that I’m not feeling picture-worthy that day. Usually I’ll put on shades and do it anyway, but there have been a couple of times I’ve walked away and got to my car, then came back because I felt bad.

What about being famous has taken you by surprise? What did you not see coming?

The impostors. Really. Who are these people who have nothing better to do than spend hours and hours on the Internet pretending to be me? They send messages to fans pretending they are coming from me. That’s just sad. There are fake MySpace pages. Fake Facebooks. Fake  Twitters. My verified Twitter is @MsLaurenLondon and my Facebook is brand new (Facebook.com/TheRealMsLaurenLondon). I don’t do Skype, and if I didn’t hand you my phone number face to face, you’re probably not talking to me on the phone either.

Do you think the public really believes these calls and messages are coming from you?

Definitely. Some really do. People have really been tricked.

What is the biggest misperception people have of you? What misperception bothers you most?

That my son is the result of some kind of one night stand or groupie encounter with his father. I struggle with deciding when to answer or ignore the constant speculation about my private life, because I feel like that doesn’t belong to anybody but me.

Do you want to go on to the next question, or clear up the speculation now?

I met Dwayne when I was 15 years old. I’ve known him a very long time, and we were in a relationship that didn’t make it. We tried more than once to revive it, and we were engaged briefly years ago, but we eventually parted ways. People see the “Lil’ Wayne” persona and think they know who he really is. My son’s father is an intelligent, loving and lovable person who will always be a dear friend. That is all.

If you don’t mind another personal question, there is a lot of talk about how well the mothers of his children get along. What’s the real deal?

We are all good-hearted women who love our children and we want them to know each other. Real friendships have grown from that foundation and the result has been more love, less drama and less trauma for our kids.

What is one thing your mother did with you that you want to be sure to do with your son?

To this day, my mother never lets a day go by without telling me she loves me.

KC: What is one quality about your mother that you really admire?

She’s so optimistic. Nothing can get her down. The whole world can come crashing down and she will still have the ability to laugh and have compassion for people.

What’s the best advice your father ever gave you?

He just recently said to me that people love you with what they have to give. Whatever they give to you is what they have to give to themselves, and the way they love you is the way they love themselves.

What three qualities do you hope your son will have at age 18 that will make you feel you’ve done a great job raising him?

I hope he has a strong relationship with God, that he respects himself and loves who he is, and that he has an idea of his purpose and wants to follow it.

Stay tuned for part two (the playful questions) of this interview…coming soon.
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May 1 2011

Tyler Perry is Free

I have a vivid memory of a city bus ride I took with my father when I was eight years old. We were on our way to the science museum and there were some young Black kids in the back of the bus acting up–nothing outlandish–just a few unsupervised pubescents being loud. I could tell before he said anything that my daddy was not pleased with the way the kids were behaving, but he was never that “takes a village to raise a child” kind of Black man, so instead of providing any kind of parental conversation or guidance for the noisemakers, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, let out an irritated breath and muttered a barely audible, “Making us look bad.”

I didn’t ask him what he meant. I clearly understood that my father was ashamed of the backseat Black kids, but more than that, I got the impression that he was not one of them. I gleaned from my daddy’s demeanor–the way he sat up straighter and held his head higher–that somehow he believed he was other then them, better than them, and that he certainly didn’t deserve the negative opinions strangers on the bus might attribute to him (because he had the same skin color as those unruly hooligans).

At that young age I didn’t yet realize that the strangers on the bus whose opinions he feared were the White ones. I began to recognize that as I grew older. I learned that he cared very much what White people thought of him and he took their judgement of him quite seriously. Over the years I saw him project that same negative judgement he himself feared so much onto countless Black youngsters who could have benefited from loving correction instead of his silent damnation.

That experience with my daddy is why I love and admire Tyler Perry so much, and why I appreciate Perry’s willingness to shine his own loving light on the “bad behavior” of people who share his skin color. Perry is not silenced, nor is his spine stiffened by what others think of him or his art — and yes, I do think it is the essence of art whenever we humans are shown our strengths and our flaws in a way that elicits strong emotion. Perry takes his art to another level by getting us to laugh about our pain as he educates and admonishes us NOT to pass our destructive flaws on to successive generations.

No one will ever complain that a violent, potty-mouthed buffoon in an Adam Sandler movie makes all white-skinned people look bad. I am an Adam Sandler fan, but the critics have HATED his movies for their “buffoonery.” I don’t go to see a Sandler movie expecting subtle themes, classic motifs and social responsibility. I go to laugh, and he makes me do that, so I pay for it. One of the privileges White film makers have (and likely never even think about) is that no matter what the subject matter of the film they want to make, their finished product will not be accused of reflecting (positively or poorly) on all White people.White filmmakers have the freedom to tell any story, any time, in any way they please.

Tyler Perry is choosing to claim that freedom for himself, and I applaud him for it:

“There are so many people who walk around saying ‘It’s stereotypical,’ and this is where the whole Spike Lee thing comes from, the negativity, that this is Stepin’ Fetchit, this is coonery, this is buffoonery, and they try to get people to get on this bandwagon with them, to get this mob mentality to come against what I’m doing…It’s always black people, and this is something that I cannot undo…I am sick of it. It comes from us. We don’t have to worry about anyone else trying to destroy us or take shots, because we do it to ourselves.”

Tyler Perry is making films for an audience that is buying tickets. Period. If he were to make a different kind of movie, he would likely be bringing in different numbers (as evidenced by Colored Girls, which grossed in total less than a Madea film makes in one weekend).

And, while it is true that Tyler is making googobs of money with his films, he does it while delivering messages of transformation, spirituality and personal growth. His films lecture deadbeat dads about their responsibility to support  their kids, warn youngsters about the repercussions of unprotected sex, and uplift women who have been abused.

Name a social ill impacting the Black community and you can bet one of Perry’s films has touched on it. It’s not like he’s making movies that glorify sexual promiscuity, drug abuse and crime, so why is there so much vitriol against him?

If you are old enough to remember, you know that the Cosby show got much criticism back in the 80s for what many Black people at the time called an unrealistic portrayal of the Black family that few could relate to. Cosby’s upper middle class family headed by an obstetrician and an attorney who were happily married and raising their children together was  hugely controversial, as evidenced by an exhibit from the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

“Some observers described the show as a 1980’s version of Father Knows Best, the Huxtables as a white family in blackface…One audience study suggests that the show “strikes a deal” with white viewers, that it absolves them of responsibility for racial inequality in the United States in exchange for inviting the Huxtables into their living room.” (-Darnell M. Hunt)

The attack on Tyler Perry and his right to portray what he chooses in his films is not a new phenomenon, it is just coming from a different side of the argument. Perry haters are complaining that his films reinforce negative stereotypes, but Cosby haters said just the opposite. Back then, Bill Cosby’s response to the controversy was swift and succinct, and it applies just as appropriately to Perry’s work today as it did to Cosby’s nearly thirty years ago:

“You . . . pretend that our existence is one whole shell of sameness. I tell the people who complain they don’t know people like the Huxtables, ‘You ought to get out more often.’ “

I don’t know about you, but I can name a real-life person for every one of Tyler Perry’s fictional characters–including Madea. These are people in my life whom I know and love, and though I might not always agree with or feel proud of their choices, I will always root for them to succeed at facing and eradicating their flaws — and, if some Black people are worried that the “strangers on the bus” will judge all Black people by the actions of  a few characters in an obviously comedic film, whose problem is that…really?

“I am ashamed for the black poet who says: ‘I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet,’ as though his own racial world were not as interesting as any other world…An artist must be free to choose what he does, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.

Let the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing voice of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand…We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame…We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.”

-Langston Hughes


Feb 22 2005

Exclusive Interview with Tyler Perry: Finally Reaping Write-ousness (ARCHIVE)

If success really is the sweetest revenge, anyone who ever did anything wrong to Tyler Perry better recognize that the score has officially been settled—and he has upwards of $65 million in earnings on his side of the scoreboard.

Sweet revenge indeed.

But perhaps what is sweetest is that Perry himself is not at all about vengeance or payback; he’s about giving back, giving thanks and forgiving those who’ve done him wrong. Think that sounds a little too good to be true? Think again. This thirty-six-year-old actor, playwright, producer, director and CEO of his own multimillion-dollar company is a walking testimonial to the redemptive and regenerative power of two mighty little “f” words: “faith” and “forgive.”

Raised in poverty in New Orleans and subjected to a childhood of constant abuse at the hands of his physically present but emotionally distant father, Perry grew into an unhappy young man whose life was shrouded by anger and resentment.

“My experiences as a kid were horrendous,” he says. “And I carried all that pain into my adult life.” It wasn’t until he was nearly thirty years old that Perry finally began to heal. “I was watching Oprah one day and she suggested writing in a journal as a way to let go of the past,” he recalls. He took Oprah’s advice and began a series of journal entries detailing his painful childhood experiences. What he wrote eventually became his first play, I Know I’ve Been Changed, a hilarious and inspiring musical about adult survivors of child abuse who confront their abusers and ultimately find healing.

The experience was cathartic for Perry, who was finally able to let go of the anger and bitterness that had held his spirit captive. “I learned real forgiveness,” he explains. “That deep-down forgiveness where you don’t hold grudges anymore.”

Believing that God was calling him to share what he had written with others in need of healing, Perry saved twelve thousand dollars, relocated to Atlanta, and rented a theater where he produced, directed and starred in the first theatrical offering of I Know I’ve Been Changed. Thirty people showed up during the entire weekend run of the play. Perry was beyond devastated. He had quit his job and spent his life savings to do what he was sure God wanted—only to find himself penniless and living on the street. “I asked God if quitting my job was the right thing, and I heard him telling me yes. I clearly heard his voice telling me ‘go out and do this play and it’ll be okay.’”

After the dismal failure of the play, what followed for Perry was a period of homelessness during which his main priority became easing his hunger and finding a safe place to sleep each night. “I didn’t hear from God during that time, and that was the darkest for me,” he recalls. “I was so angry; I was so mad at God for leading me out there and then leaving me.”

Refusing to yield to anger and doubt, Perry ignored the pleas of friends and family to give up on his play and “get a real job.” For the next six years he continued to pursue what he still believed was God’s will, working a number of odd jobs to finance his play and drifting in and out of homelessness when he couldn’t raise enough money to pay rent. Finally in 1998, Perry staged a production of his musical at the House of Blues in Atlanta and the venue sold out eight times over. Two weeks later he presented the play at the 4,500-seat Fox Theater and sold out that venue twice. Changed went on to gross several million dollars, and to this day Perry receives mail from fans around the country who say they’ve experienced healing through his words—something he always knew his play had the power to do.

“Of course, I understand now what that was,” he says of the time he spent suffering and struggling to bring his work to life. “God was preparing me for all that was to come.” All that was to come is Perry’s characteristically humble way of referring to the enormous success he has achieved since that bleak period in his life. Over the last seven years he has written, produced, directed and owns all rights to the seven hit plays that have broken box office records across the country and grossed more than $50 million. On his Web site, www.tylerperry.com, fans can purchase videos and DVDs of the plays—another lucrative arm of Perry’s business that brings in several million dollars per year. With titles like I Can Do Bad All By Myself, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Madea’s Class Reunion, and his latest play, Madea Goes to Jail, Perry has attracted a following of staunch supporters who stand in line again and again and place their names on DVD waiting lists to experience his unique and controversial brand of urban theater.

Especially popular with Perry’s fans is his stage portrayal of Madea Simmons, a 68-year-old grandmother who packs a pistol in her purse, smokes marijuana, and says she’ll consider going to church “when they get a smoking section.” Donning a housedress, fake breasts, and a healthy coating of Maybelline, the six-foot-five Perry delights audiences with Madea’s crude and raucous sense of humor. In between cussing, fussing and embarrassing her loved ones, Madea offers lessons on self-esteem, parenting, forgiveness and faith in God.
Madea’s fans will be happy to know that she is making her February 25 feature film debut in the screen adaptation of Perry’s wildly popular play Diary of a Mad Black Woman. The film stars Kimberly Elise, Shemar Moore, Steve Harris, Cicely Tyson and, of course, Tyler Perry, who plays three characters. The movie, directed by Darren Grant, weaves together a brilliant mix of drama and comedy to tell the story of Helen McCarter (Kimberly Elise), who is dumped by her husband after 18 years of marriage and must fight the urge to exact revenge. It is a hilarious and ultimately, heartwarming story of marital betrayal, forgiveness, self-love, and the importance of family.

Bypassing the Hollywood studios, who were put off by the title and too eager to modify the storyline, Perry teamed up with producer Reuben Canon (who brought audiences the film version of T.D. Jake’s Woman Thou Art Loosed) to ensure that Diary stayed true to its themes of forgiveness and redemption. “I own my brand,” says Perry of his experience meeting with studio execs, “They want to put me in a room with a bunch of people who don’t look like me and write for me? There’s no amount of money that’s going to make me walk away from the thing that I know works. This is my calling—to speak to an entire generation. That’s a huge responsibility and I’ve got to protect it and keep it.”

Perry knows the power to say “no” to Hollywood money is rare for urban filmmakers, and he gives full credit for that power to that 68-year-old grandmother named Madea. “Madea’s fan base…put pressure on me to stay real,” he explains. Though Madea is fictional, there is no doubt that she represents a real influence on the man who created her. “Madea is my mother, my aunt and all the women in my life who loved me enough to speak their minds,” says Tyler. “She teaches us how to forgive; how to let things go and how to move on.”

When it comes to forgiving and moving on Tyler Perry has definitely taken Madea’s advice to heart. He now lives in a lavishly decorated, $5 million mansion surrounded by perfectly manicured grounds complete with two secluded prayer gardens. And when it comes to prayer, Perry says he has learned a powerful lesson about how to approach God with his needs. “I don’t ask God for anything. I stopped asking for things a long time ago. Even when people come to me and ask me to pray for them, my prayer for them is, ‘God, let your will be done.’”

Of his extravagant home, Perry says he believes his house should make a statement to those who doubt the power of faith and forgiveness. “I want people to know what God can do when you believe.” Despite the luxury surrounding him, Perry says he has never lost his commitment to love, touch and heal others. “Cicely Tyson said something to me I will never forget,” he offers humbly, ‘When the thing you do starts to serve you more than it serves the people—you are no longer a servant.’” Asked if he is proud of himself, Tyler responds calmly, “I’m proud of the body of work I’ve produced. I’m still working on me.”

for RollingOut.com