Lesson in Bad Acting from Tyler Perry and “Alex Cross”

Robert Rodriguez, and myself, encourage young filmmakers to learn everything about filmmaking so you can handle any aspect of the product. Especially when you are starting out with no money, you definitely need to know how to produce, get favors, shoot the movie, even act, edit, write, and direct.

Tyler Perry has been an example of that on steroids, churning out low budget movie after low budget movie. Low quality scripts but a huge and loyal audience spelled major success for Mr. Perry. And each movie has his name blaring across the top. In some ways it’s a great example of what one person can accomplish. Perry himself, on an interview with Steven Colbert, admitted that the reason he does everything on his movies is because that’s how he started out, when he had no money and he “hasn’t learned to let go”.

Clearly, it’s time for the guy to let go. While Robert Rodriguez is one of the few filmmakers who both shoots and direct and writes and edits most of his movies, his ego doesn’t overtake the production. But Perry’s many talents/skills/whatever have turned him into an ego monster. The result is the movie “Alex Cross”, which I am sure was only green lit because Tyler Perry’s name ensures that a large group of African American fans will show up regardless of the quality of the movie.

But from the very first moment that Perry appears onscreen, it’s clear that this guy cannot act… at least not without a big fat woman suit on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, at all. But sadly, in Hollywood, there was clearly nobody with the balls to say “Tyler, you’re very talented in many many ways… but you can’t act worth a shit.”

The movie “Alex Cross” is in the same world of “Kiss the Girls”, a thriller in which the role of Alex Cross was played by one Morgan Freeman. Comparing Morgan Freeman with Tyler Perry as an actor is like comparing the New York Yankees with your kid’s Little League Team: it just isn’t fair.

I suggest checking out the trailer (not the full movie) for Alex Cross, and just notice how little screen presence Tyler Perry has. How no casting director in their right mind would cast this guy as a the star of an action/thriller. Notice how well the trailer is shot (directed by Rob Cohen of “The Fast and the Furious”). You’ve got the great moving camera shots, some explosions, and a great sinister fucked up bad guy played by Matthew Fox.

Then you cut to Tyler Perry, and the energy just gets sucked out of the scene. I felt this way before I even knew it was Perry (I’d never seen him without a fat suit).

If you don’t know anything about acting at all, just watch how you feel when he is on screen, then watch a good movie like Die Hard and look at Bruce Willis. Don’t you just notice how different Bruce’s presence, or Morgan Freeman’s presence is, compared to Perry’s? They don’t even have to SAY anything but you FEEL that they really are in the role. Versus Perry, who looks like he is just way over his head.

The point here isn’t to rip on Perry but rather the egotism that would allow him to ruin a potentially good movie, and the delusion he had that he’s a good enough actor to pull this off.

Many new filmmakers have a similar problem… either over extending themselves, or more frequently, allowing a bad performance to ruin an otherwise good movie. If you are a first time filmmaker, allow Perry’s foible to be something you can learn from. When casting an actor, notice how you feel when you see them on screen. Are they believable? Do you feel confident that they are really the character they are on screen? If not, you risk making your movie silly, like “Alex Cross”.

You have to be kind of ruthless in your casting. But once you find an actor who actually has some screen presence, it will take your movie to a whole new level.

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