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A MADEA FAMILY FUNERAL

Production Notes
Respect the dead.
Pray for the living.
Over the course of ten movies, Tyler Perry's equally raucous and righteous matriarch Madea has gone to jail, hid out in the witness protection program, battled zombies, confronted the KKK, decked the halls and dealt with every conceivable size and stripe of disorderly and dysfunctional family member in her own outsized, inimitable style. But now, as tragedy strikes, Madea must plan a funeral and things are about to turn deadly funny.

In Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral-Perry's 11th comic tale centered on the meddlesome mama with millions of worldwide fans-Madea and family are called to bury their loved one, only to unbury a whole madcap tangle of personal secrets that threaten to unravel the family peace just when they all need to pull together. It's all a fresh chance for Perry to stir together his trademark, high-energy mix of irreverent humor, riotous characters and uplifting themes of real-life family love, loyalty, conflict and forgiveness. Because no matter what Madea's family faces-even death itself-the only way through it is to laugh about it.

As soon as Perry had a first flash of the idea of unleashing Madea into the solemn atmosphere of a family funeral, he could not keep the comedic thoughts from flowing. Though mortality can be a taboo topic for even the boldest of comedians, Perry has never shied away from any untouchable subject that real-life families face. More than that, he had an inkling that if Madea was put in charge of a full-scale funeral service, it would be destined to live on.

"I've been to a lot of funerals myself and though they are always sad and moving occasions, there are also a lot of hilarious things that happen at funerals," Perry observes. "In some ways, there's nothing funnier than some of the things I've seen go on at a black funeral. So I thought there was no better way to poke some fun at those rituals than to imagine Madea planning a big funeral. I mean, who would let Madea plan a funeral?"

As it turns out, the funeral Madea must suddenly step in to coordinate arises rather suddenly, so to speak. The big event everyone's expecting is a surprise party-with Madea, brother Joe, Aunt Bam and dear friend Hattie, all arriving in their Sunday best to honor the 40th wedding anniversary of cousin Vianne and her husband Anthony. But when Madea and crew arrive at their hotel, they get a whole other kind of surprise. To their panic and dismay, they discover Anthony in a shockingly compromising position, kicking off a series of events that not only lead to a demise, but the discovery of scandals and skeletons long locked in the family closet. Even as comic chaos erupts, the story touches on motifs of owning up to your mistakes and becoming your own person.

"Once all these crazy secrets come out, the family has to find a way to heal and come together," explains Perry. "There are themes about learning to take responsibility for how you've treated other people. But at heart, I just wanted to make a movie that will keep people laughing."

To that end, Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral brings together the biggest, most multigenerational cast of familiar faces and exciting newcomers Perry has yet assembled. Cassi Davis and Patrice

Lovely return as Aunt Bam and Hattie, as Courtney Burrell, Jen Harper, Rome Flynn, Ary Katz (Aryeh-Or), Ciera Payton, Aeriel Miranda, Derek Morgan, David Otunga, KJ Smith and Quin Walters join the fun. Also returning as producer is Mark E. Swinton, who, as Vice President of the Atlanta-based Tyler Perry Studios, has partnered with Perry in building an entertainment empire that spans every medium, from theatrical plays and television series to a range of feature films. Swinton expected Perry's 11th Madea movie would take her antics to the next level. But reading the script, he was struck by how Perry found just the right tone for mixing sheer mayhem into a time of family mourning. "Leave it to Tyler to write a story about a sad occasion but find the comic jewels," says Swinton. "In the middle of this funeral, Tyler invites us to laugh at ourselves-the good, the bad, the ugly and the ridiculous-and to watch a family coming together under crazy circumstances to support one another."

Swinton sees Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral as Perry as peak Madea. "People who love how crazy Madea is, how real she is, and all the funny things she says are going to see her in rare form here," he says. "If you're a Madea fan you'll want to see how she deals with a family funeral."

While outrageousness reigns, Swinton notes that Perry has also woven into the film a story about a family coming to terms with a legacy of adultery, secrecy and unacknowledged selflessness. It's part of what has, from the very start, set the Madea films apart-that blend of no-holds-barred banter and madcap slapstick with comical candor and a dash of reflection on the wonders and challenges of modern family life. "Non-stop funny as this film is, it also speaks to the challenges of marriage and of family and to putting aside your own needs out of love and for the greater good," Swinton says. "Any marriage involves two imperfect people doing their imperfect things and Tyler is very honest about that. So, even as you're sitting there laughing uncontrollably, you're also getting involved with a family whose problems and love for each other feels real."

The Madea Mystique
Ever since debuting in Tyler Perry's first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, the character known as Mabel "Madea" Simmons has taken on a life of her own. Sure, it was hilarious to see a man of Perry's extreme height throw on a grandmother's housedress and a silver wig to begin with, but there has come to be much more to Madea than the absurdity of her appearance. Her mix of sassy attitude, sage advice, penchant for trouble, love of family and willingness to say any and every crazy thing that comes into her mind has made her the centerpiece of what just might be the most successful independent franchise in cinematic history.

Perry's alter-ego creation-who he has said was originally inspired both by his own beloved mother and watching Eddie Murphy transform into the Klump family's grandmother-would come to star not only in the wildly successful film series, but also a series of popular stage plays. Madea's mass appeal would in turn lend Perry the resources to build what has become the largest African American-owned motion picture studio in history. At the same time, the Madea family-the Madea-verse as some call it-has kept expanding, bringing in stories of family members from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, while boosting numerous acting careers along the way.

As rising star Rome Flynn, who plays Jesse in Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral and who grew up on Madea movies, observes of Madea's enduring appeal: "People relate to the films because there's a Madea somewhere in everybody's family. Tyler gives his characters human characteristics that are funny, but that are also all too recognizable from real life, and you see a lot of that in this film."

Adds Aryeh-Or, who plays the preternaturally eerie undertaker in the film: "Everyone can see reflections of Tyler's characters in our own family members. We're able to instantly attach to them and they feel personal to us, which is what has made them a part of our hearts and culture now."

With Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral, Perry once again dons a full assortment of hats: writing, directing, producing and starring as not only Madea, but also her razor-tongued brother Joe and her nephew Brian, a straight-laced, successful lawyer.

Perry also introduces an all-new character into the mix: Madea's unrepentantly reckless Uncle Heathrow, who proudly proclaims himself to be a wounded war hero, although he's actually just a hot mess of his own making. Heathrow might be without legs and a voice, but he remains determined to be hell on wheels, gleefully indulging in every vice and vitriolic opinion he can let fly.

"I just love this new character," says Perry. "Heathrow says he lost his legs in the war, but the truth is he was messing around with somebody's woman and paid for it. I wanted to bring in a different look to him with the Jheri curl and just have him be out of control and a lot of fun. Of course, the truth is he never spent a day as a soldier in his life. He bought all his medals at Wal-Mart."

Says Swinton: "Heathrow is a character with no filter and no shame, who says exactly what he feels, and of course Tyler has enormous fun with that. You can tell he's definitely a part of Madea and Joe's family because they are three peas in a pod. And once again, Tyler has created a character we all recognize. There's an Uncle Heathrow in a lot of families, someone who came from the streets and is unapologetic about it. They might have gotten old, but they still have it in them."

KJ Smith, who plays Madea's cousin Carol, adds: "I'm telling you, no one's ready for Uncle Heathrow. When I was in a scene with Uncle Heathrow it was a challenge just to stay in character because of the things that he would say. It's nearly impossible to hold back your laughter."

For Perry, part of the pleasure of constantly crafting his own new characters is having the chance to put them smack in the middle of his talented ensemble casts and seeing what results. As a director, he has always invited free-wheeling improvisation on set-both to keep things loose and to capture those unscripted comedy moments that no one can see erupting until they do. "Improv helps to keep these movies fresh and exciting. I like to have fun with so many great actors on the set and I also like that it gives me lots of different options when I get into the edit room," Perry explains.

On this film, he was gratified to be able to recruit a cast full of rising stars he is certain will go on to do bigger things. Perry says of the ensemble: "I love working with people who bring their own funny ideas and a strong sense of their characters to the set. I look for that and when you have a cast like that, and we all come together, it's just one wonderful melting pot. This cast was especially great to work with. You'll see a lot of new faces, and it's been exciting to give so many talented people a chance."

The cast was even more excited to have the opportunity to work with Perry, who is renowned for his rapid-fire form of filmmaking that keeps things flowing and creative. Still, performing in a Madea movie comes with its own set of challenges. First of all, everyone has to find a way to separate Perry the director and natural-born leader from Perry's completely zany characters, from whom no one in their right mind would take direction on a film.

Says Cassi Davis, returning as the much-loved motor-mouth Aunt Bam: "I think some of my favorite moments working with Tyler come when he is dressed in character but then suddenly he has to switch into being the director. You look at him and you're just like, 'Do you really expect me to take you seriously here?' It's hilarious to hear him say cut, and then you look at him and he's in his Madea dress, his legs wide out!" But the actors are also appreciative for Perry giving them such authentic characters to explore within the hilarity. Sums up Jen Harper, who plays the suddenly widowed Vianne: "As funny as Tyler's scripts are, I think the thing that everybody relates to most is the humanity that comes out in even his craziest characters."

The Return of Bam and Hattie
Wherever Madea goes, her two sidekicks, confidantes and equally trouble-prone partners-in-crime- Aunt Bam and best-friend Hattie-are never far behind. So naturally they are there with her now, commiserating with her, praying with her, "advising" her as only they can do and making sure every single minute of her never-ending funeral service adds some madcap into the mournful.

"Bam and Hattie are definitely those close family members that you would want around you at a funeral, but they are also those family members at the funeral who would probably drive you crazy!" laughs Mark Swinton. "Because, even though it's a sad occasion, Bam and Hattie still can't change from doing all the ridiculous things that they do all the time, on any occasion."

Returning in the fan-favorite roles are Cassi Davis, who has also long starred as Ella Payne on Tyler Perry's hit TV series House of Payne and Patrice Lovely, a multi-talent who is also a gospel recording artist and made her feature film debut as Hattie in Boo! A Madea Halloween. Says Perry: "I just love working with Cassi and Patrice because first of all, they are such funny and gifted women. They bring so many jokes and ideas of their own that there's a lot left on the table that doesn't even make it to the film."

For Davis, the best part of being a long-time member of the Madea family has been having so many people approach her on the street just to thank her for the good times. "People will come up to you and tell you line-by-line something from a Madea movie that you said that made their day easier or made them laugh or was healing for their grandmother. It's been wonderful to be a part of that," Davis says.

As soon as Perry told Davis he was thinking of taking the Madea family of characters to a funeral, she was already in hysterics at the mere concept. "When Tyler and I first spoke about this movie, I was just cracking up on the telephone," Davis recalls. "There was so much funny material to think of. It was obvious that the difference between a Madea funeral and a normal funeral is that a Madea funeral is not going to be normal. Period. End of quote."

While Davis always looks forward to going to town as Aunt Bam, this film was something new again, especially with its dynamic young cast, who inspired even more hijinks. "I've done many Tyler Perry movies-thank you, God! But this particular cast was so much fun," Davis says. "These young people, they came from all over the country, yet when we got on set it was like we all already knew each other. It felt like a real family and we just had the best time."

Davis sees the film as one of Perry's comically wildest, yet also anchored to an especially poignant story about making amends. She offers this nugget of wisdom: "In the midst of any family, you have to have that element of forgiveness. We all make mistakes. And, some of them hurt more deeply than others. But you always need to mend those fences, because at the end of the day, family really is all you have. Even if they're a little crazy, Madea and Bam truly appreciate family."

Like Davis, Lovely says that when the call came from Perry that there would be a new Madea film, she could not have been more overjoyed. "I was thrilled to have another chance to work with Tyler and I'm excited that audiences get to see more of Hattie," she says.

When the script arrived, Lovely's excitement notched up even higher, seeing Madea, Hattie and Bam run rampant through such unusually solemn territory. "I laughed till I cried at this script," she remembers. "I texted Tyler immediately and I told him: 'you knocked this out of the ballpark and your mind is stupid, stupid funny. You have outdone yourself again.'"

On set, Lovely says the urge to burst out laughing was at times agonizing to resist, especially in two key scenes: at the hotel when Madea, Hattie, Bam, Joe and Brian find their cousin in a literally heart-stopping scene of hanky-panky; and at the nearly-eternal funeral service, which goes on and on and on ...and on...only to devolve into technical difficulties with the casket. "During that scene, I laughed so hard they had to redo my makeup because I just lost it," Lovely reveals.

Equally joyous for Lovely was reuniting with Davis. "I can't say enough about Cassi. I love her heart, I love her spirit and as Bam and Hattie we just match," she describes.

Most of all, Lovely continues to adore the laugh-filled friendship between Madea and Hattie, who each fully understands the other's outspoken ways. "The way I think of it, Hattie and Bam have been through the thick of things together for 50 years," observes Lovely. "So their chemistry is just bananas. Madea knows what Hattie is going to do and Hattie knows what Madea is going to do and they're both Old School. They've been there, done that, no matter what it is. So when the events around this sudden death threaten to split the family, they know they just have to bring this family back together, whatever it takes and the way only they can."

For the rest of the cast, watching Perry, Davis and Lovely transform daily into their characters felt like a master class at times. Says Quin Walters, who plays Renee in the film: "When Cassi and Patrice came on set in costume, I often wondered is this even the same person I met earlier? They had transformed not only their bodies, but also their mannerisms and their being. Then you'd watch them adlib, and the way they banter so naturally with each other was just amazing. These are some serious comedians. Tyler, Cassi and Patrice truly gel as a team and it makes for some funny, funny stuff."

Cousins and Calamity: The New Cast
Joining Perry, Davis and Lovely in the cast of Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral is a sprawling ensemble hand-picked by Perry and Swinton to bring to life all the complicated relationships and clashing agendas among Madea's Georgia cousins.

The film's biggest journey is taken by cousin Vianne, who on the occasion of her 40th wedding anniversary goes from a long-suffering if loyal wife to a woman ready to take on the world her own way. Vianne may have stood by her husband Anthony for better and for a whole lot of worse, but now she's ready to speak her own truth.

Taking the key role is Jen Harper, a classically trained dancer and actor who, after graduating medical school and becoming a doctor, resumed her acting training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London. In addition to her theatre work, Harper is known for a number of starring television roles including in In the Heat of the Night, I'll Fly Away and most recently Greenleaf.

Says Mark Swinton: "The word I think of for Jen is regal. She has such grace, style and virtue and she brings all that to Vianne. Vianne is a strong character-she's been a caring, virtuous mother, and that's why her family unit is still intact. Even when all these family secrets start pouring out, Vianne is the one who remains able to put it all into perspective. She does it in a way that's not expected, but is also very human."

For Harper, the initial draw was her first chance to work with Perry. "He's a homeboy to us here in Atlanta, so any opportunity to work with him is a dream," she says. But she soon also fell in love with Vianne's steadfastness and inner strength as a proud matriarch. "Vianne is in a fascinating place," she observes. "She has been very patient with her husband and her family. But now she is ready to burst. I really liked that she is a woman finding and asserting her independence."

Harper found inspiration in working with the film's large cast drawn from multiple generations and myriad backgrounds. "What was great to me was being part of a mix of actors and comedians, getting the chance to see how each approaches their work so differently," she says. "I found it an amazing learning experience."

As for whether humor and tragedy can happily co-exist in one story, Harper is convinced there's really no other way. "It's humor that makes life work," she concludes.

Playing the ill-fated Anthony, who perishes with a smile on his face even as he upends his entire loving family, is award-wining theatre and television actor Derek Morgan (Joan of Arcadia). I worked with Derek years ago on a play I directed so I already knew he was a great actor," says Swinton. "When he came in to audition, we felt he was perfect for the role."

While it's not the "liveliest" role Morgan has ever played, he greatly appreciated his character's resonating impact on the family. Describes Morgan: "As Anthony, I play the guy who unintentionally brings everyone in the family together. He's the guy who reminds everyone of something important: that the choices we make don't just affect you, they affect everyone around you-and also that you shouldn't ever take more than one Viagra."

Morgan especially enjoyed his first outing with Perry. "As a director, Tyler's very calm, very cool, with an energy that keeps that creative flow going," he observes. "He doesn't touch your process and when he gives you direction he's very clear about his reasons. Then he goes from directing to acting and you see the full extent of what his talent looks like-and it is huge."

Anthony's son A.J. is the apple who did not fall from his father's philandering tree. Taking the role is Courtney Burrell, who came to the fore in the BET series Chef Julian and worked with Perry previously on the series Too Close to Home. "I believe Courtney is a big star in the making," says Swinton. "It was fun to cast him as our bad guy, because even as a bad guy he's incredibly likeable."

Burrell had never played a character quite as badly behaved as A.J. before, though he also sees him as someone who has been dodging his demons by playing around. "I've played a variety of characters but this dude right here, A.J. is a trip," he muses. "He's not a good husband and he has a lot of issues surrounding whether he is following in his father's footsteps. He's a complicated guy, but at the same time, I knew I was stepping into Madea's world, where you are going to have mad fun and laugh the whole time, so I was excited about that combination."

For Burrell, making it through scenes with Perry in them without losing it was a personal challenge. "I would say to myself, 'I can't crack. I won't crack. You will not make me crack.' But then I would start twitching and I was like "don't do it to me, man, don't do it.' Then I'd be laughing anyway. He's just too hilarious."

A.J.'s brother Jesse is his polar opposite, an upright man who takes pride in his solid commitment to his fiancée, no matter what his siblings might think of her reputation. Taking the role is another rapidly rising star, Rome Flynn, known for portraying Gabriel Maddox in How to Get Away with Murder.

Flynn notes that working with Tyler Perry has been a top item on his "bucket list" since the start of his career, so getting the role meant the world to him. Even with that pressure, Perry lived up to his expectations. "Tyler's dedication and devotion is something I marveled at daily and something I'll take with me long past this role. He treats everyone with respect ... and at the same time he makes you laugh so hard it hurts," says Flynn.

He also liked playing one of the movie's most standup characters, a guy trying to bust out of the cycles that break up marriages. "I like that Jesse's a nice guy, a loyal guy and also a helpless romantic," Flynn describes. "He's been trying to come to terms with his father his whole life, so I think he wants to show his family that he's serious about marrying Gia and about being a really good husband to her, because he wants to set his own path."

"Rome does an incredible job playing the young brother who has been searching for real love and has finally found it, or so he thinks," says Swinton. "He's a really strong actor."

KJ Smith, who came to the forefront in Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey's TV series Queen Sugar takes on A.J.'s wife Carol, who senses their marriage is on the brink, but hopes this party might spark some changes. "Carol and A.J. have a tumultuous relationship, but she's really excited about the 40th anniversary party because she thinks it's going to be beautiful to see how a love can survive that long," says Smith. "What she doesn't see coming is this huge explosion of private information, where what everyone has been doing in the dark, including her husband, comes to light. At the end of the day, this crazy family has to confront their dysfunctions just like every family ... ever."

Smith loved creating that married couple push-and-pull with Burrell. "I'd worked with Courtney once before, so I knew he was an incredible actor, but he brought such great energy. Also, Courtney is nothing at all like A.J., so it was impressive to see him portray somebody so different."

As for working with Perry for the first time, Smith was awestruck by his hat-switching skills. "It's fascinating to see him go from 'I'm MA to the damn DEA' to 'Yeah, okay, cut-and sound, did you get what you needed.' It's actually mind-blowing," she muses.

Jesse's finagling fiancée Gia, who sparks a high-stakes sibling rivalry, is played by Aeriel Miranda, known for her role as role as Shana Fring in Pretty Little Liars. While Gia may not be ready for a serious relationship, Miranda honed in on her confident joie de vivre. "Gia's a spunky, free-spirited kind of chick," Miranda describes. "She likes to enjoy herself but now she's gotten into a sticky situation by coming between her fiancé and his brother at the worst possible time."

Having Rome Flynn play her prospective husband only helped Miranda reveal a chemistry that is sizzling, if not quite the end-all-be-all to Gia that Jesse hopes. "Rome is so sweet and so cute. That's always a plus, when someone is your love interest," she laughs. "He's so charming that we instantly had a very organic connection."

A steadier coupling is found in Sylvia and Will, played by Ciera Payton, whose films include The Runner with Nicholas Cage and Spike Lee's Oldboy, and David Otunga, who is not only an actor (The Call) but also a lawyer and WWE professional wrestler.

Like others in the cast, Payton has long been a Madea fan. "Madea never disappoints," she says. "You always know you'll be in for some big laughs and some food for thought. But with Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral, I think audiences will be in for even bigger laughs than they've had before."

Payton has also had plenty of experiences with funerals that go afoul of the norms. "No funeral can really surprise me, because I'm from New Orleans and we have funerals that are like nothing else. I've seen some pretty festive funerals so this funeral is right up my alley," she laughs.

For Otunga, the challenge was being one of the only sane voices in a chorus of crazy. "Will and Sylvia are by far the most normal people in this movie," he muses. "We're upstanding, moral, drama-free people- which means we're very busy trying to keep the rest of the family in order!"

Otunga says making a Madea film is an experience unto itself, unlike any he's had in the entertainment industry previously. "Every day you are sore from laughter," he says. He also thinks this film marks Perry's ultimate Madea adventure. "This story has everything die-hard Madea fans love, but then it takes all of that stuff to the next degree."

The film's screwball events are first set into motion by family friend Renee, who tries to carefully hide a humdinger secret of her own throughout the funeral. Taking the role is Quin Walters, who also stars in Perry's television series The Haves and Have Nots. "Quin is another really talented actor who is now coming to the fore," says Swinton. "I think people are really going to enjoy her performance as Renee."

Walters found the catalytic character whose impact reverberates through the whole family intriguing. "Renee's a little bit conniving, and a bit of a dominatrix, but I think she's also someone with a big heart," she describes. "She goes on a real roller-coaster ride in the course of this story."

Rounding out the main cast is Aryeh-Or, seen in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar and television's Mistresses, as the undertaker who must wrangle with a randy corpse as well as with Madea in preparing for the service. "He is just a creepy, creepy dude," Aryeh-Or summarizes succinctly of his character. "He speaks slowly, with a combination of casual Southern drawl and a guy who talks all day to dead people. I just tried to bring a grounded combination of humor and humanity to this guy."

For Aryeh-Or, that mix is at the heart of the film. "In Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral, you get at least two heaping scoops of Tyler Perry's slapstick comedy and banter," he notes, "but no matter how weird it gets, and no matter how grievous the trespasses, family is still family. At the end of the day, this family has to find a way to defuse all these big conflicts so they can come together and triumph despite the circumstance of tragedy."

Going Out With a Bang
Tyler Perry gathered the cast and crew of Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral at his historic Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, where the team transformed the soundstages into Vianne and Anthony's warm family home, the hotel room where sordid secrets erupt and the church where Madea carries out her everlasting ceremony. Per usual, Perry worked at a rapid-fire pace, immersing the cast immediately into the havoc of Madea's family and keeping them in that zone for an intense, all-out 2-week shoot.

"When you work with Tyler, you've got to be ready," notes Patrice Lovely of his distinctive approach, "because he'll come in on the first day and just say 'let's shoot.' No rehearsals, no nothing. And then on the second take, he'll see where we all are and then he'll start honing our roles. It's really something to experience and I think actors love it because it sharpens your skills and keeps you on your toes. It inspires you to polish your craft."

Perry may have perfected how to conjure that special Madea atmosphere, but he is now hinting that this funereal film might, in fact, be Madea's own swan song. "I'm so, so grateful for everything Madea has brought to my life, but, you know, I'm turning 50 and I certainly don't want to be her age playing her," he quips. "I feel she's had a great run and I'm full of gratitude for it."

He realizes that Madea has etched out a place in cinematic history that, much like the character, might not be entirely expected but has meant a lot to audiences. "I think lots of people found a voice through Madea and the thing that makes me happiest is that Madea has given people some really good, fun times and given entire families a way to laugh together," he sums up.

That all said, Perry does not entirely expect the ever-defiant and stubborn Madea to go off gently into that good night. "I think she will be really upset about me putting her out to pasture," he says. "I just want her to go quietly, but I really think she's gonna be a problem...."

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