The filmmaker behind the wildly popular Boo and Madea franchises and creator of shows such as House of Payne, discusses crafting a tale of romance gone wrong.

By Piya Sinha-Roy
March 29, 2018 at 05:11 PM EDT

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When Tyler Perry starred in 2014’s Gone Girl as Tanner Bolt, the lawyer defending Ben Affleck’s Nick Dunne from accusations that he killed his missing wife, the role left him itching to try his own hand at a seductive thriller.

“I’ve had this in my mind for a while, but it was just something I wanted to do,” Perry tells EW. “This woman who is very, very angry and her husband wasn’t a saint either, and how that whole story played out and going back to the people that I’ve counseled and stories that I’ve heard, I wanted to explore that.”

The result is Tyler Perry’s Acrimony, in theaters on March 30 and starring Taraji P. Henson as Melinda, a woman who very literally unleashes hell on her husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) after their marriage breaks down and she suspects he is cheating.

“Taraji can do anything, but just knowing how she would tap into her well of things that she has used in the past or been through, I knew she’d be able to do this and do it well,” Perry says.

The story is told through five dramatic chapters – Acrimony; Sunder; Bewail; Deranged; and Inexorable – tracing the couple’s journey from college sweethearts into adulthood and how Robert’s infidelity early in their relationship was forgiven but never really forgotten as Melinda descends gradually into paranoia.

Perry spoke to EW about what inspired Acrimony and being the “drum major” for a new generation of black storytellers.

Chip Bergmann/Lionsgate

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Taraji P. Henson’s Melinda goes through physical and emotional hell in this film and is so broken at times. How do you think people can resonate with her?
TYLER PERRY: There are a lot of women that I know that are dealing with holding a lot and dealing with a lot and going through a lot, especially where I grew up. Every time I write something like this, my mother is at the front of my mind and I’m often hoping that when somebody sees this film, they have kids and this will spark change in them so that their children won’t have to go through what I did as a kid, watching my mother endure these things. These people are very, very real and unfortunately, there are parts of our society who want you to think they’re not.

One of the things Melinda says early on is “every time a black woman gets mad, she’s a stereotype.” What was the purpose of having that line?
Because it’s ridiculous. Because if someone is angry and they’re a woman, then they’re angry; if a man is angry, he’s angry; but all of a sudden if it’s a black woman who’s angry, then she’s a stereotypical angry black woman, as if people don’t have the right to be angry. It’s stupid and ridiculous, is what it is.

And as far as going about addressing it, there’s one moment when the therapist tries to bring up borderline personality disorder (to Melinda), and she won’t hear it at all. That is a very real thing and it runs rampant, it’s usually caused by trauma, some sort of trauma early on and people don’t even know they have it, so that was more of my focus of just raising that awareness as opposed to saying somebody’s angry for no reason.

Were there things you were trying to avoid so that you wouldn’t step into stereotype territory?
I’ve never been one who’s been afraid of telling my stories the way that I want to tell the stories, and that’s what I did, just told the story the way that I wanted to tell the story, and allowing the characters to be real and be themselves.

There’s a show on Netflix called Seven Seconds and if you look at the character who is a black woman who’s smart but is drunk and not sure of herself and she’s horrible and awful, and I look at that character and the first thing I think watching it, being a black person, is “here’s a character with flaws.” I don’t think that this is such a bad representation of black women; I think that this is a black woman who has this kind of an issue.

So the great thing about the climate that we’re in right now with all of these changes and everybody having the opportunity to tell their stories is that every part of the black woman can be represented, every part of the black experience can be represented, from Ryan Coogler’s eyes to Ava (DuVernay) to Donald Glover to Issa Rae, so this is the way that I saw the character, this is the way I told the story, and I wasn’t interested in trying to perpetuate, debunk, or even deal with any stereotypes.

How do you feel your work has preceded this new era and new generation coming in to tell their stories, and where do you see yourself sitting within it?
I feel that I’ve been a drum major for this. I’ve been having these conversations behind closed doors at studios for a long time, trying to get other people of color to be able to tell their stories, and there was a 10-year period where I was the only one out there and I took a lot of heat for being the only one out there because there would be people of color who come and look in my basket for themselves and when they didn’t see it, they were angry or upset because they didn’t think my stories were worth telling because I didn’t represent them.

I look at Issa Rae and Donald Glover — I couldn’t do Atlanta, I couldn’t do Insecure. I don’t know those stories but I am fascinated by them, they’re intriguing to me to watch, and I’m very, very interested in them. So where I am right now with it is, I’m completely celebrating all of them because this is what I’ve been telling all these people for years in Hollywood, that these stories matter, that they’re important and they’re going to work, so to see these happen, and me be the chairman of pushing this at some point, I would say, or the drum major for it, it’s been amazing, it’s incredible to see.

And where I see myself in it is where I’ve been, at the forefront, I’ll continue to push the change of diversity and inclusion and continue to stand with all these people who want to tell their stories in any way they want to tell them.

You talk a lot about your brand – given this new era, how has your brand evolved and how would you define it for right now at this moment?
It’s very clear to me (that) my audience is aging along with me so what I’ve had to do, and if you look at the Boo and the Madea movies, I went younger with the casting and things like that, but what are universal themes that are going to be around and stay around forever? Faith, forgiveness, family; those are universal things that I hold onto, that’s always been my brand and they will always be part of my brand.

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