Cast includes Eugene Levy, Romeo Miller, Doris Roberts, Denise Richards and John Amos.
“Success is all about who you surround yourself with.”
That’s Tyler Perry — screenwriter-director-producer-certified megaforce — discussing the key to making box-office hits.
Of course, given all those hyphens, and the fact that he often plays multiple roles in his films, another way to put it might be: Success is all about surrounding yourself with as many Tyler Perrys as possible.
In his latest, “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection,” opening Friday, he does boast some new faces to the Perry stable, including comedy veteran Eugene Levy.
The funnyman plays a Wall Street patsy hiding out with his family at Madea’s home in Atlanta while his firm’s Ponzi schemes are being investigated. Denise Richards is his trophy wife and “Everybody Loves Raymond’s” Doris Roberts is his senile mother. Romeo Miller plays the son of a preacher (John Amos).
As for Perry, he plays cantankerous old Uncle Joe; a straight-laced federal prosecutor (without makeup); and, of course, Madea.
“It’s usually easy for me to write with the actor in mind,” says the 42-year-old Perry. “The thing that helps me get through [movies], and the thing that makes me look good, is that I have a really good team.”
The New Orleans-born Perry looks pretty good no matter how you look at it.
His TV show “House of Payne,” which he created and often directs, is still a hit on TBS; and he’ll star in a non-Tyler Perry-directed action-drama, “Alex Cross,” in October.
But the biggest measure of his success is that his movies have grossed over $500 million worldwide.
And then there 2009’s Oscar-winning “Precious,” which he “presented,” with Oprah Winfrey.
It was Madea, now a cultural touchstone, who put him on the map, however.
It’s strange to think, that she started out as a supporting character in Perry’s 2005 breakthrough, the melodrama “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”
In “Witness Protection,” we even learn a little more about her, as we do in each successive film that’s included Perry’s silver-haired, battle-ax alter-ego, like “Madea Goes to Jail” (2009) and “Madea’s Big Happy Family” (2011).
“The backstory of Madea I [add to] in every movie,” he says. “In this movie I found out she was a stripper. That just came to me. [The character] tells me her backstory as we go.
“I have no idea where Madea is going to go next. I was thinking of having her go to the White House and baby-sit Sasha and Malia Obama.”
While the inspiration for Madea comes to Perry when he is in character, the idea for this film arrived while he was sitting at a dinner table.
I was having dinner with friends and they were saying to me that the best punishment for Bernie Madoff would be to have him move in with Madea,” says Perry. “Then I thought, who is the best person who can come close to portraying this [Wall Street] guy? Of course, Eugene Levy.”
“I don’t know how Tyler kept everything straight,” says Richards. “Sometimes he was directing us in a Madea costume, sometimes in an Uncle Joe costume. He would do a scene, then break character and become our director. It was crazy.”
The hard work and versatility certainly impressed Miller, the multi-platinum entertainer who’s making his biggest film to date with “Witness Protection.”
“Seeing Tyler work really inspired me,” says Miller, son of rap pioneer Master P. “He reminds me a lot of my father — they turn around these projects so fast. They work hard and love what they are doing. It just goes to show that anything is possible.”
“Tyler gives something that I don’t remember ever receiving in the 50 years that I’ve been in this business — total respect,” says the Emmy-winning actress Roberts. “You know you are being loved and cared for, and that you have his attention. It makes you want to do the best you can.”
Though Perry mixes in dramas (“Good Deeds,” “For Colored Girls,” “The Family That Preys”) with his over-the-top comedies, laugh-pro Levy (“Splash,” “American Pie,” “Waiting for Guffman”) says that even in “Witness Protection,” “The jokes are grounded in truth and that’s what I like.
“The funniest parts of the movie were watching Tyler riff in character. It’s amazing to watch him improvise.”
As for the movie’s good-natured mixture of both black and white stereotypes, Miller says the movie’s appeal is across the board.
“It’s a colorless movie,” Miller says. “It’s not about black or white. Funny is just funny no matter who you are.”
“Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection” was not screened for critics. It will be reviewed online Friday at nydailynews.com