Since the debut of his first feature, DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN, in 2005, Tyler Perry has emerged as one of today’s chief chroniclers of African-American life, writing, directing and often starring in a total of nine films in only five years. His latest, WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO?, is the first film of its kind for the writer/director/actor: a sequel that reunites and continues the stories of an entire cast of characters from a previous film. 2007’s WHY DID I GET MARRIED? examined the relationship challenges of four couples vacationing together in Colorado. Now Perry brings us the next chapter in the lives of these eight colorful characters, taking a deeper look at the vagaries of marriage, the challenges that must be overcome, and what it takes to keep a relationship alive for a lifetime.
“I wanted to revisit these couples because they all had such great storylines and I felt like there was so much more that I wanted to tell for each and every one of them,” explains Perry.
This time, the eight college friends meet at a seaside house in the Bahamas; but their idyllic retreat stirs up more drama than any of them expected and unveils some surprising truths about each couple’s relationship. “Tyler knows exactly what his audience wants, and he gives it to them spot on each and every time,” says singer and actress Janet Jackson. “Anyone can see themselves in at least one of these characters.”
Adds actor Michael Jai White, “Rarely do you see a sequel match the first. But this surpasses the first in every way. The whole world that it shows is bigger, more real. I think it’ll touch even more people.”
Released in 2007, the original WHY DID GET MARRIED? grossed $55 million domestically, a notable achievement even among Perry’s string of commercially reliable films. According to Perry’s longtime producer, Reuben Cannon, WHY DID I GET MARRIED?’s appeal can be partly attributed to its focus on successful, middle-class African-Americans. “For once, audiences saw a group of African-American professionals on vacation, having fun,” says Cannon. “That film crossed over within our own culture. African-American audiences that perhaps had not seen a Tyler Perry film all of a sudden discovered that movie and related to it.”
The sequel, while offering ample doses of humor and levity, doesn’t shy away from the more sobering aspects of marriage, whether the issues involve infidelity, financial pressure, or the simple challenge of keeping love alive. “I’ve stressed each couple to their max with their situations, with whatever marital situation they were facing,” reports Perry. “Anyone who’s ever been married – or even in a relationship – will be able to relate to at least one of these four couples.”
The sequel also reinforces one of the most appealing aspects of the first film: the resilient bond that exists between the eight friends. “This is a family of friends that began in college and has endured,” explains Cannon. “The appeal is watching the evolution of these relationships, and most importantly watching the commitment the friends have to one another.”
“There’s a lot of conversation, there’s a lot of advice, and there’s a lot of caring that takes place,” adds actress Sharon Leal. “They really lean on each other. And together they find the strength and the inspiration to get through whatever it is.”
That bond became equally strong off-screen during the production of the original film, and the prospect of a reunion was met with universal excitement from the cast. “They’re such a great group of people and we had so much fun on the first film,” says Perry. “We all bonded, and we missed each other.”
“The chemistry amongst all of us is just so easy and natural,” adds Tasha Smith, who plays Angela, the group’s loose cannon. “We feel like we’re on vacation but we’re actually working.”
“The experience that I had on the last film was so incredible and so much fun, I couldn’t wait to go back,” Jackson admits. “I had never experienced being on a set the way I had on a Tyler Perry set.”
As Patricia, one of the central figures in the group, Janet Jackson tackles a complex character who, despite a career as a highly regarded psychologist and self-help author, is unable to face the problems in her own relationship with Gavin, played by Malik Yoba. “They’re very loving toward one another, but there’s an issue they have surrounding the death of their child,” says Jackson. “She still blames herself for it all. And it goes to a whole other level in this sequel.”
Jackson startled the cast and crew with her commitment to Patricia’s emotional journey. During a climactic scene, Patricia, in a rage over the dissolution of her marriage, destroys a living room with a golf club. Comments Perry: “Janet put all of her pain and anger and energy into this performance in a way we’ve never seen from her before.”
“I think it’s pretty ballsy on her part, as someone who’s been in the public eye and been judged herself, to put herself in a position to play this particular type of woman,” says co-star Malik Yoba. “There’s definitely a dance of respect and support between us.”
As Gavin, Yoba delved deeply into his own experiences to bring more truth to his performance. In some cases, he and Perry discussed script modifications that were inspired by Yoba’s own life. “The movie asks an important question, ‘How do you function in a society with other people who are open to being truthful when you can’t look at yourself and be introspective?’” says the actor. “Being a forty-one-year-old divorcee myself, I feel I have a bit of a responsibility to pass on some of the wisdom.”
Since Yoba’s physicality often gets him cast as police detectives and the like, the role of Gavin provided him with the rare opportunity to play a vulnerable man who’s unafraid to express his emotions. “I don’t get to play this type of character very often,” says the actor. “So I revel in this opportunity to ‘stretch.’ I share a lot of Gavin’s vulnerabilities and sensitivities, and as an actor, it’s important to show that side of oneself.”
As she did in the first film, singer and actress Jill Scott finds herself at the heart of a love triangle as Sheila. Previously, Sheila was humiliated at the hands of her soon-to-be ex-husband Mike, but managed to find strength in a new relationship with Troy, played by Lamman Rucker. WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO? finds Sheila happily married to Troy. “They’re a fairy tale couple,” says Scott. But Troy is struggling financially, and his resulting low self-esteem affects his ability to find a comfortable place among the tight-knit group of old friends. Tensions flare when Mike, played by Richard T. Jones, shows up unannounced at the couples’ retreat.
“Everything isn’t as pretty as it was the last time,” says Rucker of Sheila and Troy’s relationship. “Now they’re screaming and hollering at each other. They’re dealing with this financial pressure. So Sheila asks Mike to help Troy get a job, but doesn’t tell Troy that.”
“In this film, Sheila is more of a powerhouse,” explains Scott. “She loves being married, loves her husband, but she isn’t willing to put up with all the things she put up with before. She’s got a backbone now. And she’s a lot more interesting to me.”
Both of Scott’s male co-stars were impressed by her palpable charisma on screen. “You would think Jill’s been acting her whole life,” says Jones. “She has so much that she brings to Sheila, so much that wasn’t even on the page. She’s just electric to watch.”
“Jill is definitely one of those people who I think everybody finds very accessible,” adds Rucker. “She’s a consummate professional and a consummate artist.”
As Mike, the only clear antagonist in the film, Jones has the formidable challenge of revealing the human side of someone who’s behaved despicably. “Mike is trying to forge some type of a connection, or trying to get some type of forgiveness from Sheila because he understands his mistake,” says Jones. “I don’t think he’s trying to win her back. He’s trying to reconcile their friendship.”
“Richard just knows exactly the tone that’s right,” says Rucker. “He plays this jerk but at the same time he’s still got this charm that comes through. You understand his appeal.”
Of the four couples, Tasha Smith and Michael Jai White provide the most comic relief as Angela and Marcus, the pair that seems born to fight. With Marcus enjoying newfound success as a television newscaster, Angela is thrown into a constant state of jealousy and suspicion over his potential infidelity. Says Jai White, “They have a mercurial, volcanic thing. It’s pure emotion. Their levels are just a little off the chain.”
However reckless and sometimes misguided Angela might be, Smith admits to relishing her character’s fearlessness. “I live vicariously through Angela,” says the actress. “I love the fact that she will say what other women are afraid to say. She does what she wants to do and nothing can stop her. She’s aggressive, funny and witty and sarcastic. She’s freaking awesome! I feel free when I play her.”
“If there’s a Madea character in this movie, it would be Angela and I wrote it thinking about Tasha playing the role,” admits Perry. “She’s really out of control but she brings life and fun to the movie.”
Early in the film, Angela shows her mettle during a comic set piece in which Angela and Marcus fight in an airport. When Smith arrived to the shoot, she was shocked to see about three hundred extras crowding the airport set. “I had no idea that Tyler was going to have me dealing with all those people in the airport,” remembers Smith. “I really had to get over my nerves and just tell myself, ‘Okay, forget it. They’re here. And we’re just going to involve them in this conversation.’ It was kind of like doing a play but everyone’s involved. You get a chance to break the fourth wall and bring everyone in. And it was hysterical. And that’s why I love Angela. I would never have been able to do that unless I was playing her.”
Jai White’s Marcus is simple by comparison. “He’s a jock. He’s not very discriminating. But there’s a quiet dignity to the character I have fun with,” he says. “He probably has some of the strongest love that you can display because Angela is an extreme and unique taste. Anyone who loves that woman is capable of extreme love.”
“Michael Jai White is one of the most generous actors,” reports Perry. “He’s so committed, and he has this innocent quality that’s a lot like Marcus.”
It was during this same sequence that tragic news hit the set and nearly halted filming. “We were in the middle of a take when all of a sudden the energy drained out of the room,” recalls Perry. “I was on camera at the time but I felt the extras slowing down. I could feel the camera people not really paying attention. I finished and went to Reuben and asked what was going on.” That’s when Cannon told Perry the news of Michael Jackson’s death. “You could feel it everywhere,” says Perry. “I saw the energy leave the room. It was really, really powerful that day.”
The film and its close-knit cast became sources of support and comfort for Janet Jackson during her grief over her brother’s death. “It was a difficult period for me especially,” she reflects, “and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend that time.”
“We were able to really rally around her and protect her and support her,” says Perry. “It was great knowing I had an opportunity to be with her at a very difficult time and that I could put her around people who love her.”
Rounding out the four principal couples are Terry and Dianne, played by Perry himself and Sharon Leal. Perry is no stranger to directing and acting in the same production, having played parts in many of his films, most often in heavy prosthetics. “Terry is the closest to me that I’ve ever played,” he says. “So it was really cool having a moment to just be normal, not have to talk really high, not have to wear a fat suit, but just be a normal guy.”
Says Cannon, “I think it’s the best performance I’ve seen Tyler give in all the films that I’ve been fortunate enough to produce with him. It’s a breakthrough and it’s something I think he’ll be proud of.”
Terry and Dianne have what seems like a functional marriage.
Yet the demands of work and childrearing have whittled down the attention that each pays the other. “Dianne’s a hard-working career woman who stops at nothing to succeed,” explains Leal. “She needs to put the Blackberry down and help her husband feel that he’s a priority.”
When Dianne finds herself drawn to a handsome new colleague, both she and Terry start to flirt with the boundaries of infidelity. “It definitely asks the question of where infidelity begins,” says Leal. “What happens if you become emotionally interested in someone else but have no intention of leaving your husband? When does it become cheating?”
“Sharon Leal played my wife so perfectly and so subtly,” says Perry. “I think she’s really phenomenal in those moments with the issues our characters were having.”
There is one more couple in WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO? that graces the film with an inspiring example of how love, and marriage, can endure. Played by veteran actors Louis Gossett, Jr. and Cicely Tyson, Porter and Olga are an elderly couple who have been married for over fifty years. They join the four couples one evening for a discussion about marriage and impart valuable wisdom about how to keep a marriage alive for a lifetime. “They’re like anybody who’s been married for a long period of time,” explains Tyson. “They become each other. They can read each other’s minds. It’s the end result of a bond that’s so strong that it can’t be severed.”
“What we say is that you have to give up the ego, the pride, the fear in order to get to the true stuff, true love, true life,” explains Gossett Jr.
For Gossett, Jr. and Tyson, who worked together on stage in New York decades ago, coming to set proved to be a bittersweet reunion. “It was very emotional for us because we go back so far and we’ve lost so many of our peers and our actor friends,” says Tyson. “We were recounting that and counting our blessings as well.”
“Having Mr. Louis Gossett, Jr. and Miss Cicely Tyson make that small cameo just speaks volumes to what love was to older generations and what love is now in this microwave society that we have,” says Perry. “They were so profound and proved that true love does last through everything. But it has to be pure, unadulterated and without judgment. It was really powerful having them both there.”
After braving the cold and snow of Canada to shoot WHY DID I GET MARRIED?, Perry opted for a dramatic change in scenery for the sequel. In addition to several weeks of shooting in Atlanta, where most of Perry’s films are produced, the production spent several weeks on the remote island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas. “It was incredible to wake up to the beach every morning and go to work,” says Jackson.
“It was like going to camp with all of your friends,” adds Leal. “It’s almost a guilty pleasure. It’s like, ‘We’re getting paid for this?’”
The tropical location was not without its challenges, however. The cast and crew found themselves running for cover when rogue rainstorms would suddenly pass over set. And then there were the bugs. Says Cannon, “The Bahamian Film Commission was so excited to have us there, but I believe that the most attention we received was from the mosquitoes.”
“The biggest challenge was the moth bats,” says Perry. “I’ve never in my life seen moth bats. It’s a moth that’s the size of a bat and it’s hairy. It’s got hair!”
“The moth bats were all over the place,” adds Jackson. “Day and night, these huge bugs with all these legs were just falling down on the lights and burning up. They would fall onto us right in the middle of a scene. The girls would start screaming.”
According to the cast, the real pleasure of production was the opportunity to work with Perry once again. “Tyler’s even more fearless now,” avows Tasha Smith. “And he’s so open. He gives you the opportunity to really try stuff. He’s like, ‘Let’s see what we find. Let’s push the envelope.’ It’s so much fun working with him.”
“He’s an actor’s director,” adds Jackson. “He’s very giving. He’s quick. And he really tells the actor what he’s expecting to see, what he needs to make the scene complete.”
One thing is certain, Perry’s fans will find the same humor and candor and sense of uplift that they’ve come to associate with his previous films. Some might even find that WHY DID I GET MARRIED TOO? introduces a new level of psychological complexity to Perry’s dramatic storytelling. “Tyler Perry is more honest today than he’s ever been,” avows Smith. “And he’s constantly, constantly willing to learn and change and share that growth with his fans.”
“I know that when you see this movie you’re going to laugh a lot,” says Jill Scott. “There are definitely going to be a couple of tears. There are definitely going to be points where you’re going to be angry at somebody, whether it’s the guy or the girl or both. You’re going to be emotional. This movie is a representation of all the things that marriage is.”
Perry hopes the film will show audiences how love can prevail in any relationship. “What does it really matter if you’re having this argument or that argument in the big scheme of things?” asked Perry. “What if you lost the person that you really love and that you were arguing with, and never got a chance to tell them how much you did care? We have to appreciate our relationships every day because tomorrow isn’t promised.”
In Theaters April 2nd!
Other Film Facts:
Runtime: 121 Mins
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including sexuality, language, drug references and some domestic violence
Jonté Moaning makes an appearance as a cake dancer.
Special Thanks to Lionsgate & Tyler Perry Productions!