Tyler Perry Holds on to His Past

"I hope you like a movie that isn't about violence or sex," he said to a chorus of hoots and "amens" at a showing of Family last week. "I hope you like a movie that you can bring your kids to."

One mother already had, a toddler standing in his chair, hollering about his lack of candy.

"Sit your behind down!" Perry wisecracked in the voice of his most famous character, the beloved grandmother Madea, a character he has played in drag in several of his movies and plays. "Listen to your mama!"

The crowd roared.

"He gets how important grandmothers are, particularly in this community," says Carla Bowman, 51. "He gets how important church is, whatever you follow. He gets us."

And they him. At one point, Perry asked the audience, "And when is my movie coming out?"

"The 12th!" they screamed in unison.

"That," Perry says later from the apartment, "is why I live here."

And he has no intention of leaving. Despite offers of tax breaks from other cities desperate to lure Tyler Perry Studios, he kept his 300 employees put, building a 28-acre production complex on the city's outskirts.

Last week, Perry recalls, he was overseeing construction of a studio office when he spotted a woman carrying a garbage bag in front of the gated entrance.

"Can I help you?" Perry asked.

"No, I'm fine," she replied.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Just picking up trash."

"Do you need help?" he said. "Do you need a job?"

"Heavens no," she said. "I got a job. I live right down the street. I just don't want a new neighbor moving in with all this garbage."

Perry asked for the woman's address, went back to his office and ordered her a year's worth of lawn service.

"I'm no different from any of these other directors," he says, wedging his 6-foot-6 frame out of the apartment door.

"I want success," he says. "I want a lot of people to see my movies. More black people. More white people. I want to make that connection. I just don't want to lose my own connection with home doing it."

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