Tyler Perry fans know they can count on his movies to deliver a combination of self-help wisdom and the kind of shared laughter you only experience with close friends or family. According to producer Rueben Cannon, Tyler Perry's philosophy of combining humor and wisdom is summed up by Perry's attitude when he shows up on the set: "Let's have fun and do what we're called to do."
The cast members of Meet the Browns seem to have been chosen for how well they embody Perry's core values of wisdom and humor. Being in a room with the cast is a little like being on an episode of Oprah with all the teasing, spontaneous applause in response to snappy anecdotes, and amen-ing of life lessons well-articulated. One minute producer Rueben Cannon has the entire cast cackling as he talks trash about certain unnamed actresses trying to make off with weaves owned by Tyler Perry's Atlanta studio, and then the mood suddenly shifts to one of down-home spirituality when Perry is asked by a fan, "What is the secret to success?" and he responds without missing a beat: "Pray."
Usually the clearest voice of both humor and wisdom in Perry's movies is his popular character Madea, but in Meet the Browns the role of wise matriarch is played by Irma P. Hall. Hall plays Mildred, an older woman who watches the local children in her working-class neighborhood at a makeshift daycare center that she runs out of her home. In one key scene Mildred lectures Angela Bassett's character, Brenda, about the importance of maintaining her role as a positive role model despite the immoral temptations surrounding her family. Describing the importance of Hall's character in Browns, Perry says, "I've been so blessed to have so many different generations watching and paying attention to (my) films, so I always try to bring that kind of wisdom (of elders), because that kind of wisdom you cannot buy."
Angela Bassett also connects with the importance of elders passing down lessons they've learned about life that Perry articulates in Browns. Bassett, who was raised by a single mother, identifies with her own character Brenda's struggles to raise her three children alone. Bassett explains, "If it weren't for extended family or the community looking out for me, I don't think I'd be sitting here. Because they had high expectations of me, and they saw potential in me that I was too young and dumb to see or know was there."
But it is veteran actress Irma P. Hall who best articulates the wisdom to be learned from neighborhood matriarchs like her character Mildred with a story about her own experiences growing up in a Chicago neighborhood that she refers to as "deep hood."
"I was born in 1935, so I'm a product of that age. And the first seven years I spent in the south. My mother ... lived with the people she worked for. So I only saw her on Sundays. Everybody took care of me, my aunts, my grandparents, people down the street. Then I moved to ... the south side of Chicago ... and there was a lady in particular that lived across the street that sat in the window all day. She watched us. And we hated her. Because she told on us, told everything, told what time you got home from school, who you was talking to -- all of that. And I remember I was fussing to my father about this woman, how she got on my nerves. And then my daddy said, "But, don't you feel safe?" Which started changing my way of thinking."
Hall is a veteran actress who knows how to command a room speaking barely above a whisper. As she finishes her story she has Perry and the entire cast of his latest film enthralled.
"When I became a mother ... I became aware that not only was I a mother to my own biological children but to all the other people under me ... I saw this character (Mildred) the same way. I'm watching these younger women and I'm still feeling kind of like their mother in a way. And any advice I can give them that will help them to do better ... It's all kind of in keeping with what I asked God for when I started acting. I wanted to be the voice of the voiceless, older women as a way of saying thank you to all of them who had been a part of my life so that people would notice them, would not forget them, and would hear finally what they had to say. So, I was very honored to (play) that old lady that I hated so much."