OF A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR
About the Production
A bold exploration of the intrigue and perils of infidelity, Tyler Perry's Temptation is a compelling love story that dives straight into the heart of obsessive passion. "It's about a woman who starts to get restless in her relationship and her choice to be with another man has a huge effect on the rest of her life," explains screenwriter/producer/director Tyler Perry. "She goes on a journey -- in her career and in her marriage -- and she ends up in a very different place than she expected." In a departure from his previous dramas, this explosive film finds Perry exploring the nature of desire -- and just how powerful and dangerous a taste of the forbidden can be. "This is definitely one of the most provocative movies -- sexually and otherwise -- that I've made," says the director. "There are a lot of people who struggle in their relationships. They make bad choices about their marriages. They get divorced. And so many of them don't step out of their situation and really think about the consequences of what they're doing. This movie asks, 'Are you sure you want to do this?' It sends up a flag."
Perry's heroine, Judith, is a small-town girl hailing from a devout, working class background. But for all her ambition, level-headedness and integrity, Judith is inexperienced when it comes to the temptations and vices of urban life, which arrive in the form of a charismatic billionaire named Harley Madison. "Judith is unlike any character I've played before," says actress Jurnee Smollett-Bell ("Friday Night Lights," "The Defenders"). "She starts off so pure, so confident, so noble, and it fascinated me that she could actually get to where she gets for so many reasons."
"This story is almost like a fable," adds Perry. "It's about how we always think the grass is greener on the other side and it doesn't really turn out that way."
At the start of Tyler Perry's Temptation, Judith has just finished her graduate work in psychotherapy, and she longs to complete her internship and begin a career as a marriage counselor. But the only paid internship she can find is at a trendy match-making firm for millionaires called Wise Counsel. "It's the polar opposite of what she really wants to be involved with and at the beginning she really sticks out," explains Smollett-Bell. "She doesn't dress the right way at work. She's not hip. She's unhappy in her job. She really doesn't know how to process all this stuff."
Adding to Judith's frustration is her stagnant marriage to Brice, a modest pharmacist whom she's dated since high school. Routine has dulled what began as a great love affair, and Brice's lack of ambition only fuels Judith's feelings of inertia. "Brice is happy and complacent, and that drives Judith up the wall," says Smollett-Bell. "He's ready to let fifteen years pass by and just be in the same spot."
So when Judith meets Harley -- a handsome, confident, self-made billionaire who's considering a business deal with Wise Counsel -- she's immediately intrigued, even if she's put off by his direct advances. Says actor Robbie Jones, who stars as Harley Madison, "Harley inspires Judith. He's very ambitious. He's a workaholic. And he recognizes how gifted Judith is, how intelligent she is. He challenges her and validates her in a way that Brice doesn't."
Eventually, Harley succeeds in whittling down Judith's defenses, but only because a genuine emotional relationship develops between them. "Judith's not promiscuous," Smollett-Bell points out. "She's not the kind of person who just cheats because she needs to have sex with someone. She gets caught up emotionally with Harley and that's when she gets trapped. That's when she starts doing things she never thought she would do."
Smollett-Bell was immediately taken by Perry's compelling script, but she was also intimidated by Judith's sexual and emotional journey. Breathing authentic life into the character would require honesty and no small measure of courage in showing the darker sides of desire. She recalls, "When Tyler first called me and we talked about the script, I told him I wasn't sure I could do this. There were a lot of challenging scenes, a lot of challenging colors to play. But he made me feel completely safe. He was so open to collaboration. And on set he kept the environment light and energetic."
"I was looking for a younger actress to play Judith," says Perry. "But I had no idea that Jurnee would be one of the most profound, powerful actors I've ever worked with. She has so many layers, so many gears. She was beyond fantastic."
Together, Smollett-Bell and Perry navigated Judith's rocky path, ensuring that she remain sympathetic despite the reckless choices she makes. "Jurnee was great at keeping the balance of the character," says Perry. "She always knew exactly where Judith was at all times. Her performance makes you feel for her. You watch her go through these break-ups and the pain of it all, and you can't help but relate to her."
Adds Robbie Jones, "Judith is torn between the two men in her life -- Brice and Harley -- and you can see that dilemma in every second of Jurnee's performance. It's a beautiful process to watch."
Smollett-Bell found her volatile scenes with Jones to be the most challenging of the shoot. "I'm not that person in real life. I don't really like to argue like that with people," she admits. "But Judith and Harley bring out this animalistic behavior in each other. There's this fire between them so it was just necessary to really go there together. But it wasn't easy."
For Robbie Jones, committing to the dark, devilish role of Harley Madison was a dream come true. "Harley just jumped off the page when I first read the script," recalls the actor. "He's a very dynamic character, a very rich character with a lot of different layers. He's an actor's dream role."
Says Perry, "Harley's definitely the antagonist in this film, but Robbie manages to be charming and charismatic and make sense of why Judith is so drawn to him. The movie wouldn't have worked without him."
A self-made Internet billionaire, Harley is the kind of man who, according to Jones, "you want to bring home and introduce to your mother." However, as Judith becomes more enmeshed in his life, Harley's behavior becomes increasingly disturbing. "He has this dark side that people don't get to see too often," says Jones. "He's very threatened by other men being around women he has feelings for."
"Harley is very giving, very passionate, but he has a bit of a temper problem," reveals Smollett-Bell. "But at the beginning, Judith only sees little glimpses of it."
Hoping to understand the nature of Harley's demons, Jones spoke with a number of psychologists and worked with Perry to create a full back-story for the character. "It was extremely helpful and insightful to speak to Tyler because it's his vision. But it's also my interpretation of this character," says Jones. "A lot of what we created isn't necessarily in the script -- but it's been extremely helpful in my interpretation of this guy."
Perry turned to Lance Gross, an actor he knows well from his hit television series, "House of Payne", to play Judith's devoted husband, Brice. "I've been working with Lance for a long time, and casting him as Brice was a no brainer for me," he reports. "Brice is your average Joe who wants the best thing for his wife. But he takes his life for granted, and the situation with his wife catches him off guard. Lance earns the sympathy of the audience all the way through. Women love him. At the end, everyone's applauding him."
While Brice does everything he can to save his marriage, Gross points out that Brice is also at fault for contributing to the crisis. "Brice and Judith have known each other since they were kids. They're so comfortable with each other. They have this special bond," says Gross. "But this story is a reminder that it doesn't matter how long you've known a person, you still have to do the things that you started out doing. You can't take them for granted. You can't just assume that they'll always be there. Marriage is something that you have to work for."
As Judith's romantic attentions focus exclusively on Harley, Brice looks for support from Melinda, a new hire at his pharmacy who's played by R&B singer and television star, Brandy Norwood. Having taken years off from acting work and recording to raise a family, Norwood was careful to choose a meaningful role to mark her return to film acting. The role of Melinda -- a secretive, frightened woman who is running from a violent relationship -- immediately appealed to her, as did the opportunity to work with Perry. "Working with Tyler Perry is a dream come true for me," she says. "I really wanted this role because it speaks volumes to so many women who are suffering from domestic violence. Melinda's been very abused in her life and she's running from something. And she finds a safe haven in the pharmacy with Brice. She's just trying to live whatever life she has left that's worth living."
"What I love about Brandy is her truth," offers Perry. "She brings her own personal truth to everything she does. She shows it all -- the hardship, the heartache -- all the things that she can relate to in her own life."
Melinda lives in fear every day of her life, but eventually she comes to trust Brice's kindness and helps him through his crisis with Judith. "She's already been down that road so this is her way of giving back," says Norwood. "She's learned from the trauma she's been through, and now she can help somebody else through it."
Leading the film's stellar supporting cast is Vanessa Williams as Janice, the founder and CEO of Wise Counsel, the match-making service for millionaires where Judith works. "Janice is a pro at love. She's written many novels about love and how to get men and how to get women. Her whole idea is that love and romance are what fuels everyone," explains Williams. "You get to see her be a real flirt when she's working with Harley, but you also see her limits. She can be not so nice."
Perry, who has been a longtime fan of Williams, was particularly excited to have the multi-talented performer join the cast. "It was beyond exciting," says the director. "I've been a fan of hers from the beginning. She was fantastic in the film and such a professional."
"Vanessa Williams couldn't have been more perfect for this role," adds Jurnee Smollett-Bell. "Not only is she just absolutely gorgeous, but she embodies the kind of strength and power and authority that was important for Janice to have."
As Janice's assistant, Ava, reality television star Kim Kardashian was able to channel her self-professed "obsession" with fashion directly into the part. "Ava wants to fix everyone around her," explains Kardashian, "which is how I am with my sisters sometimes. In real life, I'm always trying to tell them what to do or what to wear or how to look. And Ava's sort of the extreme version of that. She constantly tears Judith down, but only because she wants her to look her best."
Despite undergoing a highly publicized divorce during production, Kardashian impressed her fellow actors on set with her focused performance. "People will be surprised," says Perry. "She really carries the role and completely owned it on screen. And she has a great sense of humor."
"Kim had a lot going on in her life and to deliver something that she's not trained to do and make it look effortless was amazing," adds Smollett-Bell.
Actress Ella Joyce brings her characteristic strength and gravity to the role of Reverend Sarah, Judith's mother, a woman whose religious convictions provide a strong moral backbone for the story. "Somebody has to be the voice of wisdom in Judith's life," says Perry. "Somebody has to be the voice of caution and warning. And Ella Joyce has this intensity and presence about her. She completely delivered."
For her part, Joyce appreciates her character's strong sense of faith, but she also wonders if this virtue contributes to Judith's unraveling. "Sarah raised Judith in the church," says Joyce, "and there's that very delicate question: did she give her child too much church? Did she protect Judith so much that now she doesn't know how to deal with the world? Because now her daughter is losing her soul."
"For so long growing up, it was just Judith and her mother," explains Smollett-Bell. "And suddenly Judith has to start thinking for herself and deciding what her own beliefs are. She has to figure out who she wants to be as a woman, and she's not totally prepared."
Fate had a hand in helping Joyce and Smollett-Bell create an authentic mother/daughter bond on screen: the two actors had already played mother and daughter in an Atlanta-based production years ago, when Smollett-Bell was still a child actor. "I was 12 years old, and the film was called Selma Lord Selma," recalls Smollett-Bell. "It's so ironic, years later now shooting a film in Atlanta, working with her again. Ella's so grounded and so rooted in the soil. You're always fortunate to be in a scene with great actors because you don't have to do anything. You just react. I had a lot of fun working with her on this film."
Rounding out the supporting cast is veteran actress Renee Taylor, who plays Ms. Waco Chapman, the owner of the pharmacy where Brice and Melinda work. "Working with Renee Taylor was a complete joy," reports Perry. "I love actors from her generation. They paved the way for the rest of us. And Renee is hysterical and a trooper. To be her age, hanging out all day and night -- she was just amazing."
Tyler Perry's Temptation was shot in four weeks at Tyler Perry Studios and on location in and around Atlanta. Echoing the reactions of previous actors who've worked with Perry, Temptation's cast members were uniformly impressed with the atmosphere of collaboration and discovery Perry fostered on set. Says Vanessa Williams, "Tyler's completely driven and down to earth. He knows what he wants. But he also allows you to have creative freedom to add things which makes the process so much fun."
"The surprising thing, when you consider his huge level of success, is that he doesn't have a big ego," reveals Smollett-Bell. "He's very confident, but he also welcomes opinions. He welcomes you disagreeing with him which is really refreshing."
Adds Robbie Jones. "Tyler's passion trickles down to everyone, whether it's the cast or the crew. It really bonded us all together."
That passion stems not only from a love of filmmaking, but from Perry's desire to impart positive, constructive messages to his audiences. "He wants to use films like a mirror to society," offers Norwood, "to talk about things that we're uncomfortable with in our community."
Perry points out that he deliberately cast younger actors in the lead roles so that young audiences would easily relate to the story. "I want young people to really hear the message," he says. "We all have choices to make. And what I'm saying here is, 'Be sure you're making the right one.' The choice you make today can affect you twenty years from now and when you're young it's hard to think that way."
"I think people are going to be surprised by just how raw and real this movie is," says Vanessa Williams. "They're going to be drawn in by the intrigue and the sexiness, but they won't know how deep the rabbit hole really goes. It's going to be an enlightening shock."
Perry knew that opting for a traditional, Hollywood ending -- one with a pat answer to a real word problem -- would undermine the point of the film. "I wanted to find a way to embrace what Judith's life would actually be like in the future," he says, "to remain true to the consequences of her choices." At the same time, the director was interested, as he is with all of his films, in the possibility of redemption and the power of faith.
In the film's final moments, Perry finds a way to do both, unveiling a startling surprise that recasts Judith's journey in an entirely new light. "What I love about this film is that it says it's never too late to do something great with your life, even if you've made mistakes," says Ella Joyce. "It's our mistakes that create character, if we recognize them as mistakes."
"I want audiences to experience hope," says Perry. "No matter what happens to you, no matter what kind of bad choices you make, there's always hope."
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