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PEEPLES

About the Production
Tyler Perry Presents Peeples focuses on that dreaded, anxiety-filled rite of passage that just about anyone in a long-term relationship has to face: winning over the in-laws. Lionsgate's and 34th Street Film's winning comedy tells the story of Wade Walker and Grace Peeples, a happily cohabitating couple who are deeply in love, except for one catch: after one year together, Grace still hasn't introduced Wade to her discerning, upper-crust family. Taking matters into his own hands, Wade decides to crash Grace's family reunion. But his master plan to charm the Peeples and propose to Grace goes hilariously off the rails when he finds himself surrounded by a clan of dysfunctional over-achievers who will do anything to keep up appearances.

Written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism, Peeples marks the latest film from Tyler Perry's specialty production company, 34th Street Films, which is one of the production companies responsible for the Perry-directed, For Colored Girls. For Perry, the decision to support Peeples was an easy one. He was already a fan of Chism's writing -- she wrote the screenplays for the acclaimed features Drumline and ATL -- and Chism's producing partner, Stephanie Allain, had made her name bringing smart films like Hustle and Flow and Something New to the screen. "It made sense to me," says Perry. "Tina is a great writer, and her style is sophisticated but still really accessible. I wanted to give her the opportunity to write and direct her own movie. I know what that feels like. So if I could use 34th Street to give her a platform to do some great things, then I wanted to be in."

"A lot of times the writer is shut out of the filmmaking process," Chism explains. "And with this, because it was a comedy, because I wanted the jokes to play in a specific way, it was very hard for me to let it go. I had a really clear idea of what I wanted things to look like. I'm so grateful that I got the opportunity to see it through."

Peeples producer Ozzie Areu, who is also President of Tyler Perry Studios, was attracted to Chism's fresh take on a universal family story,"It's a modern day film that isn't afraid of tackling challenging themes, and it's packed with highly engaging and bold characters."

While Peeples is a comedy first and foremost, the film exposes how we hide who we really are out of fear that others won't love us. "Everyone in this movie has a secret," says actress Kerry Washington, who stars as Grace Peeples. "It takes Wade coming into the fold for this house of cards to really fall apart."

"What I love about this film," adds actor Craig Robinson, who plays Wade, "is that you have all the big laughs, the big set pieces, of a hit comedy. But Tina also wrote great characters. They all feel so real, and it makes the comedy pop."

From her earliest days writing the script, Chism had imagined Kerry Washington in the role of Grace Peeples, even though the highly regarded actress is known primarily for her dramatic work on the current ABC series, "Scandal," and hard-hitting features like Mother and Child and For Colored Girls. "Kerry was in my mind from the moment I wrote Grace Peeples," says Chism. "She's super smart, and she's comedic and strong in this delicious Katharine Hepburn way."

To Chism's delight, Washington immediately responded to the role and to the opportunity to try her hand at comedy. "This film came along at a time when I really needed it," explains Washington. "I'd been doing material that was very heavy and this was the ideal way to stretch out and have fun."

An ambitious, Type-A career woman from an upper-class family, Grace Peeples is strong, opinionated, and holds down a coveted job practicing law at the United Nations. Yet despite these accomplishments, she's still too frightened to introduce her boyfriend, Wade -- a happy-go-lucky children's entertainer -- to her judgmental family. "Wade doesn't quite fit the mold of where she comes from," says Washington. "She just doesn't know how to bring the two together. And she's terrified to do so. So in a typical Grace Peeples, strategic way of thinking, she decides to avoid having them meet and just pretend the problem doesn't exist."

Grace leaves Wade behind for an annual family reunion at her parents' home in tony Sag Harbor, NY; but Wade, dead set on meeting the Peeples, arrives unannounced at the Peeples' eight-bedroom, seaside mansion, completely unprepared for the showdown that awaits. Rising comedy star Craig Robinson, who gained notice for standout supporting performances on NBC's "The Office" and in features like Hot Tub Time Machine, effortlessly assumes the role of comic leading man. "Playing Wade has definitively given me some time to play on screen," says Robinson. "Wade gets to do some silly things, but he's also very vulnerable in this film and gets to show his tender side."

"I can't imagine another actor in this role," affirms Washington. "Craig is so sensitive and warm and emotionally available and also just drop dead hilarious. I learned so much from him."

Together on screen, the two actors create a winning odd couple so full of love and mutual acceptance that audiences can't help but cheer them on. Says Washington, "Tina wrote this very charming, very true-to-life, wonderful couple. They both love each other's quirks, the creative and eccentric parts of each other's personalities."

Adds producer Stephanie Allain, "Grace is very sophisticated and wound tight and Wade has this genuine, lovable teddy bear-ness, and their personalities are great together. Kerry and Craig really make the audience believe in their love."

Unfortunately, Grace's and Wade's continuing happiness faces one giant hurdle: Grace's father, Virgil Peeples, a stuffy, high-minded federal judge who keeps his entire family in thrall to his own high standards. "Virgil is based on a real man," reveals Chism. "I won't say who, but he's a well known African American public figure who said some inappropriate things about a date I brought to a dinner party. And that's who inspired Virgil. I remember thinking then, he would be the worst Dad to have to introduce a boyfriend to."

"Virgil is a self-made man," says veteran actor David Alan Grier ("In Living Color," "DAG," "My Wife and Kids") of his character. "He's incredibly successful and distinguished and Grace is his eldest and favorite daughter. She looks to him for approval and nothing she does in her eyes is ever enough."

Virgil, above all, prizes cultural and intellectual pursuits, and he insists that his family come together annually to celebrate Moby Dick Day, a holiday in Sag Harbor that celebrates the town's ties to the American literary classic, "Moby Dick." Wade's attempts to ingratiate himself with the Peeples' celebration hilariously backfires, setting off a competitive showdown with Virgil that culminates in a face-off in a Native American sweat lodge."

"Judge Peeples is all about tradition and keeping his flock in line," says Craig Robinson. "He's a control freak, and the sweat lodge is all about manhood. It's a trial of manhood just to be able to sit there and take the heat."

Known to audiences for over twenty years of work on the television mainstay, "Law and Order," actress S. Epatha Merkerson finally gets to cut loose in the role of Daphne Peeples, Grace's mother. "I'm never seen for comedy, so I had a blast," reports Merkerson. "It requires a different focus altogether as an actor. Daphne is zany and wild and emotional. She was a singer back in her youth and a one-hit wonder, and she misses that life terribly. So now she drowns her sorrows in these herbal smoothies that have a bit more of a kick than anyone expected."

"Epatha is completely uninhibited," says producer Paul Hall. "She will have you on the floor. She's absolutely crazy. She's sexy. They say that in most comedians there's a dramatic actor. Well, in her case there's a comedian busting out of the dramatic actor."

Just like her older sister Grace, the younger Peeples sister, Gloria, is highly driven. A news anchor for CNN, Gloria also harbors a big secret: her "best friend" Meg, who she's brought home to family gatherings for nine years now, is really her longtime girlfriend. That no one in the family has questioned this relationship is testament to how committed the Peeples are to appearances. "Gloria is so desperate for her father's approval that it's actually driven her to become successful in the public eye," says actress Kali Hawk. But for all of Gloria's public announcements as a news anchor, "she's hoping that this weekend she manages to get away with not saying anything at all."

Hawk caught Chism's attention for her performance in the comedic feature, Couples Retreat, but it was her audition tape that won her the part. "Kali is an amazing improviser," reveals Chism. "Her tape was so quirky and awesome that I knew I had to have her. She's a joy. It's breathtaking the range of characters that she can create."

As played by actress Kimrie Lewis-Davis, Gloria's camerawoman girlfriend, Meg, is "everything that Gloria doesn't allow herself to be." Where Gloria is controlled and almost prim, Meg is grounded and strong. "Meg is the only character who's fully in her boots," explains Lewis-Davis. "She really knows who she is. She doesn't have a secret. And her whole agenda during this weekend is to get Gloria to come out after nine years of hiding. Meg wants to express their love freely."

The remaining Peeples sibling is sixteen-year-old Simon, the young, "change-of-life" baby who's a budding genius, but deeply confused about how to relate to girls in a normal way. "Simon is a robotics champion. He makes his own music. But he has issues," says actor Tyler James Williams ("Everybody Hates Chris"). "There are moments when he blows up because he really resents his father. And he's also a bit of a kleptomaniac. He likes to steal things and impress girls with anything he can show off."

"Tyler's already done years and years of comedy on television and in films, so it was exciting for me to be learning from somebody who's so young and bright and generous," says Kerry Washington. "He was a joy to work with."

Adds Chism, "I told everyone on set, 'Follow Tyler, he's a pro.' From the moment I met him he was prepared. He's just a very special guy and he delivered beyond my expectations."

While Wade's unexpected visit throws a wrench in the Peeples' family reunion, things get even more complicated when Wade's brother, Chris, arrives unannounced. A charming lothario, Chris genuinely wants to help his brother, but he repeatedly manages only to make things worse. "Chris is the devil and the angel on Wade's shoulder at the same time," explains actor Malcolm Barrett. "He's a charming liar, and he's reckless. Wade is thoughtful and trying to plan out things, but Chris is more like, 'Let's have fun. Let's do this and meet the ladies.' He definitely leaps before he looks."

"Malcolm Barrett and his character, Chris, have a lot in common," laughs Chism. "They're both mischievous and charismatic and charming. And funny all the time. As soon as I saw Malcolm, I knew he'd make a perfect brother to Craig Robinson. They have a great chemistry."

Rounding out the cast in the roles of Grandpa and Nana Peebles -- Virgil's parents -- are two pioneering actors and living legends, Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll. Van Peebles became known as the writer and director of such seminal films as Watermelon Man Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song before adding the roles of composer and actor to his resumé; Carroll, after establishing herself in musical theater (she was the first African American actress to win a Tony Award), went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for Claudine, and later became the first African American actress to star in her own television series, "Julia." Widely respected for their bodies of work, the two actors are admired for paving the way for subsequent generations of African American actors, and their achievements were not lost on the cast and crew of Peeples. S. Epatha Merkerson remembers riding the cast bus to the first day of rehearsal when Diahann Carroll stood up and made an announcement. "She said how thankful she was to be there and how proud she was of all of us who were young and black and making our movies, and taking it to the next level," recalls Merkerson. "I can't tell you how impactful that was for all of us."

"It was incredibly inspiring for all of us to have them both on the set," says Chism. "It was the beginning of our shoot and it just set the tone perfectly." As Grandpa Peebles, Van Peebles brings an ornery gruffness to the role that sheds light on how his son Virgil became such a tyrant. "Grandpa is rough on Virgil," says Van Peebles. "He's a hard nut to crack. A hard guy to please."

"Grandpa isn't impressed by anything I've accomplished," explains Grier. "He's constantly getting those digs in: 'I wouldn't have done it that way,' or 'I tried to tell you, but this is how you are.' We get to see very clearly that it's a dynamic that's been passed from Grandpa to Virgil, and from Virgil to Grace."

While Diahann Carroll already plays the role of 'Nana' in her actual family, she enjoyed exploring the Peebles version onscreen. She says, "Nana observes her children very carefully. She's a little removed, a little austere, a little dinosaur-ish. But I enjoyed her. She's got an edge to her."

As Chism continued to work on the script during pre-production, she and her filmmaking team realized music was playing an increasingly large role in the production. While Peeples by no means a musical, it features a number of musical sequences performed by the characters: the opening number features Wade offering self-help advice to children in a song, "Speak it, Don't Leak It"; Simon composes his own rap song;Virgil and Grandpa Peebles become embroiled in a step dance-off;and Wade convinces Daphne Peeples to perform an off-the-cuff duet of her one-time hit song, "Turn You On."

"The process was really fun because we worked with actors who can actually sing," says Stephanie Allain. "Epatha has a wonderful voice. She was a musical theater person before she was a straight actress, and it's a chance for her to really show her chops. Everybody that you hear in the movie is singing with their own voices. It's become a bigger and bigger part of the movie as we made it. It's like a mini-musical."

Chism found an ideal musical partner in Stephanie Allain's husband, Stephen Bray, a composer whose collaborations with Madonna resulted in many of her hits from the 1980s, and who also earned a Tony Award nomination for his score of the Broadway musical, The Color Purple. Says Chism, "You never know when you're writing a film with music how it's going to gel until that partner comes into your life. I was very lucky to find Stephen. He matched my sense of humor and understood how the music fit into this film. He's also a wonderful musician."

While the story of Peeples is set in Sag Harbor, New York -- a tony summer community on Long Island -- production for the movie took place along the Connecticut shoreline between the picturesque towns of Greenwich and Norwalk. "We found this amazing little seaside village called Rowayton," says Chism, "and it's a charming, beautiful town that perfectly mimics the whaling village of Sag Harbor."

Aside from its convenient proximity to New York City, Greenwich was also home to a stunning seaside mansion with eight bedrooms and four floors that perfectly matched Chism's vision of the Peeples' home. "It was just magnificent. And it fit the family. It fit the Peeples' family," says producer Matt Moore. "So there was no question. Everything centered around the house."

Over the course of production, the cast of Peeples such a tight bond they became their own family. Cast members spent as much time together off-set as on, going so far as collectively giving up their trailers in favor of living together in one house. Says Washington, "This is the most fun I have ever had on a film set. Ever. We've loved each other like family. We've had arguments like family. We made up like family. It was a very trusting, artistic environment, and it allowed for everybody to expose new levels of capability and talent."

"They're all really, really smart people," marvels Chism. "And their intelligence was the glue that held them all together. It created an electric chemistry on the set."

Much of the bonding occurred over music, with most of the cast members relishing after-hours sessions of singing and improvisation. Stephanie Allain recalls, "Once we got to set, Craig would sit down at the piano and they all just started improvising and singing. It was literally so loud on set with the joy of our cast we had to dampen the piano, because we couldn't get enough work done."

Presiding over her jubilant cast, director Tina Gordon Chism handily met the task of directing her first feature despite the production's myriad challenges. "There were so many elements in this film that would intimidate a first-time director," says producer Paul Hall. "It's a big ensemble cast with a lot of tricky sequences with animals and music and shooting on water. But Tina just committed to the notion of being at the helm of her own vision. She knew exactly what she wanted. And she exceeded everyone's expectations."

Adds producer Ozzie Areu, "As a producer, working with Tina was what we all hope for: professionalism, passion, and the persistence to make the impossible possible! She did a fantastic job."

The cast also appreciated Chism's willingness to re-write ­ -- she revised the script once casting was complete and tailored the parts to her cast -- and to improvise during production. "I really loved improvising on set," reports Kali Hawk. "Tina was most happy when there was a nice blend of her writing, which is wonderful and fabulous, and then these infusions of improvisation. There were just endless possibilities of what we could discover."

Now that the film is completed, the filmmakers hope that audiences will laugh at the Peeples' dysfunctional antics and recognize their own families in the film's characters. "'Dysfunctional' to me means 'normal,'" states Grier. "I've never seen or met a normal family where there isn't some weird thing going on."

Adds Hawk, "We all have anxiety when we bring someone home to meet our family. But we forget that the person we're bringing home probably comes from just as eccentric or dysfunctional a family as ours."

As the Peeples wrestle with their various secrets, eventually the lies give way to hilarious, and revealing, truths. But however embarrassing or frightening those truths may be, Peeples that we're all the better for sharing them. Says Kerry Washington, "The things that really define the story of your life are your relationships, whether it's personal or professional. And that's what this film is about. It's asks, How do we create a world around us that feels like home and still allows us to be all that we are?"

"The whole movie," says Stephanie Allain, "really is about speaking your feelings, coming out with it, trusting your instincts, and being comfortable showing your truth to the people you love."

"We can love each other in spite of our flaws," agrees director Tina Gordon Chism. "Perhaps we can even love each other because of them."

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