A MADEA CHRISTMAS
About The Production
"I've always wanted to do a holiday movie!" exclaims
screenwriter/producer/director/star Tyler Perry. "I love Christmas and the
spirit of the holidays. I love the family gatherings. And I think Madea paired
with the holidays spells just the right kind of trouble. Cause there's nothing
holy about Madea."
Loosely based on a stage play Perry wrote, Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas
heralds a fresh turn in the Tyler Perry/Madea franchise: a movie that blends
Perry's distinctive blend of humor and uplift with the festive, soulful spirit
of the holidays. "This movie is a big comedy for the whole family, and it really
captures that heartfelt feeling of family coming together - and also the comedy
and chaos - that Christmas is all about," says producer Matt Moore.
A Madea Christmas begins with Madea accompanying her niece, Eileen, to pay a
surprise visit to Eileen's daughter, Lacy, who has mysteriously informed her
she's not coming home for the holidays. Lacy lives on a farm in a small town
called Buck Tussel, and she's still avoiding telling her judgmental mother that
she's gotten married to Connor, a white boy she met in college, for fear of
disappointing her. So when Eileen and Madea arrive at the farm, Lacy panics and
claims Connor is just a farmhand, a lie that only gets more difficult to sustain
when Connor's Southern hillbilly parents arrive for a holiday visit of their
own. "There's no Silent Night for this family," laughs Perry.
A hilarious culture clash comedy ensues, with Madea reaching new comic
heights in a series of unforgettable set pieces: dressed as a department store
Mrs. Claus (in what Perry calls, "The biggest, reddest-ass dress I'd ever seen
in my life!"), waxing on about how to milk a bull or delivering her off-kilter
advice and irreverent one-liners to anyone within punching distance. "Madea does
Christmas like only Madea can," says Perry. "She comes into the story loud and
big, but she also comes with a lot of wisdom and a lot of history. She's the one
who calls out the secrets. Nothing gets by her."
While Madea is all bluster and attitude, the film's core drama occurs between
Eileen, played by Anna Maria Horsford (NBC's "Amen," the WB's "The Wayans Bros."
and BET's "Reed Between The Lines"), and Lacy, played by Tika Sumpter ("One Life
to Live," "Gossip Girl," and OWN's "The Haves and The Have Nots"). These two
characters represent a shifting generational divide with strongly differing
values and views of race relations.
"Eileen is an old school mother," explains Horsford. "She's devoted her
entire life to Lacy and has really strong opinions about how her daughter should
live. She doesn't understand because Lacy's smart and beautiful and has a
master's degree but she's choosing to live in a small town and work as an
elementary school teacher."
Eileen also remembers too clearly the racial struggles of her childhood and
still has issues with interracial marriage. "Even though the world is different
today, in 2013, she remembers what it was like," says Horsford. "You know,
especially in African American homes, we don't share all of the trauma with our
children. We want to free them from the racism that many of us knew, let them go
into a better, freer world. But for Eileen that backfires, because she never
thought Lacy would go so far away."
"Anna is just great as Eileen," avows co-star Kathy Najimy. "There are some
big characters going on in this movie, and Anna played Eileen really real. It
was a lovely ingredient to the Madea soup."
While Eileen would like to see her daughter rise in socio-economic standing,
Lacy is more interested in quality of life and doing good in her community. Says
Sumpter, "She falls in love with Connor, this guy in college who happens to be
white, and follows him from the big city to this small town in Alabama where
he's trying to save his family's farm from bankruptcy. So Lacy follows him for
love and ends up teaching in this great school called, The McCoy School."
At the school, Lacy uses her education and street smarts to try to solve a
budget crisis that threatens to sink the entire town of Buck Tussel. "Lacy's a
fighter," continues Sumpter. "She's from the city so she knows how to hustle a
bit. She's a kind-hearted, good person - she wants good for all - but in her
trying to do good sometimes she says the wrong things and spreads a few small
lies that plant the seeds of disaster."
Lacy's crucial lie, that her husband Connor is just a farmhand, leads to
comic chaos when Connor's parents arrive and have to share close quarters with
Eileen and Madea. Connor, played by Eric Lively (American Pie, Butterfly Effect
2), finds himself caught in the middle. "He has to play along, and it's pretty
tough for him," admits Lively. "Over the course of the movie he has to come out
of his shell, feel confident in his role running this farm, and also bring
stability amongst all these crazy characters."
Two of those "crazy" characters are Connor's parents, Bud and Kim, who are
brought to sparkling life by seasoned comedians Larry the Cable Guy (Larry the
Cable Guy: Health Inspector, "Bounty Hunters") and Kathy Najimy (Sister Act,
"Veronica's Closet," "King of the Hill"). Bud and Kim are simple folk from the
South who are far less sophisticated than Eileen or Madea; but Perry, in a
departure from the usual screen stereotypes of Southern hicks, makes Bud and Kim
completely accepting of Conner's marriage to an African-American woman. "It's
really powerful and refreshing because you don't expect that kind of acceptance
to come from the 'country people'," says Najimy.
"Bud isn't a racist character," explains Larry the Cable Guy. "He's just
always trying to be funny and doesn't always say the appropriate thing. He loves
everybody. He doesn't have a bone to pick with anybody. He's just enjoying life
and speaking his mind."
Believing they're arriving for a casual Christmas celebration, Bud and Kim
are forced to play along with the lie that Connor is a farmhand, taking on the
roles of farmhands as well. "It becomes very tense and we just don't
understand," says Najimy. "We spend the whole time with confused faces thinking,
'Why can't we just be, you know, having a big three bean salad right now.'"
While preparing for their performances, Larry and Najimy agreed to portray
Bud and Kim, who are constantly bickering, as still very much in love. "Kathy
said she was tired of seeing couples who don't love each other and complain
about each other on screen all the time. Because that's not how it is, always,"
says Larry. "So we agreed to love the hell out of each other. 'I can do jokes
about you and you just laugh it off and you do jokes about me and I laugh it
off.' And it made everything funnier. Kim thinks Bud's the funniest thing on two
legs and just loves him and thinks he's sexy and great."
"Larry and Kathy just hit it off right away," reports producer Matt Moore.
"They're really naturally funny and together the chemistry is amazing. Every
scene they're in is full of this fun bickering like they've known each other for
20 years, but there's a lot of love between them. It's really heartfelt and fun
and they just light up the screen."
Adds Larry, "Basically, Kathy's just as goofy as I am. So it was perfect."
The comedic pitch only rose higher when Larry and Najimy were in scenes with
Perry as Madea, who often steered them away from the script into free
improvisation. Recalls Larry, "The first day I was like, 'Man this is kind of -
he's not sticking to any of his lines! Does he not know the lines?'
But then I got it and it was a blast. I love going in and just adlibbing,
just throwing stuff out, making the other actor laugh. And you act better when
you're not worried about what your next line is going to be and just let
yourself go and enjoy the moment."
"It was a game of who could top the joke, just like being in seventh grade,"
says Najimy. "Some of those scenes lasted for so long because I would say
something to him and Madea would say something back and I would say something
back then he would say something back and I thought, 'Alright, I'll keep going,
dude. I will. I'm a night owl. I will do this as long as you want,' "
"It was nonstop fun," laughs Perry. "The adlibs - some of them couldn't make
it because the movie would have been NC-17 - but it was priceless. I love the
adlibs because art is a living thing and the moment changes all the time. When
there's something that works and it's hysterical, I leave it in. They're a lot
of those moments. This movie is so funny I laugh just thinking about it."
The spirit of improvisation often overtook the entire cast, and many takes
were interrupted by outbursts of uncontrollable laughter. Maintaining focus was
particularly challenging for Sumpter, who often had to navigate more dramatic
material amidst the comedy. "There were a few scenes where Lacy has to be upset
and everyone else, Anna Maria, Larry, Madea, everyone's just letting loose and I
had to be the straight arrow," she says. "A couple of times I just died and they
had to stop. I couldn't stop laughing."
Adding to Lacy's predicament in the film is the arrival of Oliver, an
ex-boyfriend and powerful ad executive who holds the key to saving Buck Tussel's
annual Christmas Jubilee. He's also dead-set on trying to convince Lacy to give
their relationship another try. "Eileen, Lacy's mother, has always really liked
me, and she actually pumps me up a bit saying Lacy talked about me so much,"
explains actor and former Oakland Raiders running back, JR Lemon, who plays
Oliver. "So it triggers something in me, and I start being really forward with
Lacy. It adds even more drama to her situation."
A Madea Christmas also tells the story of Amber and Tanner McCoy, a poor
young farming couple whose young son, Bailey, is an exceptional student in
Lacy's classroom. The McCoys, like many of the citizens of Buck Tussel, are up
in arms over the town's announcement that there is not enough money in the
budget to produce the Christmas Jubilee, an annual festival that's crucial to
the townspeople's economic survival.
Actress Alicia Witt plays Amber, who's trying to maintain her integrity while
her husband, Tanner (played by Chad Michael Murray), succumbs to the financial
pressure he's under. Says Witt, "Amber has a really big heart. She's a good
girl, but she's challenged by the fact that her husband is starting to get lured
in by some darker elements due to the fact that money has not been coming in.
She's riding a fine line between really putting her foot down and saying things
aren't okay to being scared that he could snap."
"Tanner starts out very dark and very rugged and believes in his way, which
is kind of rough and tumble," explains Chad Michael Murray. "But as the story
progresses we see him really grow and become the man he's always been."
Production on A Madea Christmas took place in and around Atlanta in January,
2013. The filmmaking team shot exteriors, in particular the film's climactic
Christmas Jubilee sequence, in a small town called McDonough. "It was
fantastic," says Perry. "The people of McDonough were so excited to have us
there, they kept up all of their Christmas lights and decorations so the town
was all dressed and ready for the Christmas Jubilee and just about the entire
town showed up as extras, too."
Much of the production's resources were put towards creating an idyllic
holiday scene in the town square, replete with carolers, food stands and
countless Christmas lights. "They created this huge
event," says Eric Lively. "All the people of McDonough were lining the streets
and it was really exciting. And when the choir sang and Bailey, the little boy
in the movie, started his solo, it was really magical. All of us were really
touched to be there."
"I love Christmas," says Kathy Najimy. "I never get enough of it. I love the
lights. I love the music. I love the shopping and I gotta say the Jubilee just
sent me through the roof. There were people selling gingerbread men and cotton
candy and candy apples and I was going up and saying, 'Can I buy one of theā¦'
And the crew was like, 'Kathy, they're props. Hands off the peppermint
As usual, Perry managed to direct the production in full Madea regalia,
always at-the-ready to jump into character and deliver a stream of inspired
Madea-isms in front of the camera. "When Tyler would direct me dressed as Madea,
I couldn't look him in the face. It was just too weird," laughs Chad Michael
Murray. "I said, 'I can't listen to you. I can't take notes.' So whenever we had
a conversation we'd just talk to each other's cheeks. It was our thing."
"He has so much on the mind - the camera shots, the schedule - but once he
becomes the character it's 100% focused," reports Anna Maria Horsford. "So once
the scene started, it wasn't difficult at all."
"He works differently than any other director I've ever worked with," adds
Najimy. "He knows exactly what the shot is because in his head there is no extra
fat in the scene. He just gets right into it. And to watch one person really
write, direct, act - and to be directed by him and to get the feedback - I
didn't expect to be so inspired. I really didn't."
For his part, Tyler Perry is grateful to have assembled a talented cast he
could trust wholeheartedly, and he hopes that the community spirit fostered on
set shines through the film itself. "All of us coming together was just, it was
so wonderful," he says. "We had an opportunity to not only laugh and have fun
and go to work every day, but to realize that when people see this film, they
might just have the same experience."
"This is the kind of fun, family movie that people look for during the
holidays," says producer Matt Moore. "They're going to want to go laugh and have
fun and really celebrate Christmas, but do it in a way that they've never done
"There's a lot of truth to the things these characters are dealing with,"
adds Najimy. "Philosophically, A Madea Christmas is about unity and
inclusiveness and diversity."
And that, says Perry, is what the holidays are all about. "The most important
lesson, to me, is that we are all the same no matter what race, no matter where
we come from," says Perry. "We're all the same people. If there's one thing to
take away from this movie it's 'Live and let live.'"
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