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THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB

About The Production
Single mothers don't get enough credit, says Tyler Perry. And with his latest comedy, Lionsgate and Tyler Perry Studios' Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club, the actor/writer/ producer/director is out to change that. "I wrote The Single Moms Club as a celebration of single mothers and the men in their lives who lend a helping hand," he says. "It's about taking a minute and saying, 'Thank you,' and paying homage to their effort and love and everything they do each and every day."

Perry's spirited comedy follows five single mothers from very different walks of life whose children - thanks to a generous scholarship program - all attend an exclusive prep school called West Merryville. The mothers range from a white alpha-female career woman to an African-American fast food worker; but they find themselves united through a stroke of bad luck: each of their children has been caught for infractions - smoking, tagging graffiti - at their school. With their children's expulsion hanging in the balance, the five mothers have no choice but to agree to the Principal's "assignment" for them: to organize West Merryville's upcoming fundraiser and school dance.

The result is an edgy, moving, and always funny collision of very different women who, like it or not, have a deep common bond. "We're all very different and it's like oil and water," explains actress Nia Long, who stars as May, a struggling journalist with a teenage son. "Black, white, Latina, rich, poor, roaches, Mercedes Benz, we've got a mixture of everything."

And as their struggles and vulnerabilities come to the surface, the women realize their gatherings are actually an unexpected resource. "One of the women, Hillary, who is freshly divorced, talks about how hard it's going to be to rebuild," says Wendi McLendon-Covey, who plays career woman, Jan. "And the rest of us, who've been doing it as single parents for years and years, walk her through the process and then it dawns on us, 'Well, we could help each other. No one else knows what we go through so why don't we just help each other?'"

Together, they form the Single Moms Club, a haven for single mothers seeking support and an understanding ear. "It's such a big deal to be around people who get it," says Cocoa Brown, who plays fast-food worker, Lytia. "We don't have to explain what we're going through, why we're tired, why we just burst out crying for no reason or why we might bite your head off for no reason."

At first, the women form the club for one reason: reclaiming their freedom. "One mom babysits while the other four go out and have a good time," explains producer Ozzie Areu. "And they rotate every weekend. So it gives them an opportunity to just go out, party, do whatever they want, be wild again, be 16 again."

Says McLendon-Covey, "All these women are playing mother and father. They're also playing janitor, policeman, dentist, chauffeur, doctor. There is no time off, no support. So a major bonding point is each of them realizing, 'Wait a minute, I'm actually allowed to have fun?'"

While the women's nights on the town - to a karaoke bar, a strip club - are among The Single Moms Club's most hilarious set pieces, the ladies, says Perry, "realize it takes a village to raise these kids." Soon they begin depending on each other to weather the hard times as well, finding strength in numbers to make lasting changes in their lives.

Finding the perfect cast to play this singular group was one of the principal challenges of production, primarily because the script's five plum roles were in such high demand by actresses. Recalls producer Matt Moore, "We spent a lot of time just trying to whittle our options down and find the actresses who not only would be great in the roles, but would also be great with each other."

Anchoring the cast as May, the "nucleus" of the group, is actress Nia Long, known to audiences for her work in films such as Boyz N The Hood and Love Jones. May works for a newspaper and is trying to get her book published without much success; but her main concern is her son, Rick, who at age 12 is asking more and more questions about his absent father. May has spent years hiding the truth from Rick that his father is a drug addict; but her protective secrecy ends up turning Rick against her. Says Long, "For May, there's that moment where you see your baby go from baby to young man to teenager and you start to go, 'Who is this person?' Suddenly she can't control what he knows about their past, and it forces both of them to face things they've been avoiding."

Long had no trouble relating to the young actor playing opposite her... since he's her own 12-year-old son, Massai Dorsey, Jr. It was Long who suggested to Perry that Massai audition for the role of Rick, but it was Massai who won the part based on his impressive audition tape. "In the film, May and Rick are a team," says Long. "All they have is each other. And it was so magical to look into Massai's eyes when I was playing these moments, moments which were very real for us, too, throughout the last 12 years."

Much like May, who has to adjust to her son's sudden maturation, Long watched Massai adapt quickly to life on set. "He'd start correcting me, saying, 'Mom, you're not supposed to say that there,'" laughs Long. "And I'd be like, 'Oh, really?'"

As she grapples with how to manage her son, May also begins a relationship with T.K., a divorced father of two who helps jump-start May's car, and later, offers to help stage the women's fundraiser. Played by Tyler Perry, T.K. is charming and easy-going, and proves dependable when May falls into a crisis with her son. "It was so great working with Tyler on screen. He's so grounded himself, and that quality really comes through in his performance as T.K.," says Long. "It was also so impressive because he'd switch between his character and directing the scene so effortlessly. I don't know how he does it."

Celebrated comedienne Wendi McLendon-Covey, known to many for her break-out work in the hit comedy, Bridesmaids, brings a high-wire, comic intensity to Jan, a goal-oriented career-woman. "Jan's very driven to finish everything she's got on her to-do list in life: have a career, have a baby, find a guy, not necessarily in that order," explains McLendon-Covey. "She ends up having a baby alone, through a sperm donor. And now her daughter's growing up and she needs guidance, but Jan's too used to scheduling her daughter's life instead of really connecting with her."

When the Single Moms Club goes on its first outing to a karaoke bar, Jan seizes the opportunity "like a starving man finally eating a cracker," says McLendon-Covey. "She's forgotten what it's like to actually have fun and be a whole person."

Like each of the women in the club, Jan also begins to entertain the possibility of love in her life. Says McLendon-Covey, "It's been so long, especially for Jan. It's like a factory closed.

There's nothing going on down there. They're all going to the movies and everybody's paired up except Jan. So May thinks, 'Okay Jan, you pathetic creature, I'm going to set you up.'"

Jan dreads the date more than anything until Tony, an amiable divorcée played by Sean Carrigan, appears. "Tony is just this tasty treat for Jan," laughs McLendon-Covey. "Suddenly, with Tony next to her, dating doesn't seem so bad."

Jan could easily claim the title of alpha dog in the Single Moms Club if it weren't for Lytia. A brazen, take-no-prisoners mother of five barely making ends meet on minimum wage, Lytia is brought to life with comic gusto by actress and stand-up comedian, Cocoa Brown. Explains Perry, "Lytia is the soul of the movie in that she represents that hard working woman who is down at the bottom and trying to juggle and maintain it all at the same time."

"Lytia's two eldest sons went to jail," says Brown. "So she's really hard on her middle son, Hakeem. She doesn't want him to go down the same path."

Lytia has no patience for Jan's and Hillary's white, upper class woes, and she makes no effort to hide it, which causes more than a little friction in the club's first meeting. Says Brown, "Jan and I are like oil and water from the get go because she looks at me like I'm street trash and I look at her like some uppity, prissy white woman. I think we have nothing in common, but we both realize we've got the same problem: we both need to reconnect with our children and not just be the overseer or the check writer."

Lytia is just as opinionated and obstinate when it comes to her love life, which involves an amorous war of attrition with Branson, played by Terry Crews. "Branson is a good dude," says Brown. "He wants me a whole lot but I just keep throwing waffles at him. I don't want anything to distract me from raising Hakeem and making sure he goes to college."

"Lytia's whole M.O. is to reject me nonstop," laughs Crews. "She pretty much beats me up in this movie. I get slapped, I get put down, I get smacked and I come back for more. Ultimately, I'm just there saying, 'I'm going to be there for you,' until she finally gets it. I have to say I really cherish getting a chance to play a good guy like this."

Filming the pair's love scenes involved an added dimension of comedy since Terry Crews and Brown's husband are good friends. Says Brown, "It was pretty hilarious having to do those scenes with Terry knowing that my husband is literally on the phone afterwards like, 'So what did he do? Did he give you tongue?'"

Hillary, a wealthy mom used to the luxuries of paid help, is easily the most inexperienced member of the Single Moms Club. At the beginning of the film, she undergoes a rude awakening when her 12-year marriage to her husband ends, which includes his financial support. "Hillary lost herself in all the money and the housekeepers and the chefs, and when she gets hit with the divorce it completely knocks her off her feet," says actress Amy Smart. "She's really vulnerable and slowly awakening into her real self and learning how to be a better mother."

It takes Lytia to convince Hillary that she can handle her new life. "Hillary looks at Lytia and sees this strength and wisdom as a mother that she doesn't believe she has herself," explains Smart. "But Lytia wasn't born that way. She had to learn it all, too, just a lot earlier in her life, and in a much harder way. So they help each other out. Hillary finds strength in Lytia, and Lytia learns how to be softer and more vulnerable from Hillary."

Hillary also enjoys the beginnings of a potential love affair with her neighbor Peter, played by television heartthrob Ryan Eggold (NBC's The Black List and CW's 90210). "Peter moves next door to Hillary at the top of the film," says Eggold. "He's a contractor and is constantly making noise and fixing his house and she's always telling him to shut up."

As the two neighbors get to know each other, Hillary asks Peter to help build a set for the school dance and fundraiser. "He's very lovely and understanding and he offers a lot of support and wisdom, so there's a little chemistry there," says Smart.

"Trying to have a career and a personal life and raise kids all at once on your own is almost impossible for anybody, man or woman," says Eggold. "So Peter is there to offer what he can."

Rounding out the Single Moms Club is Esperanza, a beautiful, divorced Latina mother played by Zulay Henao who longs for her freedom but finds herself dependent on her ex-husband, Santos. Santos repeatedly threatens to stop providing child support if Esperanza begins a relationship with another man, which prevents her from moving in with her boyfriend, Manny. "She's really frustrated," says Henao. "She wants to break free from her ex-husband's control, his manipulation, but she's too frightened." Manny, played by Latin star William Levy, is equally frustrated. "He wants to be there for Esperanza," he says. "He wants to be there for her daughter, to take that responsibility. But Esperanza can't make the move."

When she joins the Single Moms Club, however, Esperanza finds the guidance and support to make changes in her life. "She sees May, who has a job and a son, and she's doing it all," says Henao. "It inspires her to break free and reclaim her independence."

"Zulay is wonderful," says Perry. "She's this beautiful, amazing, incredibly sexy woman. And watching her play these comedic beats with William Levy has been really, really fun."

No one could have predicted exactly what kind of chemistry would result from bringing these five actresses together. But by all reports, they found a magical, effortless rapport both on and off screen. "We just came in and it was like a sisterhood, like we'd been friends forever," says Brown.

"The chemistry of all these women together is so real," says Perry. "Only two of them are actual single mothers but they clearly have a bond - an unspoken language - that runs between all of them."

"What's so much fun about this movie is you feel like you're just watching a group of friends hang out," says producer Matt Moore. "A lot of times in production when you call, 'Action,' they turn it on and when you yell, 'Cut,' they turn it off. During this shoot it just kept going. We had to tell them, 'Alright, you've got to be quiet. We've got to set up the next shot.'"

The cast's freewheeling energy dovetailed perfectly with Perry's penchant for improvisation on set. "Pretty much every group scene that we had, someone popped off with something and it ended up being golden," says Wendi McLendon-Covey. The Single Moms Club's visit to a strip club, in particular, was shot without a script or rehearsal. "Everything that happened in the strip club scene was totally adlibbed," avows McLendon-Covey. "I didn't know what was going on."

Perry admits as much. "I didn't direct that scene at all," he says. "I just told them to bring one of the ladies up on stage. And Wendi got up on stage and did this crazy scene. I'll just say those dancers got pretty buck wild and it got pretty insane."

"This is one of the funniest movies I've worked on in terms of the actors playing off each other," adds produer Ozzie Areu. "We were dying off camera. Just doubled over trying not to laugh."

Perry matched this comedic freedom with his customary speed during production. Often, Moore had to schedule additional locations for the end of the day because Perry was moving so far ahead of schedule. "It's like he's pre-editing the movie in his head while he's directing it," says Moore. "He knows exactly what he wants and once he's gotten it, we all move on."

"He keeps you on your toes and I think any actor who has done theater or who has been in the game for a long time and is looking to be challenged, this is it," says Nia Long. "You have to be ready for anything."

Despite the pace of production, Perry offered his cast the kind of support that few directors manage on more leisurely schedules. Says Henao, "Before we shot one particularly dramatic scene, Tyler sat me down and we had a conversation that put me in the best place emotionally that I could have been. It's those kind of gestures that I'm so grateful for."

"He really takes the necessary time with you," echoes Smart. "He walked me through the places I needed to get to and because of that, I trusted him completely. He's wonderful."

"I'm an actor's director," says Perry. "So I'm always talking to the actor about how they feel and what they think the character feels at a given moment. I like the script to be a canvas where there are ten different ways to get around the corner and the actor and I choose together which one is the right one."

Now that The Single Moms Club is completed, Perry hopes the film's themes - and its raucous humor - will inspire audiences. "I like teaching people things through comedy," says Perry. "These women are struggling, and the movie takes a look at some serious issues. But what really makes it sing is the love and the laughter between these women."

"You're going to feel uplifted and you're going to laugh," says Wendi McLendon-Covey. "You're going to appreciate those women and what they go through, and it might even make you a better neighbor. Know any single moms you can pop in on and say, 'Hey, can I help you with something? Can I watch your kids while you go and look at naked men? Can I mow your lawn while you spend way too much money on your credit card?'"

Perry and his filmmaking team hope the Single Moms Club model might even inspire other single mothers to form clubs of their own. "I would not be surprised if Single Moms Clubs start to pop up all over the country," says Perry. "It's such a great idea, a concept of four or five mothers grouping together or 10 mothers grouping together and rotating, one babysits while the others get to go out and have fun."

"Even if I'm not single or a mother I would want to join it because it's so much fun," says Smart. "I think friendship is one of the most important things in life and for women to form friendships like these is incredible."

"What it comes down to is that we all have a lot more in common than we ever think we do," adds Perry. "That's what Single Moms Club is really about. It's about how we're all stronger when we come together."

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