Denise Richards channels her inner Tyler Perry
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As she munches on Peanut M&Ms, exchanges a quick word with her publicist and taps out a lightning-fast text message — “I’m so sorry, just making arrangements with the kids,” she blurts — Denise Richards is every bit the multi-tasking mom.
But in a matter of hours, she’ll dial up the glamour, working the red carpet for the premiere of Madea’s Witness Protection, the seventh installment in Tyler Perry’s ever-expanding franchise.
Out Friday, the raucous comedy is centred on George Needleman (Eugene Levy), an honest but absent-minded Wall Street CFO, who learns his firm is operating a mob-backed Ponzi scheme. When Brian, a federal prosecutor from Atlanta (Perry) places George and his family in the safest hideaway he can think of — his Aunt Madea’s down South — what unfolds is a whacky collision of cultures, punctuated with brazen one-liners, courtesy of Perry’s fearless, larger-than-life matriarch.
“I haven’t seen (the film) yet,” confesses Richards, 41, who plays George’s aggravated second wife, Kate. “My girls won’t be embarrassed? Like, ‘mom, you’re acting really weird?,’” she asks with a self-conscious giggle. She’s referring to an especially outrageous scene where Kate channels Madea’s thunderous, trademark holler in a last-ditch effort to discipline her spoiled stepdaughter (Danielle Campbell). “Thank god they sprung that scene on me on set, otherwise I would’ve gotten myself worked up,” she admits. “It was intimidating. I was imitating Tyler Perry imitating Madea.”
Richards sings sweet praises for Perry, marveling at his seamless ability to write, direct and simultaneously play three characters (in addition to Brian and Madea, Perry also portrays Uncle Joe, Madea’s eccentric, live-in brother). “He’s so sexy, he’s got this great presence and powerful voice,” Richards gushes, describing Perry’s charismatic, off-screen persona. “And to go from that to Madea and Joe telling fart jokes…I’m like, how does that come out of you?”
Equally impressive was the director’s ability to wrap-up shooting a week ahead of schedule — practically unheard of in Hollywood. “We finished early!” Richards exclaimed. “(Perry) was editing in his head. To have that foresight is incredible.”
Richards guest stars on ex-husband Charlie Sheen’s highly-anticipated comeback sitcom, Anger Management, which made its debut this week. “If it gets picked up, I’ll be a recurring character,” she says enthusiastically. “I think people will be surprised to see Charlie playing a different character, it’s not what they’re expecting.”
Whirlwind Cameo. Tom Arnold agrees to role in Madea out of sheer curiosity
For comedy stalwart Tom Arnold, all it took was a few, focused hours to shoot a pivotal cameo in Tyler Perry’s ensemble comedy, Madea’s Witness Protection.
“I came to Atlanta on a Saturday night and left the following day,” explained the 53-year-old actor, recalling his whirlwind trip. “I did it to see what Tyler was like.”
Fortunately, Perry exceeded his expectations, whether he was directing the cast in his outrageous Madea costume, urging them to ad-lib or just “being a cheerleader,” as Arnold describes.
“I didn’t know Tyler and I wanted to see if he was up for improvising, and he was more than up for it,” he added. “There are lines that I made up and saw in my finished scene. Some writers are like, ‘I wrote every word, I’m Bill Shakespeare,’ but with Tyler, the best joke wins.”
In the film, Arnold plays Walter, the seedy boss to Wall Street CFO, George Needleman (Eugene Levy), and chief schemer behind their firm’s mob-backed Ponzi scheme — foul play that eventually forces the Needlemans to seek refuge with
Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry). “I play a younger, more handsome, Bernie Madoff-type guy,” says Arnold, exuding his signature brand of kooky, tongue-in-cheek humour.
No stranger to stories about fitting in — as the host of CMT’s highly successful reality show, My Big Redneck Vacation, the star is well acquainted with the notion of culture-shock — Arnold is an enthusiastic supporter of this type of storytelling.
“At least 50 per cent of movies are fish-out-of-water tales,” he declares. “The key is to find different pools for the fish to jump in and if it’s done right, people like it.”
These days, Arnold’s balancing a plate that’s practically overflowing, complete with stand-up gigs, scriptwriting sessions and the occasional movie role. Later this summer, he’ll appear in the Kristen Bell-Bradley Cooper Hit and Run. “It also has a bit of a witness protection twist to it,” he shares, amused at the parallels between an outlandish comedy and a slick action-romance.
In Focus: Richard Crouse