Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “The Family That Preys”

April 8, 2013  |  
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When it comes to Tyler Perry films, The Family That Preys is one of, if not my all time favorite. It stars some A-list actors, the story is complex without leaving any loose ends and it was one of the few Tyler Perry movies that wasn’t based off of his stage plays. If you’ve seen the movie, I doubt you’ve forgotten the plot or that pivotal moment with Sanaa Lathan and Rockmond Dunbar over that counter top. You remember, but check out these behind the scenes secrets.

White Folks

Unlike the rest of Tyler Perry’s films, this one featured a diverse cast…in other words there were white folks involved. A complete step away from his usual work, many wondered why he was switching up. Others, specifically at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, wondered why this was Tyler’s first time he’d written about white folks. This is what he had to say.

“I never knew any white people! Really and truly. I grew up in New Orleans. I went to an all-black school. I lived in an all-black neighborhood. I never knew one white person. Not one. I moved here to Atlanta and for 15 years, I didn’t know any white people. Now I’m living in a world where I’m meeting all kinds of people. I’m a student of life. So I’m writing from other perspectives. Now I look at a situation and say, ‘Oh, this is how this person lives.'”

The critics

As you know the critics, professional and amateur alike, don’t review Perry’s films very highly. Though they still felt there were holes critics, across the board, agreed that the film showed his growth. Here’s what one critic from the New York Daily News had this to say.

Perry’s notoriously overstuffed plots have sometimes been top-heavy, but this movie, like Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, hangs on an elegant structure that doesn’t feel forced. Perry’s skills as a director have improved as his casts have gotten better, and he gives the lovely Woodard one of her most satisfying roles . . . By melding the pleasures of 1950s-style melodrama . . . with equal-gender, African-American-aimed plots, Perry has found success in a niche only he now occupies. And by adding Christian tenets and modern issues . . . Perry shows he knows what his audience wants. First and foremost, that’s a smart, satisfying movie experience, which Family is.

Cole Hauser on Tyler Perry

Just like Tyler didn’t know any white people, Cole Hauser didn’t know Tyler Perry. Once he heard about the project, he had to do some research about his work. He recognized that this film didn’t exactly fit in with the canon of his work and wanted to have a conversation with him. Once he spoke to him, he was on board. He especially liked that Tyler was open and willing to make a couple of changes to the character.


The Swirl

As you can imagine, folks were a bit fascinated by the interracial relationship between Hauser and Lathan. Hauser spoke about the relationship explaining that for their characters, race was not a factor.

“I never look at her and see a black woman and she didn’t look at me and see a white man. It was two [characters] who were attracted to each other by sex, or lust, or by love and you leave it up to the audience to decide that. We just looked at it and said, ‘How can we make this as realistic as possible?’ I hope we’ve done that.”

I’d have to agree. Andrea, Sanaa’s character, would have chased the money regardless.

Sanaa on her character Andrea

Though the audience was quick to judge Sanaa’s character as “bad,” Lathan didn’t necessarily see it that way.

“She’s a woman who is…I would call her a climber. You’re not supposed to judge your characters. She has her reasons. She’s not happy with the life she comes from and she’s trying to get to a better life for herself.”

Sanaa on Alfre Woodard

Sanaa was particularly excited at the opportunity to work with Alfre Woodard again. You may remember that the two worked together as mother and daughter in Love and Basketball, Something New and then a third time in The Family That Preys. Here’s what Sanaa had to say about her on-screen mom:

“Alfre…It’s such a treat. I take it as kind of like a master class. To be able to work with her, this is third time…and she’s so… She’s just… she’s just a master at what she does. And she is open to talking about it and just also talking about just being a woman and being married and having a family, all the things that we as young women go through. It’s nice to have mentors. So it’s kind of like coming to summer camp where you get to have a great mentor and I get to pick her brain and it’s great.”

That slap?!

I don’t know about you but that slap looked real to me. In another interview with Movie Web, Taraji and Sanaa discuss the interaction and whether it was real or not.

Interviewer: Did they put you on a tred thing? Cuz it looked like you were going over.

Sanaa: You know I’m a method actress, so he just slapped the bleep out me.

Interviewer: Really?

Sanaa: And I went flying.

Taraji: Out of her…out of her stunt woman.

Sanaa: Hello!

Taraji: Sanaa likes to do all of her stunts

Sanaa: Yeah, no.

I still can’t quite tell. Either way, Sanaa responded to how audiences may have perceived the outright domestic violence. This is what she told USDA2Day:

“It is politically incorrect. It’s wrong and yet these are flawed characters and it’s a filmmakers right to put in things we don’t agree with. It’s about telling a story. Yes, I think it’s wrong that Chris was wrong in hitting me, but I hear in the screening they were cheering.

Rockmond Dunbar on the slap

Even though Rockmond wasn’t on the receiving end of the abuse, he still had issues with it and how it would appear on screen. He explained his apprehension to EurWeb:

“It’s one of those situations you have to handle very, very delicately because you don’t know how it’s going play, you don’t know how it’s going to end up coming out,” Dunbar said of doing the scene. “A black woman being hit by a black man on screen? I was scared. I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I told myself, ‘This is not something that you want to turn out bad, so just commit to it and hopefully Tyler will make the right decision when it gets to the editing room, and he did.”


How he was able to do it?

Though Rockmond admitted that he was nervous about slapping a woman, he told Eurweb that he was able to use his recent divorce as a source of inspiration.
“I just went through that whole situation with my ex-wife,” he said. “I’m newly divorced, so I had a lot to pull from. Even the similarities of her cheating for such a long time, was something I just went through unknowingly. I have common sense, I love women. It was just that similarity to have your heart on your sleeve.”


I Hope You Dance

During Tyler’s internal struggle Tyler heard Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” and it encouraged him. Which is why he choose to have Gladys Knight remake the song for the end of the film. Gladys did her thing with this song. If you don’t remember quite how she did it, here’s this little audio slideshow to refresh your memory.

Where this movie came from?

In yet another Movie Web interview, the interviewer asked Tyler how he comes up with his projects. Here’s how Tyler explained the concept for this film.

“It’s just whatever I feel like I want to do next, like what feels right to me, whatever’s going on in my life. At the time, with this I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay on the front side of the business. So I started asking myself are you living or are you existing? And that’s where this film came from. And the “preys” reference, so many people prey on each other in this business–for me.”

Kathy Bates on Alfre Woodard

In an interview with Movie Web, Kathy Bates describes working with Alfre Woodard.

“I’d always wanted to work with Alfre. We’d hugged each other, over the years, at so many different events and functions and said, “oh let’s do something together.” When the opportunity came to work with her I really jumped at it. I would say Alfre is the main reason I did the film because I think she’s such an incredible actress and a wonderful human being and a great activist and I admire her so terribly much. Working with her on this film was such a joy.”

 Tyler loves the ladies

All of the ladies on set explained that Tyler treated them like royalty on set. They’d often return to their dressing rooms and even the hotels where they were staying while filming to floral arrangements. Alfre Woodard said it was like making a movie with a big brother. Taraji and Sanaa said that knowing how much they were appreciated made them what to work harder to live up to Tyler’s standards.


Despite the fact that many regard this movie as Tyler’s best, commercially it was one of Tyler’s lowest grossing films. It earned $37,105,289 domestically. It earned just a little bit more money than Daddy’s Little Girls, which was his worst grossing film. Perhaps a story that didn’t just involve black people with his usual themes alienated some of his loyal audience. Who knows. Either way, we hope Tyler can get back to movies something like this.

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