Tyler Perry doesn’t step in front of another director’s camera often, but he’s glad he did so for David Fincher. “He’s brilliant,” says Perry, who stars in the exacting filmmaker’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl as the magnificently named Tanner Bolt, lawyer for Ben Affleck’s character, a man accused of his missing wife’s murder. Perry spoke with Vulture about the process.
David Fincher showed Neil Patrick Harris a rough cut of the film around 1:30 a.m. after a Hedwig performance, so it sounded like he was just beginning to share it with all of you. Have you had a chance to see it yet?
I have! But David's idea of a "rough cut" is pretty damn incredible. The only thing was there were still a couple of green-screen shots [that needed to be filled in], but I didn't notice anything, to my eye. To me, it looked great. I was beyond impressed, blown away. I laughed and I was moved and I just thought the performances were amazing. It's incredible. He's brilliant. It's pretty awesome. He nailed it. I didn't read the entire book, because I didn't want to take in a lot of the backstory of the characters if it wasn't in the script for the film. I didn't want to have a lot of that in my head. But I think he nailed it, though.
David originally courted you for the role of Tanner Bolt because of Alex Cross?
Yeah, isn't that something? He called and said, "I've got this role that I'd love for you to do," and I was like, "Are you sure?" And he was like, "Yeah, yeah, I really want you to do this." We spoke about it, and I said, "I'd love to."
Were you aware of all the anticipation for this adaptation? Did you have any sense that this was a hot property?
I had no sense of that. If I had, I probably would have walked away from it. If I had known ... This is the honest-to-God's truth. If I had known who David Fincher was, and his body of work ... If I had known that the book was so popular, and so many people loved it ... Had I known all those things, I would have said no. And my agent knew that! So he didn't tell me any of those things! Not until after I had signed on to do it. And the reason I wouldn't have done it is because when things are that magical for people and they become very special for people, there's a lot of pressure for it to be what they want it to be.
What kind of discussion did you guys have about not revealing spoilers? Since there's a big twist in the book, and Gillian Flynn changed the third act for the film version ...
I think if you look at the trailer, there's some moments where you think, "Wait a minute ... I know the book said this, but the trailer is taking it in a whole different direction!" So David has his own way of telling the story. Whether you've read the book or not, I think it's going to surprise people.
Tanner Bolt is described one way, the Dickhead Defender, the Hubby Hawk, and then he flips those expectations ...
You mean the Patron Saint of Wife-Killers? Yeah, yeah, yeah. [Laughs] I just approached it from the very simple point that he's a good lawyer, a lawyer whose job it is to defend the client, number one, but unfortunately, there are some [lawyers] that spin the truth at all costs, and he is that guy. He's got a $100,000 retainer, so sleazy or not, he's doing something very wrong! A lot of that for me was played down in the film. It would be a distraction to what the story is between Nick and Amy. It's just enough of Tanner to make it perfect. I'm grateful that I've never needed or had to have known a lawyer like that, but I've seen some ambulance chasers that were pretty interesting! [Imitates TV ad] "Have you been hurt in a car accident? Call me! I will get you a check. You weren't hurt? It's okay — we'll pretend!" Yeah, that guy, absolutely.
It sounds like Tanner Bolt in the film might have been combined a bit with Tanner's wife in the book, Betsy, as well?
Yeah, yeah, the jellybean thing. Throwing the jellybeans was definitely his wife's thing, so that was fused together. They were supposed to be jellybeans, but somebody wanted Gummi bears because the jellybeans were too hard, and they were [imitates noise jellybeans might make pelting someone] and we had some really good laughs about that. And Ben was just fun. He's just always fun. David does a lot of takes, so by the time we were done, Ben had eaten a lot of Gummi bears. But listen — the man walks around with packs of Jolly Ranchers in his pockets all the time. All the time. He loves them! So Gummi bears, Jolly Ranchers, he's a happy camper. I don't know if Carrie ever got it in his mouth, but she tried. She tried. I just didn't want to hit him in the eyes. I was just making sure that as I was throwing them, it was just off to the left, because I was very worried about hitting him in the eye.
David apparently also wanted both you and Ben because you're both directors. You would understand his structured approach, how he wants his actors to get past the point where they've memorized it, and hopefully wouldn't think of it as agony if he wants to do 50 takes for a scene. Did anyone warn you in advance about that?
Nobody told me. The first time I found out he did that was on set. One of my first lines, on the first day, Ben goes, "Just want you to know, minimum, 30 takes." And the blood was draining from my face. I turned around and I was like, "Are you serious?" He was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But I'll tell you what I found, what I found in it. I love studying people. And I realized that this man sees like no other person I've ever known. I think his own vision is hyper, so when he's doing a take, he's seeing everything on that screen all at once. I mean, it's almost like some kind of alien. And until all those things line up, he's not happy. But he is brilliant at getting the perfect shot. So once I realized that it's not me, or it's not Ben — it could be a napkin turned the wrong way, he's just looking at every little detail in the scene — so once I realized that, I was ready to go with it. He is the master, man. He is just great. I loved working with him. I learned how to make a movie, number one. — I was just soaking everything up. I was paying attention to every move, every word, everything he was saying when he'd talk to the camera people, the DP — just the level of communication and director-speak was awesome. It makes me want to approach [my next project] with just a little more patience.
Apparently you were the one leading all the on-set sing-alongs? You were blasting gospel tunes and Bette Midler?
Yeah! [Laughs] Ben started it. We were just sitting around, and Ben would break out in an '80s song from some R&B group, and I would be like, "How the hell do you know that?" So we would all start singing it, right? One day, I was like, "I'm just going to see how wild he can get." So I started singing "The Rose," and he could do it! Every word, top of his lungs. So everybody started singing. [Sings] "Some say love, it is a river ..." It was so much fun, watching all these people sing this song with Ben. It was really cool. You know, [the shoot] was a lot of work for everybody, so when I got there, I just wanted to make sure everybody was having a good time. Within reason, because David is very much about getting the shot. But listen — he was singing along, too! Oh, yeah. He was always smiling. Except for this one time when somebody's phone went off. One of the crew member's phones went off, on set, and I could see his eyes turning, and before he could say anything, I said it was my phone. I took the blame. [Laughs] What's he going to do? I'm bigger than him! I could whoop his ass.
Actually, both you and Ben are very big guys. You could do a buddy-cop comedy together, and match each other, size-wise ...
How hysterical would that be? Would you believe that his head and my head are the same size? He's got the biggest head I've ever seen on a person. I mean, it's just ... My head is proportionate to my body. His is not. He's got a big head. And he knows it. He knows it. [Laughs.]