Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington, from left), Wade Walker (Craig Robinson) and Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier) in
Grace Peeples (Kerry Washington, from left), Wade Walker (Craig Robinson) and Virgil Peeples (David Alan Grier) in Peeples. Nicole Rivelli/Lionsgate
Tina Gordon Chism began her career as an intern in the writing department of The Cosby Show. She went on to write the films Drumline and ATL. Now she makes her directorial debut with the new comedy feature Peeples. The film stars Craig Robinson (The Office) as Wade Walker, the longtime boyfriend of Grace Peeples, played by Kerry Washington. Wade crashes Grace's posh family reunion in the Hamptons, only to find that she never even told them he existed.
Peeples comes from Lionsgate and 34th Street Films, Tyler Perry's production company. It opens in theaters Friday.
Tina Gordon Chism joined Tell Me More host Michel Martin for an interview.
Producer Tyler Perry and writer/director Tina Gordon Chism on the set of
Producer Tyler Perry and writer/director Tina Gordon Chism on the set of Peeples. Nicole Rivelli/Lionsgate
On being part of Tyler Perry's team
"He showed up on set on something called Moby Dick Day in the movie. And I had so much to do that day. It was all the cast, it was a big day, it was a big production. And he was talking to me, and I was just like, 'What?!' You know, like there was no deference or respect. I'm like, 'Listen, sit down. I'll talk to you in a minute.' But it was fun to see him sit on the side and watch. And I thought, OK, I can't be Tyler Perry. I can only be myself. And luckily he did not want me to be Tyler Perry. He wanted me to be Tina, and he just stood back, and he's like, 'I wanna see what happens.' "
On casting Kerry Washington in a comedy
"Really when I'm writing, I never think of actual actors. ... And sort of close to the end of the final draft as I'm tinkering on it, actors start popping in. And the first actor to pop in was Kerry Washington.
"She likes to know the details behind every choice she makes as an actor. I didn't know this about her. I didn't know her personally, but I just sort of gleaned this from her, from just watching her, observing her socially. And I thought if I could get Kerry to sort of make fun of this type-A perfectionism that I believe her to have, then that would be a likable Grace Peeples. Because she has to be high-achieving. You have to feel like she [Washington's character, Grace Peeples] is striving to be at her father's level in terms of accomplishment and achievement. And I just thought Kerry could pull that off perfectly if she could make fun of it. And she was more than game to have fun."
On the real man who inspired the character Judge Virgil Peeples
"He's not my father, but he's a very accomplished, very powerful African-American father, family man, husband. And I was at dinner with a friend — it was not even someone I was dating, but he considered that that was someone I was dating. And throughout the entire dinner, he would whisper in my ear about why this person was so unsuitable for me to be with. And I just remember thinking, 'This would be the worst father to bring someone home to!' "
On breaking the pattern of racially mixed dramas and segregated comedies
"African-American actors that have been in mainstream films that are so funny but they might not have had the biggest role — you know, Craig (Robinson) in The Office — their comedic chops, what they think is funny, it's present in Peeples. It is an all-black cast, but I feel like the reliability of the plot, the comedy and the music present in it, I promise that they'll have a good time. We've seen the movie. White audiences, black audiences, brown audiences — and it has really translated. That makes me happy above all. Laughter, I feel like, breaks through a lot of that."