The Legendary Cicely Tyson

On Alex Cross, Staying Relevant in Hollywood and Tyler Perry

By Kristian Rose-Anderson

Some people may be familiar with the character Alex Cross who is a detective and psychologist from the James Patterson book series. Some people may be even more familiar with Morgan Freeman’s rendition of the character in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider. This fall, Alex Cross will again hit the big screen as he is pushed to the edge if his limits, morally and psychologically, in the upcoming self-titled film Alex Cross starring Tyler Perry (Alex Cross), Matthew Fox (Michael Sullivan), Carmen Ejogo (Maria Cross) and the legendary, Cicely Tyson (Mama Nana). We caught up with Tyson to discuss her role in the film as well as her role in Hollywood.

Many people may already be familiar with the Alex Cross character, can you tell us about this film? How did you get involved with this film?

Well, I was totally oblivious of the series. I had not heard of it. I had not read any of Mr. Patterson’s books. I had not known that Morgan Freeman was involved, nor did I see any of those movies. So it was totally unfamiliar to me. But I received a call from Rob Cohn, who is the director, asking to meet with me with regard to this project. He flew me in to New York, we had lunch and he talked with me about the project and asked me of my interest. And I said that I would be interested in anything that Tyler Perry was doing, and I have been since the very beginning of our relationship when he cast me in Diary of a Mad Black Woman. On that, we [Cohn and Tyson] shook hands and that’s how I became involved.

Can you tell us a little about your character, Mama Nana?

Mama Nana is the [grand] mother of Alex Cross. I don’t know if you know anything about motherhood, but one thing that I have learned is that once a mother, always a mother. It doesn’t matter how grown your children are or what they have achieved in life, they are still your children and you are still a mother. That is the core of Mama Nana. She knows about the danger of the work that her son does, she doesn’t approve of it, but that is his choice. But when it gets to a point when his [Alex Cross] life and existence is threatened then she steps in very forcefully.

You mentioned that you would be willing to do any project that Tyler Perry was a part of, how was it working with him on a project where he wasn’t the writer, director or producer?

Well it was quite different, and a little threatening for me [laughs]. All he could say while he was standing there working with me was, “I’m in a scene with Cicely Tyson, I can’t believe it.” And I’m saying “God, I can’t believe I’m in a scene with Tyler Perry [laughs].” So we were both feeling the same anxiety and rightfully so, on my part.

You have had an absolutely incredible career. What’s important to you when you choose roles?

Well I have always had as my yard stick a way to judge, and that is when I read a script either my skin tingles or my stomach churns. When my stomach churns, I know that I cannot touch it. When my skin tingles, I can’t wait to touch.

I read a quote where you said, “Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really new.” In each role you play, do you discover new things about yourself? What did you discover in this film?

Absolutely, it has been my educator throughout my entire career. Because in order for me to find the truth and the seed of a person that I’m going to try to project to the audience, I have to know who that person is. Through the course of searching for the core of that person, I discover things that elevate me.

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