With her model looks and girl-next-door attitude, Denise Richards made a name for herself in the '90s as eye candy in "Starship Troopers," "Wild Things" and the James Bond outing "The World is Not Enough." She's acted in several comedies since proving her knack for them with "Drop Dead Gorgeous," and she continues that streak with this week's Tyler Perry vehicle "Madea's Witness Protection."
Richards plays Kate, the younger second wife of Eugene Levy's George Needleman. When George gets inadvertently embroiled in a Ponzi scheme, their wealthy family enters the protection of the working class and VERY volatile Madea (Perry). We recently talked to the still stunning 41-year-old Richards about improvising with Levy and whether Perry maintains his Madea persona while directing.
When you see someone of your age with someone of Eugene's age, the first thing you think is "trophy wife," but you played Kate very reasonable and sympathetic. Were you trying to avoid those clichés?
The writing was on the page, too. Tyler didn't write a typical trophy wife character, he wrote a wife who was concerned about her husband, very supportive of him no matter what, and had good, deep family values. She wants to keep the family unit together. It's a blended family with the stepdaughter and their child together, and the mother-in-law. I think a lot of people can relate to that. So many people are divorced and getting remarried and having to blend families. I don't think of her as a trophy wife, she's a wife who fell in love with this man who's very charming and likable and she adores him. What I like about Tyler's movies and Madea is there's the comedy that comes out of situations, and there's also a lot of heart to the movie and a nice message. I loved the arc, the journey the family went on. At the end it's a nice reveal.
Eugene is, of course, a master at improv. Was there a lot on set?
Yeah. In the beginning we didn't want to improv because we felt this is what Tyler wrote, and he's directing it and we wanted to be respectful of that, but a few days into shooting he was so gracious. He had no ego, and he wanted us to have fun with it. I like improvising when working on a movie or in television. I love to be able to add stuff, and it's great working with someone like Eugene who's fantastic and easy to work with.
You're in a movie with Madea, who's a force to be reckoned with. When Tyler directs dressed as Madea, does he stay in character?
No. Every day we would show up to set and we weren't sure if he would be Madea, Joe or Brian. We would have to see whoever wasn't doubled up, then it would be Madea or Joe coming; but I was always so fascinated watching him because he had all these characters. He'd be Madea then yell, "Cut!" and it was Tyler Perry's voice. It was hysterical watching him, 'cause you see him and he's so handsome, he doesn't look like a character actor. He's cut. To look like that and then have Madea fly out of his mouth or Joe talking about farting and everything. It's funny to me to watch him go back and forth.
You shot this at his studio in Atlanta. What's it like to work under an auteur with that level of control?
You feel it as soon as you drive through Tyler Perry Studios. I have such admiration for how hard he's worked, starting from not having a lot and working so hard to have this incredible studio. He's young to be so accomplished with all these TV shows and movies and his own studio. I think it's just incredible.
As a mother, how much do you think Madea's stern ways are something to emulate?
I think she takes it to the extreme, but she has a good heart and you can tell family means a lot to her. She takes it a little overboard. [laughs] I do think there's a generation of passive parenting, too, but somewhere in between …
Between smacking 'em upside the head and letting the iPod raise them?
Yes, exactly. [laughs]
Of the three characters he plays, which one did you have the most fun playing off of?
Madea. Yeah, when it was his coverage playing her, we would do our scene, then we would do his coverage. He was able to go off for so long; all the things that come out of Madea's mouth [were] off the top of his head. Romeo and Eugene and I were doing a scene together, and Romeo said he had to pinch himself so he wouldn't laugh, but none of us wanted to laugh because he's so brilliant. He's an amazing comic genius -- we don't want to mess up his take with us laughing! But he's fun to watch. I loved working with him and watching the improv he would do.
We're coming to the 15th anniversary of "Starship Troopers" …
I don't even know. It came out around November …
Yep, November of '97. What is your most distinct memory of that?
I will never forget that experience. I had one of the best times ever working on that movie. All of us were unknowns and we were so excited and happy to be there and passionate about what we were doing. It was a six-month shoot and one of the fondest memories I've had working on that movie.