According to Alex Cross director Rob Cohen, all one has to do is go to James Patterson’s pages of his novels to see how perfect Tyler Perry is for the title role. "Alex Cross, in the novels, is a 40 to 42-year-old man with two young children, a young wife and a grandmother, although I made Cicely (Tyson) more his mother,” Cohen said exclusively to Movie Fanatic.
“He’s very big. When you look at Tyler, he’s 6’6’, 250, strongly built, powerful physical presence -- it seems to me really the right idea.”
When Cohen first met with his star, he immediately tried to get that other acting superstar who had played Alex Cross in Kiss the Girls and Along Came the Spider completely out of his head.
“I said this to Tyler, ‘Morgan created a character that was not the character in the book.’ It was a character created because Morgan was a star and that’s who they wanted to make those films go. He created more of a sage, much more of a gentle, reasonable guy. He was unable to do any serious action and consequently the movies were very procedural and not like what we’re trying to do,” Cohen admitted.
“This Alex Cross is going to be the real one, will be the one that’s in the books. And me, I have respect for the written word. I’m always looking at how people adapt books. I told this to Jim (Patterson) when I first met him, ‘My goal is for you to look at the screen when it’s done and tell me that this is what in a sense you were creating in the novels.’”
Cohen feels that the entire process of bringing Alex Cross to life and working with Perry was one of pure fate. He met the prolific Atlanta-based superstar after one of his live stage plays. “I met Tyler a year before I even heard of Alex Cross as a movie. I think it was Madea’s Family Reunion the theater piece,” Cohen recalled.
“I went backstage to meet him and when he came out, I was just stunned by how big he was. He saw that reaction in my face and said, ‘What are you thinking?’ I said, ‘I’m thinking that you could be an action star.’ He smiled and said, ‘’Great, find me a black xXx.’ A year later, I get the call about Alex Cross and Tyler was literally at the top of the list. I said, ‘Let’s not have a list. Let’s just go get Tyler.’”
The mouse to Perry’s cat in the Alex Cross universe is the villain Picasso, played by Matthew Fox. The former star of Lost utterly terrifies as the serial killer who lives to inflict pain on his victims. The key to making that work, Cohen said, is how in the film and on the set, the two must never meet until their big onscreen showdown.
“When two actors meet in real life, they’re both human beings, they’re both people who have certain civility. They can’t help but be swayed by the humanity of another person. I didn’t want that. Tyler didn’t want it, Matt didn’t want it. They just wanted to know the idea of each other’s character,” Cohen said.
“That really was fundamental, their not knowing each other at all. I didn’t show Tyler Matthew’s dailies or anything. He just had to play it as Alex Cross would have to. There’s somebody out there killing people. We don’t know who he is and when we do make contact, I have no idea where he’s coming from.”
The man who directed The Fast and the Furious and xXx has a simple theory about action in his films and it has to do with keeping the violence away from an R-rating while still having audiences on the edge of their seats.
“Part of my idea of action is about visceral response and how you create that, both contextually and beat-by-beat. One of the things is if you’re trying to work in the PG-13 -- which is where almost all of my films have been -- you really have to be nimble. Anybody can do blood and guts and gore and sort of torture porn,” Cohen said.
“The thing that you have to do is: How do you go deeper than that and make people feel like they saw it even though they didn’t see it? And how do you keep them engaged moment-by-moment? You have to take those leaps and those ideas and go, ‘I’ve never seen anybody do that.’ And then go see if you can make it work. In this case, it worked.”