The movie hits theaters Friday, March 1.
Skeptics told Courtney Burrell it wasn’t wise for him to leave Delaware State University for a career in Hollywood, especially since he was one class shy of graduating.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Burrell left DSU, and he’s since appeared in several acting projects, including a Sprite commercial with NBA star LeBron James and lead roles in the hit series “Black Boots” and “Sexless.”
As if that hasn’t been enough to prove his naysayers wrong, Burrell will serve his critics the largest slice of humble pie to date when he appears in his first Hollywood film: Tyler Perry’s “A Madea Family Funeral,” opening in theaters Friday, March 1.
“My heart is smiling. I’m overjoyed with blessings. I’m just ready for the world to see my talent and the potential I have to become a rising star,” said Burrell, 32, who graduated from Dover High School.
The comedy follows a joyous family reunion that becomes a hilarious nightmare as Madea (Tyler Perry) and the crew travel to the backwoods of Georgia, where they find themselves unexpectedly planning a funeral that might unveil unsavory family secrets.
The flick will be the last film in the “Madea” franchise.
“This will be my last time experiencing my first movie. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for,” said Burrell, cast as the character AJ. “I wrote down in 2006 that I wanted to work with Tyler Perry. So when I met him I said, ‘Man, I wrote down that I wanted to work with you, and now I’m here.’”
The Los Angeles transplant first worked with Perry in the 2017 TLC series “Too Close to Home,” which Perry directed. Burrell was cast as Nelson.
How would you describe AJ?
He’s an antagonist. He’s battling inner demons he’s unaware of from different family situations that occurred when he was younger.
Does your character interact with Madea?
What’s it like being in a scene with Madea, because she’s such an iconic character?
It was kind of hard to keep a straight face, because you can’t believe that you’re on set with Madea. I’ve been watching Madea in movies for a while now, since about 2006 or 2007. It was a hell of an experience trying to keep a straight face, even when the camera’s not on you. You have to keep quiet, because Madea is always running at the mouth. It feels like she’s a real family member.
What’s the difference being on set with Tyler Perry the actor, versus Tyler Perry the director?
He always wears several hats at once. He’ll be in a Madea costume or the uncle’s costume. There’s three or four characters he’s playing. But he also has to snap out of the character and tell the other people on set to bring in the cameras to see how the shots are set up, because he wants to know if they’re capturing every moment. Tyler shoots really fast; and it takes time to get in and out of costumes. So he needs to know if his shots are set up so he can move on to the next one. Being on set with him and seeing all of this made me say, “this man is hard at work.” You’re watching a master at work and I’d love to become someone like that some day.
Describe one thing you took away from Tyler while working on this film.
If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. With him, we shoot one or two takes, and that’s it. We finished this movie in seven days.
Typically, what’s the industry standard for how long it takes to finish a film?
It depends. But it takes about three months.
“Too Close to Home” finished fast too.
I believe we finished that show in 10 days. But Tyler shows you that anyone is capable of pulling this off with any type of budget. He brings in people who are great at their craft. Film producer Mark E. Swinton is the one who saw me when I did the audition for “Too Close to Home.” He felt I was a strong actor and he knew I was quick and picked up on everything. That’s what Tyler is looking for: actors and actresses who pick up on the craft really fast and who are ready and prepared; because if you’re not, you’re going to look really crazy on camera.
Your first Hollywood film is also the last in the “Madea” franchise. What does that mean to you?
It’s an honor. I’ve been watching the “Madea” films and it’s crazy to be a part of this franchise.
Tyler isn’t going to make anymore “Madea” films?
Exactly. He’s almost 50 and doesn’t want to be playing that role anymore. So I’m elated to be a part of this.
What’s a funny story that happened on or off set?
We’re always having fun, either in a scene or when the cameras are cut. One of my moments is when I was beatboxing. Everyone was on set dancing. We were having a great time. Everyone was laughing and singing along. Even when Tyler was in his costume, he was like “yeah!” I hope they got that on camera, because that was one of my moments. And you know I love beatboxing.
How did you link up with Dover native Jakeem Smith to have his agency handle your press inquiries for this film?
I met Jakeem via Facebook. He used to live in Dover, the same as me, when I was a student at Dover High and Del State. He went to Polytech, but I didn’t know him in Dover back then. In 2010 or 2011 he was living in Atlanta and was pursuing photography. He reached out to me and said, “I see you’re making moves. You should come out here to Atlanta.” Ever since then we’ve been cool and we’ve been looking out for each other. He’s been taking photos of me since way back in the day.
It’s all about networking and building relationships. You never know if the people you link up with from the beginning of your career will also be helping you during your career, to get you to elevate to another level. Jakeem told me, “Man, you were just my guinea pig in the beginning of my career. Now look at me now.” I applaud him, because he kept going and kept his mind in the game.
Do you have any advice for people looking to manifest their dreams?
A lot of people get so discouraged because things aren’t happening quickly the way they want them to. If I would’ve had the chance to be in this “Madea” movie about seven or eight years ago, I wouldn’t have been as prepared as I am now. I’m glad God has me on his time. Timing is very crucial. Don’t rush it. You’ll get there when you get there.
It’s not about comparing yourself to the next person’s success. You have to focus on you and have tunnel vision and say, “I have a vision that I want to make a reality.” I wrote down everything I wanted to do. I’m still doing it to this day. That’s basically “the secret.”
You have to visualize it, write it down and then work toward your goal?
You’ve already put your order in to the universe and God’s right there watching you. He’s going to move people and certain circumstances out of the way so you can fulfill your dreams.
How do you avoid comparing yourself to others?
What’s in store for you is for you. No one can take that from you. God blessed you with that and you just have to accept that. Be grateful for what you have now, but look forward to accepting everything he has for you in the future. If you compare yourself to other people, you’re not going to be focused on what you need to do so that you can go further and evolve. It’s all about evolving.
What’s on the horizon for you in 2019 and beyond?
My motto for this year is “just be.” Whatever you put after “just be,” you will become. Everything will fall into place. I just want to be great, and greatness is instilled in everyone. You just have to access it.
What’s a dream project you’d love to be in?
I’d love to play a superhero.
Anyone in particular?
A black Batman.