Thanks to social media, Crystal Fox might’ve had one of the most-talked-about film debuts ever when “A Fall From Grace” began streaming on Netflix last month. The latest Tyler Perry production was roasted — for its bad wigs, lack of shot continuity and other production gaffes — and applauded — for the fact that the film was shot in less than a week and continues Perry’s mission of centering black women.
Days later, when talking about the film and the criticism it had received, the actress stressed that she worked with Perry — and would continue to do so — because the filmmaker’s characters were relatable.
“Tyler says he writes about people he knows,” she said in an interview at Netflix’s Hollywood offices. “I know the same people… These women are the aunties, mothers, sisters, cousins, our neighbors. That is what’s so interesting to me.”
In “A Fall From Grace,” Fox plays Grace, a divorcee who is charged with murdering her new, much younger husband (Mehcad Brooks). But when her lawyer, played by Bresha Webb, thinks a conspiracy may be at play, the romantic thriller takes a turn. Cicely Tyson and Phylicia Rashad also star in Perry’s first film on the streaming platform.
Netflix and Perry subsequently revealed the film was watched by 26 million accounts in its first week on the service — according to the streamer’s new metric in which viewership is counted as at least two minutes viewed.
Fox, who also stars in Perry’s “The Haves and Have Nots” on OWN, went on to directly address critics who had taken issue with Perry’s characters, and how they may or may not reflect the black experience.
“Some of the people that are criticizing it, it’s so frustrating because I want to say, ‘If you’re blessed to not know these people…,’” she lets the thought hang before continuing, “But no, I feel we’re blessed to have known these people, and I see those women in all of his writings.
“The frustrating part for me is that a lot of times they criticize what these portrayals are, and I’m not sure if they don’t like the acting, or do [they] not like us telling that story? Now, if you don’t want me to tell that story, that hurts my feelings because it’s like you want me to discount people I know.”
Despite the mixed response, Fox is nothing but smiles about “A Fall From Grace.” Although she’s recently had roles in high-profile projects — including the second season of “Big Little Lies,” in which she played the abusive mother of Bonnie, Zoë Kravitz’s character — Perry’s movie marks the first time in Fox’s 40-year acting career that she’s played the lead in a feature film.
“I don’t know why it has taken this long, but it has,” she said, noting she got her union card at 16 — her first feature credit was 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy” — and just turned 56 at the top of the year. “And to come out like this, on Netflix, and my boss is also my friend who believes in me, loves me, and he’s a mega-millionaire? Things are incredible. When somebody like that likes you, and then they go and support the movie and support you — I’m going to be spoiled if I work with anybody else.”
Perry has said he wrote the film with Fox in mind, but she said she didn’t know that when, some years ago, he first asked her to read the script. At the time, she thought he was just seeking feedback. A couple of years went by before he actually asked her to play the lead.
“The next thing I know, he asked me, do I want to do it. I thought he was punking me,” she said, laughing. “I think I asked him five times, ‘Are you kidding? Are you serious? For real?’ ”
Though initially hesitant — after already saying “yes” — because of the quick filming schedule and what would be her first time anchoring a film project, she said she eventually relaxed. Part of that, she said, was due to her previous experience with Perry — “for seven seasons we’ve been doing ‘Have and Have Nots.’ ”
“I know his tempo,” Fox said, “but I also was just praying that I fulfilled the lead role position. I wasn’t sure, and I still am not sure of the strength I have carrying a lead role. However, the fan base seems to be saying I did OK.”
“I knew she had to be Grace,” Perry said, noting, as Fox had, their long association, with more than 150 episodes of television, including a small role Fox had on “House of Payne.” In the film, he said, “she was able to be so many things at once … vulnerable, likable, and also unsettling enough to make the audience question whether she was the villain or not. After 40 years in the business, it made me so happy to be able to give Crystal her first leading role.”
For Fox, the icing on the cake might have been acting opposite her longtime friend and mentor, Phylicia Rashad. The pair first met when Fox was hand selected by Rashad to serve as her understudy in the play “Blues for an Alabama Sky,” directed by Kenny Leon in 1996. Fox went on to star in Rashad’s theater directorial debut, building a long friendship.
Rashad said when she received a call in 2018 from Perry that Fox would star in “A Fall From Grace,” taking on a best friend role was a no-brainer.
“I have known Crystal for a long time and have great appreciation for her as an actor,” Rashad said. “We have worked together on three theatrical productions, and it has been very gratifying to work with her again on ‘A Fall From Grace’ because of the artist that she is. Every moment was a joy.”
Fox retains a positive outlook on the whole experience. After all, no other project has put her face on a billboard in Times Square. And for any criticism the film has received, she’s also hoping more people feel inspired to create their own stories.
“Don’t be mad at Tyler because he is finally speaking for those of us that have had no voice,” she said. “If you don’t like it, tell another story. Why are you expecting him to be the one person to tell all the stories? Celebrate the fact that there’s a platform — and honey, that studio is a game changer,” she added, referring to the recently opened 330-acre Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.
“People rent out soundstages all the time. Pick up your pen and paper, write your own story for us, about us and go do it at the studio, in one of those 12 soundstages. We need all of our stories told.”