MARLON WAYANS TAKES US TO A HAUNTED HOUSE

MARLON WAYANS

By Gary Murray

Marlon Wayans is an intense actor, never flinching when asked any question.  The performer is a writer/director/producer and has been involved in such flicks as Little Man, White Chicks and the Scary Movie franchise.  Recently he was in Dallas to promote his latest comedy adventure A Haunted House.

Marlon said that the premise behind A Haunted House is simple—what if Paranormal Activity happened to black people?  “I didn’t choose to make A Haunted House, it chose me.” 

After viewing the original horror film, he called his producing partner and they came up with twenty pages of jokes on the idea.  “It kind of came out of necessity because they are not making as many movies as they used to.  I wanted to venture out and start making movies Roger Corman style where you become your own brand of movie.  You get your own financing and start making pictures.  This way, I don’t have to wait on Hollywood and I can supply Hollywood with projects.  I thought it would be fun to do the first ‘found footage’ comedy.”

As a part of In Living Color, the actor has been doing comedy for ages.  “It actually is hard, it’s really hard yet it’s really easy,” he said on doing comedy.  “My mind is trained to think like this.  I have been watching Looney Tunes since I was four years-old.  I didn’t have a nanny or a baby-sitter.  My mom would have me in front of the TV watching Looney Tunes.”

As he got older, his comedy evolved to more adult humor.  “My brother was listening to Richard Pryor albums.  Here I am seven years old, sneaking under the bed while my brother Sean is sneaking under his bed.  In the projects that I grew up in, instead of fighting and stabbing and killing and smoking and getting into trouble, we just did jokes.  That was my way out.  That was my basketball.  That was my football.  That was my way out of the projects, being funny.  It was just what we do for a living, everyday.  It is really hard but the hardest part is making it look easy.  It is becoming easier as I get older.”

A Haunted House, like many of the other films Marlon has been involved in, takes some broad stabs at racial stereotypes.  On this Marlon was direct.  “Racism,” he said, “is a part of society that is never going to go away.  As long as there are black people, white people, Latino people, gay people, women, men.  There are so many differences to talk about.”

He expanded on this thought. “As people, it is all based on fear.  We all have fears.  We all have this thing that stops us from embracing and being one.  We are never going to be one.  People are messed-up.  Humor helps you to see how ignorant we can be.  We just don’t make fun of black people.  We don’t just make fun of white people.  We make fun of everybody.  We are equal opportunity offenders.  But, we do it with kid’s gloves.  It is never meant to be offensive, it is all meant to be inclusive.  One of the greatest compliments you can ever get is for you to make fun of or to tell jokes about a sect of people and those people laugh the hardest.”

He explained the thought using his old television show. “When we did ‘Men of Film’ (on In Living Color), gay people wrote in on how much they loved it like it was such a big thing in the community.  Humor helps ease the tension of race.  If it wasn’t for Cosby, I don’t know if Obama would have been president.  They were showing a black family that, through laughter, was just a family.”

Finishing his thought, he said, “Humor is colorless.  When we did White Chicks, it was two black guys playing two white girls but it was really a gender switching movie with little hints of race.  We never go ‘black people are this, white people are this’.  You have to have a set that is all inclusive and makes everybody laugh.  You can have one or two people who don’t laugh but they are just haters.” 

He sees comedy and horror on the same plateau. “My mom brought us a VCR and when we were ten years-old, we rented everything,” he said.   “It was horror films and porno.  The play button was just stuck on the remote.  We’d think ’She’s gonna die but her boobs are out. How great is that?’  For a little boy, it’s the greatest gift in the world–a horror movie.  They were great back then."

There is a genuine love for older horror features.  “Freddy Kruger,” he said, “scared the hell out of me.  Jason Voorhees scared the hell out of me.  Paranormal Activity scared me because I didn’t know if it was real or what.  Blair Witch was kind of scary because I didn’t know if were real.  It takes the voyeur element away.  This can really happen to me.”

He compared horror to humor.  He said, “They have the same rhythms.  Horror brings the tension and the release is a scare.  Comedy you build a tension and the release is a laugh.  That is why horror and comedy share the same audience—black people and young males.  I like making people feel a little bit uncomfortable because it evokes a different kind of laugh.  It is just to go there and not be afraid to go there.  You have to be unapologetic in comedy and you have to say the things that people are too afraid to say because that’s my job.  Whether that is right or wrong, at least I have the balls to say it.”

The role he has wanted to do is the Richard Pryor bio-picture.  “It is lying dormant right now,” he said of the project.  “Hopefully we can get it going.  It is the thing that brought me to stand-up.  I started doing stand-up two and a half years ago only because I was supposed to play Richard Pryor.  I didn’t do stand-up my whole career.  I started doing it sixty times but then I wanted to write.  I came up from the Performing Arts High School and I wanted to act, to write and to produce.” 

Planning to play the comic icon changed his life.  “Then I got the role of Richard Pryor and I got the bug   I’ve been on the road for 2½ years and its making me better.  It is making me smarter and it is making me more articulate.   It has made me more in-tuned to what is funny and what is not—what is going to get an ‘ooh’ and what is going to get a laugh.  If I do get an ‘ooh’ how I can bring them to a laugh.  It helps you articulate your thoughts and think about what you are going to say before you say it.  When you are able to articulate it and in that moment find what is funny.  Even though you are playing to a large crowd, you see the faces and you are like a computer.  It really helps you in terms of telling a joke and refining the art.”

“I’d love to play Richard Pryor in the movie and hopefully it will happen,” he said of getting the role.  “If Hollywood won’t make it happen, I am going to raise the money and make it happen myself.  It is an awesome script.  I know it can do it and I’m preparing for that moment.”   

“But if it never happens then I thank God for Pryor," Marlon said of the comic genius. "He literally brought me to the stage.  I started out wanting to play a great and now I want to be a great.  I want to go down as one of the greats so I have a lot of work to do.  I’m only two years in and I’m gonna suck for about ten years and then you guys are going to go ‘What the hell happened’.  I’m going to have logged my 10,000 hours and I know that there is something great in me, I just have to take my time and be patient and refine it.”

He continued, “Just because I’ve been in the industry twenty years, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a great stand-up.  Even though I get standing ovations sometimes, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a great stand-up.  It just means I’m a really good performer.”

“In stand-up, I have to work my mind and to work the words,” he said of doing live comedy.  “If I get a standing ovation with the words then it means I‘m getting there.  Once I start talking about my pain, I’m really getting there.  It is like peeling away the layers of an onion, I gotta get to the parts that make you cry then find the laughs.  That’s when I’ll be something great.”  He finished his thought by saying, "I want to raise the money and make it happen.”

He does have a grand plan for the next part of his career.  He sees A Haunted House as the opening in a series of projects he wants to create.  “This is the first of what I plan on doing,” he said.  “I’ll do Hollywood pictures if they come about but if not there is nothing better than having a script and hiring the people you love to work with, creating jobs for people and teaching young kids how to do it.  I’ve got my nephews on set and I’m trying to teach them to really do productions.  It is like the 8 Habits of Highly Successful People.” 

He laid out his plans with an analogy which he described succinctly.  “First, I have to be a farmer.  Then I can be an agriculturist.  Then I can be an industry.  Then I become a teacher.  Then I become a philanthropist.  There are like steps to it.  Right now, I have learned how to farm, me and my brothers, from scratch.  Now, it is learning how to be an agriculturist.  Learning to be an industry is the next step.  It has taken twenty years to get that rhythm and to understand how to make a movie and now to understand the business of making a movie and put that together.”

He was very direct about the direction his career has to take.  “That is where I’m at this point in my career.  I have on the table right now an offer to do a string of these low budget comedies and I’m going to do them.  Hollywood is making much less movies and the movies they are making are super heroes.  You are not going to have any black super heroes,” he said. 

Over the years, there have been black superheroes such as Robert Townsend’s Meteor Man and Damon Wayans in Blank Man.  “I like the idea of Meteor Man and Blank Man,” Marlon Wayans said of the films, “but they went he wrong way.  They didn’t have the budget to do the big budget flying.  They don’t do the flying that Superman does.  Bruce Wayne is a billionaire.  Do you know how cool his gadgets are?  They didn’t have those budgets.  You can’t just dye people’s hair blonde and go ‘These are bad guys'.  You need super powers in movies and it takes a budget.  Iron Man had a 250 million dollar budget.  You can’t give somebody 4 million dollars and go ‘Do something super'.  You can’t expect them to fly for 4 million dollars.” 

He talked about his brother’s film Blank Man.  “Damon had the idea to do a super hero with no powers and it was really funny.  Somewhere along the line, he went into doing a kids movie.  He was happy doing it and it was good and cute but it’s not the edge and the story he wanted to tell.  It turned out better than I thought it was going to be.   I hated the marketing plan and thought that nobody was going to see the movie.  I’m a fan of the movie because I knew where he wanted to go because I was a kid in the room, a fly on the wall.  I just think he went off directions.”

There is this frustration about the process of filming in Hollywood today.  He said, “They are not making many films these days and I think filmmakers period–we all have to do independent.  If you can write a script, get it financed and make it happen.  Don’t wait on Hollywood because you are going to be waiting a long time.  They are not even making moderate budget films anymore.  Everything is 150 million dollars or nothing.”  

One of the projects Marlon Wayans is working on is a thriller with Omar Epps.  “Drama is something that I do,” he said.  “I’m theatrically trained. I do Shakespeare and I can do it all.  Comedy is just a whole lot harder and is what I do.  It is my brand, it is what I create and it is what I write.  So I don’t have to sit around waiting for Hollywood.  I can bring things to Hollywood and my brother always said you can’t be a black actor in this industry and expect to work. You have to be a force of nature.  The writer, the producer and the director services that actor so if you want to act, you have to do all these different things in order to act.  That is why I do all these different things.  And if it comes up, I’ll do another drama.  I love drama but it has to be with a great director. “

 

 

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