She divorced Chris Howard in 2006. Now she’s marrying Wade.
But her divorce was one she needed help getting through and her dear friends were there.
She divorced Chris Howard in 2006. Now she’s marrying Wade.
But her divorce was one she needed help getting through and her dear friends were there.
The actress mentioned during an interview that it was quite ironic how social media and most covers of tabloids feature Kim Kardashian, but the movie sorta flopped (for a Tyler Perry production).
“I found it interesting that Tyler did that with ‘Temptation,’ hiring Kim Kardashian because she has 16 million Twitter followers, which would seem like a brilliant marketing plan,” Essence told Sister 2 Sister. “He has one of the biggest Twitter personalities out there in his movies, and he had one of the worst box office weekends.”
The filmmaker has admitted to casting the reality star to draw more audiences to the theater. The movie earned $22.3 million its debut weekend and performed better than “Why Did I Get Married Too.”
“It’s not a failure, but it did worse than his movies usually do just based on him,” clarified Atkins. “I thought that was an interesting finding. You’re experiment didn’t work.”
It’s worked, however for others like “Glee” with NeNe Leakes, granted the show already had its own following. And it doesn’t mean her fans watch her on the scripted show.
“People want to see good stories. It’s not necessarily that they want to see Kim Kardashian in a movie. They want to see her in a bikini. They want to see her with Kanye [West]. They want to see her on her show talking about her life with her sisters, but that doesn’t mean that they want to see her in a movie,” she said. “The fact that people want to see their lives and the volatility of that…. I don’t’ think that it translates at all.”
She also lamented about how filmmakers are skipping out on hardworking actors to recruit illegitimate reality stars.
In the meantime, Essence stars in Marlon Wayans’ “A Haunted House,” which is now out on DVD.
*BET Networks announced today it has licensed over 100 episodes each of two sitcoms, “The First Family” and “Mr. Box Office,” from Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios to air on Centric starting April, 2013.
Both first-run original series feature recognized and award-winning actors such as Bill Bellamy, Gary Busey, Gladys Knight, Christopher B. Duncan, Kellita Smith, Jackée, Marla Gibbs, John Witherspoon, Jon Lovitz, Rick Fox, Tim Meadows, Essence Atkins and Vivica A. Fox, and are scheduled to premiere in primetime on Centric weeknights beginning Friday April 19.
“This is an historic deal,” said Byron Allen, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Entertainment Studios. “We have bypassed the broadcast networks to produce two original sitcoms with hundreds of episodes that feature prominent TV and film stars, and we couldn’t be happier to have BET Networks as our cable premiere partner.”
THE FIRST FAMILY–In a humorous twist of art imitating life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Centric premieres a star-studded scripted comedy about a presidential African American family residing in the White House. Christopher B. Duncan is President William Johnson and Kellita Smith stars as his wife, First Lady Katherine Johnson. Together, they run the free world and raise four children. Co-stars Gladys Knight, Jackeé, John Witherspoon, and Marla Gibbs round out their dynamic extended family.
MR. BOX OFFICE–One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars got himself into trouble with the law, and is ordered to give back by fulfilling an unlikely sentence: community service as a high school English teacher in South Central Los Angeles. Bill Bellamy leads an all-star cast in this scripted comedy that looks at the human side of stardom. Also stars Jon Lovitz, Vivica A. Fox, Gary Busey, Essence Atkins, Tim Meadows, and Rick Fox.
Now she’s on the small screen again in two sitcoms – starring in “Are We There Yet?” on TBS and in a recurring role on the syndicated series “Mr. Box Office.” She says she loves being on those shows.
“I love working with those veterans, I mean Bill Bellamy, Tim Meadows, Jon Lovitz, you know, and then we have Vivica Fox and Rick Fox and occasionally Gary Busey. I just love working with people who’s been in this business for such a long time and are such pros and are so wonderfully generous. I have a great time.”
Bill Bellamy and the other names she mentioned are her co-stars on “Mr. Box Office” where she plays unflappable teacher Samantha Owens. It’s a different story for her, so to speak, on “Are We There Yet?” - small screen spinoff of rapper Ice Cube’s movie of the same name. Atkins, while working outside the home, and her husband, portrayed by Terry Crews, raise two children. Having a career, being married and raising a child hits close to home. Atkins married her Match.com sweetheart Jaime Mendez in 2009 and they have a son, Varro, who was born in 2011 on Christmas day.
She practically grew up in Hollywood, starting her acting career at 14 years old. Now she’s 41 and has starred in a number of movies, including the relationship flick, Deliver Us from Eva. Atkins has landed roles ranging from dramatic in Deliver Us from Eva to gut busting funny in her latest movie, “A Haunted House,” she describes as a “a spoof of the paranormal activity movies” also starring Marlon Wayons. When asked how she thought African American women actors were faring in their chosen field, Atkins reply showed she had an issue with some reality TV shows.
“I think we are challenged. We are challenged to try and get different kinds of images out there besides the stereotypes and besides the ones that we are seeing portrayed on reality TV. You know reality TV is really just based for sensationalism. So, it’s extreme versions and extreme caricatures of personalities. That is not the totality of who we are. Our struggle is really to find ways and find mediums that will host other images besides those.”
“Are We There Yet?” airs on TBS, Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., Eastern and Pacific times.
See more of Essence Atkins exclusive interview with Tene’ in video directly below.
Reach Tene’ Croom at email@example.com
*“This was my 3rd collaboration with Marlon. The first time we worked together was in ’95 on “The Wayans Brothers” show. And we worked together in the movie “Dance Flick,” says Essence Atkins as we sit together in her hotel room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Although she has been doing interviews all day long (its about 3:30p.m. now), she is the picture of sheer perfection. Her makeup is immaculate, and her hair…well, suffice it to say that not a strand is out of place. She is a petite little thing; wearing a lovely white pantsuit, with a black top, and her spirit is undeniably warm.
“And when they called, literally, my son was 22 days old…And I was like, ‘Marlon wants to meet with me…but I was curious and I couldn’t say no,” she continues to describe how she became involved with the film, “A Haunted House” with Marlon Wayans. So I went and I had a meeting with them about this movie. We talked, we worked on it, and we had this great meeting and I left and I was like, oh that was fun. Then two weeks later I get this phone call and they were like, “We saw a lot of people and we really want you to do it but are you post-partum? (Laughs). We know you just had a baby, are you going to bust a stitch?
Essence says her son was 6 weeks and one day old when they started shooting the film. When asked about the challenges, she did not deny there were some. Although she had four stunt doubles, she did a lot of the stunts in this physically challenging role, herself. There is a crazy shot of her crawling up the wall—ala “The Exorcist”—and the scene is not done by a stunt double. Its pure Essence; as is the crazy banister scene, while Marlon is busy with his headphones on.
“They made sure I was safe. They took good care of me. We had a great stunt coordinator who just made sure everything was OK; and tried everything out really slowly, and had patience and was very genteel with me. But it made me feel invincible. I felt like I could do anything. I don’t know if going through 40 hours of labor does that to a person, but I think that may have been a byproduct of just having had a kid.”
Fans may not necessarily equate Essence Atkins with a sistuh-type. We know she is African American, but many may not have thought of her as someone who would tackle a roll such as this one – in a Marlon Wayans film. She speaks on this,
“That’s one of the misnomers I think that I dispel whenever I’m given an opportunity because there is so much more than we give ourselves credit for. There is a deeper experience to the Black experience than just singular and just because someone can coordinate their verbs and nouns in the proper context doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have a lil’ hood or a lil’ edge and can’t connect with that other element.
As the actor reflects on her character in the movie “Dance Flick” she says many people don’t even realize that it is her because the character has a really rough edge.
“I changed my voice, I changed my look. I like to facilitate the character,” she says.
Extremely proud of a compliment given to her by co-star and executive producer, Marlon Wayans, Essence says.
“He said I am so good at comedy because I lack a vanity that gets in the way; that most women have about themselves…I really enjoy kind of abandoning that self consciousness and really going, ‘does it facilitate the joke, does it facilitate the story, does it make sense’ and if it does, game on!” Here, Essence speaks of how it was working with “A Haunted House Director, Michael Tiddes, “I’ve worked with Michael [before] as well, on ‘Dance Flick,’ and Rick [Alvarez, Co-writer]. Again, it was like a reunion for us to be in the same room together, a collaborative. And what they give you to do is to use the script as a blueprint and just kind of jump off from there and… so it’s a great thing when you have that trust from your director, from your producer and the writer; who just kind of say that the reason we hired you was because we thought that you could service our interpretation, but we also thought you could add to it, that you could supplement it. And that is just such a great platform from which you can work. You’re like, ‘oh wow, great, you’re gonna let me freestyle on this’? (I high-five her on this one!)
When asked if she prefers TV or film, Essence had this to say, though it didn’t necessarily appear to be an easy answer, she is squirming a little bit.
“Now, I really enjoy both. TV is probably my home, you know. Films are the vacation. It’s like, ‘oh, I want to go to a tropical destination for a couple of weeks, or a month, or two, or four; and then I’m gonna part ways and release it. But with TV it really feels like the home life, you know. That’s the day-to-day ; the same people, the same crew, the same destination, the same family, and the same writers; so it becomes way more familiar, like home.”
She says that what makes acting in a film vs. TV different is this,
“In a film, you’re acting for say ninety minutes or 120 minutes; whereas TV, you have the chance to evolve; your character has the chance to evolve over a long period of time so, where I started as Dee Dee on “Half N Half” is not anywhere to where she ended up 91 episodes later. You know when she started she was a law student. She was very selfish and she was kind of very disconnected to the spirit of her sister, which is what she wanted to move into the same building [for] to have a relationship with [her]. But she’s very disconnected to how insensitive her life and how spoiled her life had made her. By episode 91 it was a very different person. She had graduated law school; she had encountered failure as a lawyer, she had, you know, not been employed for a while and had to budget ; she had this whole time of living life under the same roof of her sister and getting to know Mona and her battles and insecurities, and all of that. And I think that that Dee Dee in episode 91 was very different than the one that was in the pilot; so that’s the thing that can happen. But again, its prolonged for days, and months, and years if you get a good show and its allowed to mature in a much kind of slower process. Doing a movie is just like (snaps figures here to emphasize ‘fast’)…it’s a lot…the detail is much more specific because you have more time, but at the same time the process (snaps fingers again) is more expedited.
Essence is such a lovely, thoughtful woman. It was a real joy speaking with her. EURweb wishes to congratulate her and her husband on the birth of their baby.
*As I sit in the hotel room of Marlon Wayans, at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, California, waiting to interview him about his movie, “A Haunted House,” he’s multitasking though sitting on the couch right in front of me.
At one moment he’s in “Daddy Mode,” checking with his assistant, who is trying to handle arrangements for Wayans to take his son to see the L. A. Lakers that evening; and then he’s calling across the room to his co-writer, Rick Alvarez, about a scene they still have to work on for some other project.
After a day full of media interviews, I can only guess how tired he must be. This, of course, is based on my own weariness, as I, one of the first print journalists to arrive, gave up my time slot to journalists with less flexible time.
So now, I am the very last media professional left for him to see. Still, somewhat distracted, Marlon turns his attention to me.
EUR: You are one crazy dude.
EUR: You’re so bad.
MW: (Laughs) You know what it is they go, ‘you need a whuppin’ really. Believe me, I got plenty. Did not help me.
EUR: Listen to me, when Lee Bailey said, ‘You’re going to see A Haunted House, I said, ‘Aw man, Halloween is over and I have no interest in going to see some horror flick.
EUR: Let me tell you, and I’m being perfectly honest with you, this is the best thing that could’ve happened.
MW: Oh wow, thank you.
EUR: I say that because, first of all, it shows what a great thinker you are.
MW: Thank you.
EUR: I have a wonderful appreciation for…the thought process that goes into this. I said, ‘This guy,’ I mean, I know you are a comedian but there was something ‘off’ – beautifully ‘off’ about this.
MW: (Laughs) Yeah.
EUR: And I said, ‘OK, this I can handle. This is more paranormal.’
EUR: It was even more ‘documentary’ – I know that doesn’t make sense but with you up close in the camera, talking and everything. How did you and co-writer Rick Alvarez, do this writing process.
MW: I just, well, what started the idea was there’s a necessity for black filmmakers to find a new way, cheaper way, to make movies because they’re not, Hollywood is not, making as many movies as they have been . If you’re not a superhero they ain’t making it. And there’s not many black superheroes. I think our bulges are way too big.
EUR: Cracks up (along with MW at this) Cut!
MW: And there’s a recession so when there’s a recession going on black people are going to be the first to feel it; and for me, I was like, ‘I want to find a cheap way to do a movie. I wanted to produce a movie, and be a part in the movie, and to really produce a movie from scratch and found footage is a great way to do that. And so I was watching paranormal activity because before you write, you research. So I was watching Paranormal Activity 1, I was watching Paranormal Activity II…
EUR: The TV show?
MW: No. See, to get this, we watched everything. We watched tons of stuff, hours of stuff before we wrote anything. So, I was sitting there and I watched Paranormal Activity and I was like, ‘Boy, white people do dumb stuff in movies. So I was like, ‘why don’t they just leave the house…What if paranormal activity happened to a black couple?’ Boom! Called Rick and he was like, ‘Oh that’s funny’ and we just started banging on it and before we knew it we had 20 pages of jokes and we was like ‘let’s go’ and we just started working on it and writing on it. Basically, the movie is different because people will think it’s a parody, but I think its more of a horror, romantic comedy, with parody moments. It is ‘off’ because I think when parody is done right it has a good story and that good, grounded story brings about great, fun characters; and now you have a floor and you blow the ceiling off and there is no ceiling and you go anywhere with those jokes based on what those characters would do, and I think that’s where the formula works well.
EUR:So, would you take a scene and say, ‘Rick, I’m gonna do this so you do this’ and then come together in the writing process?
MW: Well, a lot of times we’d write the scenes together, like literally. Sometimes we do that, we’d switch off, but a lot of times on this one, we actually wrote together. I wasn’t on the road, I was here, and we’d actually sit there and go, ‘alright, we talked about the scene and what we wanted from the scene…for the most part, we wrote this together.EUR: Wow.
MW: I remember laughing a lot in the basement of my house, in my screening room, we was laughing a lot and writing jokes. I remember writing ‘Father Williams’ (Sidebar: Cedric The Entertainer’s character) and the laughs we was having doing that. I remember writing ‘Dan the Cam’ (David Koechner, ‘The Security Cam Guy) and the laughs we was having going back and forth with that. Then funny people would come in, like my friend Steve who runs out a reality company. He came in with all these reality show ideas and that’s how we came up with ‘Dam the Cam’ reality guy. You know its fun how, when you take a little piece of everything during the experience and you incorporate it.
EUR: Yeah, and that guy, he looks so familiar I said, ‘where do I know him from?’ Who is he?
MW: Dave Koechner he was the cowboy, sports reporter, and anchorman. He’s been around for years. We hired veterans: Cedric, a veteran; Essence [Atkins], looks young – a veteran; because we wanted people to improvise. Confident people, who understand comedy, improvise so much better than people who are scared. You can’t be scared to improvise. You have to know your character, and then you have to let go. And everybody that we brought onto this movie is people that you love to see, you want to see more of, and finally you get to see more of them. And they’re all funny! Literally, everybody in this movie scores; there’s not one performance where you go, ‘I don’t understand why that one was in there.’ The swingers’ couple is funny, Dan is funny, and for me and for Rick and for Mike [Tiddes], who directed the movie, I think a strong team—I don’t want to rate strong individual performance. I want to do what LeBron does on his best nights when its scores 30-point to 20 something points; its 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
EUR: Yeah. Team work.
MW: Uh huh.
EUR: Absolutely. When I was talking to Essence, and you’ve already answered a question I was going to ask: why this person, why that person in the cast – I told Essence, ‘wow, I just never saw you as what you did.’ And she said that you had given her a great compliment about—and I’m paraphrasing here–not staying in ‘the box’ that a lot of women are afraid to go out of. And I found that to be so very true.
MW: She was game. Understand, because it was really hard finding…Her role, specifically, was probably the hardest role to cast. And there was actually a couple of people that we had in mind, that we were in talks with, one was timid; the other one was green. Essence scared us because she just had a baby and our question was, I didn’t want to do that to the child because I know he needs a nipple.
MW: And I didn’t want to do that to her because I was just like, you know, it’s a lot of work, you know?
EUR: And it was so physical!
MW: Yeah, and it was physical and I was concerned for her because she’s a friend and I love her, and she was like ‘look, I’m game. I’m down.’ I looked in her face and I was like, she is down. She’s the one, there is no trepidation. She was down and she stayed down. She did everything we asked her to do and then some.
EUR: She inspired me when I spoke with her. I told her African Americans might be surprised at her performance because she doesn’t give off a vibe that says, ‘I’m down.’ She was saying that just because we might speak a certain way doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘down.’ We can’t be ‘hood’ and I said that is so true.
MW: Let me tell you, Barack Obama is the most down dude in the world, but he’s so smart; so articulate, such an amazing speaker ; such a passionate man. He’s humble. When the kids got shot he cried. He’s human. We haven’t seen a president be human in so long, and those are the things that…
Our conversation has now become more passionate and at times we are basically speaking over one another.
EUR: He’s changed the face of the presidency.
MW: He’s changed the face of what a man is. Not even a black man, he’s changed the face of what a man should be and he should be all of those things. And I respect that and so I look at it, when we do our movies, my brother Keenan [Ivory Wayans] always said, ‘I’m not doing a black movie. I’m doing a movie; and I’m not telling black jokes, I’m telling jokes that will resonate and all those from the black experience, its going to be a joke that everybody’s going to understand. All inclusive. I don’t tell a joke for one person to get. I tell a joke for the world to get.
EUR: And Marlon, you know, that’s so beautiful, the way that sounds and everything. [But] how do you, I mean, your family is so successful and so physically beautiful. Just a group of awesome looking folks. I saw Kim last night. I didn’t even know it was her, I tapped the lady in front of me on the shoulder to ask a question, and it was your sister. So beautifully humble. You guys create movies because you’re artists, creative people, but how do you beat the challenge of Hollywood saying ‘this is a black movie. This is for black people. This is how we’re going to promote it. Even though you didn’t do it with that in mind?
MW: Through constant conversation and communication. You’re always changing the perspective. You know, it’s in the marketing; it’s in the writing. That’s why, you know, we like to write our movies because if I let somebody else write the movie, it doesn’t have the same flavor. You see what they try to do; you see what happened to the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise when we left. What we do is not an accident. We were born and sent here to do this. You can’t emulate what we do because of how we do it. My brother taught me since I was 5 how to do this.
MW: Yes. So you know there’s an art, a math, a science to our business and so a lot of times people just kind of, they write black. Black people even sometimes in the marketing, you know, we have these discussions when we were doing this. Open Road and End Game have been great in this process; but you’re always steering. Whether its Open Road, End Game, Paramount, Weinstein Co., you always find yourself steering ‘no. no. no.’ Their first instinct is going to be ‘hey, put gold teeth on everything’ [and you’re like] ‘no, because what you’re going to do is offend black people and you’re gonna discourage white people. Just do funny. If you think funny, don’t think bling, don’t think black, think funny. Give me the white version of funny and let me add the flavor. Because if it’s the white version of funny, its all inclusive, its witty, its intellectual, its physical, it’s a little bit of everything and what we do is we come in there and sprinkle with ‘alright, here’s where you add this little bit of flavor.’ And when you have that marriage with that kind of communication, and that trust within your partnerships I think that’s when you’re able to do it and I think watching the process on this movie; which has been so collaborative with Open Road and End Game, Rick and I were able to really teach them about, and they were able to teach us. But collectively, our materials–where they are crazy and funny, don’t read ‘this is a black movie.’ It wasn’t like in our theater only black people were laughing, everybody was laughing. And so we told jokes that’s all inclusive, let’s keep our marketing all inclusive.
EUR: What a blessing to have the wisdom to use your tool to teach. Because there are people who will just do their thing, and that’s beautiful too; to know who you are, to know who your audience is, and what you want to go for. There’s nothing wrong with that. No problem. But when you go out there and you say, ‘I am an artist, and I want to do my art for everyone, that’s a beautiful thing because you use it as an opportunity to teach. Because not all of those people who say ‘put the gold teeth in, and the bling on know any better a lot of times.
MW: Right. They have no idea. It’s what they were taught a lot of times; and so you have to re-teach and you know, if you look at today, this generation that’s coming up so different than even my generation—I’m a 1972-born child; so I’m a 80s kid, my experiences are the 80s, so I was a little bit removed from the 60s so I wasn’t as bitter as some of the brothers from the 60s who have more of a chip on their shoulder. I look at my daughter and my son, who literally don’t really see color in that manner. They are dealing with all kinds of kids and I’ve never seen, my kid hasn’t been called the N-word one time. Not one time, and they go to these really nice private schools; their friends are Asian, white, black, Latino. It’s a beautiful thing to see, so they don’t see race anymore. You got black kids skateboarding; you have white kids listening to hip-hop music and so those lines are more gray and I think it’s transitioning to a different place. And its about the youth teaching the older generation that ‘no, that’s not how it is.’
EUR: ‘Now’– that’s not how it is ‘now.’
MW: Especially since we’ve got the money, because they don’t know, they’re gonna market what they’ve been marketing; and you just say ‘no. no. no, I don’t want hip-hop music in this scene, I want a rock song, because its more appropriate for a BBQ with the right friends around. Lets just do a little rock song.
EUR: Yep, and there’s actually some black folks who love rock.
EUR: Let me ask you this, and you kind of touched on it earlier and I know Mr. Bailey wanted me to ask you this. The whole N-word thing, is it necessary and why? We just saw Django; there’s been a whole lot of controversy around that. Does it matter that we’re black, so we can use it; but Tarantino’s white, he can’t. Is it necessary?
MW: We should all know by now, we’ve seen enough Tarentino movies, he’s gonna use the N-word. He’s gonna curse a lot (laughs) and he’s gonna use the N-word. And its just like, to get upset about it, its art. So a lot of times with art I forgive a lot. You know, I don’t take art personally because you know, it allows me not to accept the art and what his point of view is on the art. Its not like he’s just coming out and going, ‘hey you niggas’. He wouldn’t say that in my face to me in that kind of demeaning manner, so as an artist I let that man paint and I just try to appreciate it. And all those that are in his painting, I’m not mad at Jamie, and Sam and Kerry. I’d probably be in the movie too because I think he’s a great filmmaker.
EUR: Thank you [interviewer agrees].
MW: But when it comes to the N-word it’s all about, to me, the connotation of the word and not the denotation. What do you mean by it? What do you really mean when you say that word? What are you trying to say? Like with my generation, what we’ve done is take the N-word and we made it some cool shit so this way, I don’t have to punch a person in his face, I don’t have to go to jail because some white person called me- it don’t have the same effect. It’s powerless to me. I took a word that was demeaning and I turned it into love. You know what I mean? That’s what this generation has been able to do. We took chains, and we put some diamonds on ‘em and we’re wearing them around our neck. That’s how this generation deals with their pain; and what it does is it takes that ‘oldness’ off a word and it really puts it into what’s your actions. Do you treat me like an N-word. You know, but I think to make the N-word a big deal at this point for me – I’m from the generation of hip-hop and I know the connotation of the word, not the denotation. The denotation will upset any black person, but the connotation you just go [shrugs].
EUR: Thanks Marlon!
Keep it locked on EURweb for our exclusive interview with the beautiful Essence Atkins who plays Marlon’s ride-or-die girlfriend, Keisha, in the film!