*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!