Paul Byrne talks to Marlon Wayans, star, producer and co-writer of A Haunted House.
You know what you’re going to get with a Wayans comedy. And the Wayans know they’re going to get even richer with each new release – even when it’s an inane Paranormal Activity parody .
PAUL BYRNE: At the core of A Haunted House is the very real horror of letting your loved one move in. You think you’re going to get Kim Kardashian, and you end up with Linda Blair. MARLON WAYANS: Isn’t that always the case? Especially at that one time of the month.
You’re largely offering up a parody of Paranormal Activity, the found footage horror franchise, but where did the spark come from? You have trouble at home? Well, it does come from experience. The outfit that Kisha wears at bedtime actually my girlfriend wears. She was my muse for this one. She used to wear the fly stuff to bed, but as soon as she got comfortable, she started to get really, really comfortable. And I would be like, ‘Hey, where did the sexy girl go?’, to which she would respond, ‘I don’t have to put on an act anymore; I got you already’. This is what every man goes through, and I think when it’s relatable, people enjoy the comedy more.
It’s a tricky subject to take on. Vince Vaughn tackled his break-up with Joey Lauren Adams with The Break-Up, even giving his ex- one of the supporting roles, and Woody Allen has littered his films with off-screen romantic battles. Once you get close to the bone like that, it must be difficult not to offend. Was your other half laughing all the way through here? I think it depends on the person. Mine understood that it was all in the name of comedy. ‘I can’t believe you did that’, but, at the same time, she’s probably laughing the loudest, because she knows that’s exactly what she does.
Comedy is often about playing with stereotypes, and facing taboos head-on – does it worry you when tackling black stereotypes, or gay stereotypes, that there are Spike Lees out there ready to jump all over you for your non-PC comedy? Does that ever make you step back a little from the brink? Actually no. I think when you approach this kind of comedy, you’ve got to be fearless. And you have to remain fearless throughout. Nowadays, everyone is so ultra-sensitive, and there’s so much political correctness going on, my job as a comedian is to talk about the things that people are too uncomfortable to talk about. And to find a way to do that people can enjoy. I don’t set out to offend though. I don’t go for ‘Ooohs!’, I go for laughs. If you sometimes have to go through an ‘Oooh!’ to get to a laugh, so be it.
I do think that it’s fair to say that you and your brothers work in an area that owes more to the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker than Spike Lee or Lee Daniels. Do you ever feel the need to be political, to be role models, given your success? Hell, no. I’m not here to change the world; I’m just here to change moods. That’s all. My goal is to make you laugh, and if I do that, I did well. That’s all I care about. If there’s a message here and there, that’s great, but I’m just trying to make you laugh.
So, when you and Rick Alverez, your regular writing partner, sit down to write this script, do you just put on Paranormal Activity and root out the funny, or do you start let the situation dictate the laughs? The jokes, for me, are pretty obvious – it may not be for somebody new, but for me, I know where the jokes are. And even when you know what’s funny, to execute that funny is another talent too. Leave the jokes to the professionals, man. ‘Put the joke DOWN!’.
With the Scary Movie franchise tapping into the Scream phenomenon, both this film and Scary Movie 5 are taking on the found footage horror genre. Was that a worry, that here were two films in the same year from the Wayans that were ploughing the same trough? We did our movie first, so, Scary Movie 5 copied us, but that’s okay. We can tell the same joke, but we’re going to do it differently. It all depends on your sense of humour. Someone might do a joke on the same topic, and someone else can do the same topic very differently. If you like Wayans’ sense of humour, then you’ll like this. If you don’t, then you won’t like it. We do things a little differently, and you can see that with our involvement in the first two Scary Movies and how the others turned out.
There seems to be, as usual, a huge amount of improvisation in A Haunted House. A big part of the process for you? Yeah, you never know what you’re going to get. That was the whole key to us; to have some fun. And it wasn’t about trying to make people stick to lines. For us, the found footage is basically a lot of improv, so, I just hired really funny people to improvise around the script, and we just kept coming up with funnier and funnier stuff. You can’t really write that. There’s a scene were Cedric is sitting at the door, and he’s spitting out 15 great one-liners. And I want to use every single one of them.
You’ve got a $2.5m movie that’s made just over $40m in the US. So, I’m guessing any scathing reviews don’t messing with your sleep too much? You know, I stopped caring about critics long ago. After White Chicks I just felt, hey, if you can’t laugh at that, I don’t get it. We never do well critically, but audiences love us. For critics, they need to start watching movies with audiences, to appreciate whether it’s funny or not. At least with audiences they can recognise that, although it may not be their flavour, the audience loves it.
You’ve got a director here, Michael Tiddes, who’s had one short, one music video, and one TV series – less experience than someone like yourself. Is it just the need to have someone else worry about where the camera and the actors are so you can get on with being funny? Yeah. As a producer, you can make the overall decisions, even with your director. So, we worked as a committee, and as long as I get to make that final choice, that final word, then I’m good. I don’t need to direct it. I’m already taking on too much – two or three roles here is enough. It wouldn’t be a smart choice to direct, and so I’m glad that Michael, whom I trust very much, came up in our camp. We get each other. It’s a short hand. Me, Michael and Rick worked together as a three-headed beast, and I’m glad that we did.
You’ve worked outside of comedy in the likes of G.I. Joe and Requiem For A Dream – busman’s holiday, or do you have a real desire to work in arthouse? If arthouse came my way, definitely. Especially if I’m working with a guy like Lee Daniels, or any of those great directors that work in drama. But, for me to create drama, that’s not what I do. I do comedy. Maybe one day, I’ll turn my back on comedy and do drama, but for now, there’s nothing I like more than seeing people cry with laughter. They’re the tears that I want to see.
You’ve spoken before of your mum, Elvira, basically being “Richard Pryor with breasts”, and that your dad, Howell, was pretty annoying – something that would trigger your mum’s humour. Is there a desire within the next generation of Wayans to follow in this lucrative line of work? There’s a lot of my nephews and nieces already doing it, and my kids are both really funny. My daughter is definitely going to be doing it, and I think both of them will be involved somehow. They’ve inherited the funny gene. The most tragic thing will happen, and they’re both sitting there, finding jokes.
The very thing that makes them rich makes them poor, having the Wayans’ name opening as many doors as it closes. I think it’s tough if you spoil them. The reality of our industry is that it’s work. If you’re willing to work, then you can be successful. Like any other industry, it takes hard work and dedication, and a little bit of luck. It won’t be enough to just walk into a room and say, ‘Hey, I’m Marlon Wayans’ daughter!’. I’m Marlon Wayans, and it doesn’t work for me.
You’ve spoken of your heritage before – a little Cherokee, a little Indian and Irish. The latter traces back to the Brock name – ever gone digging up those roots? Yeah, this is where I get my huge fascination for Guinness. It would have been some slave master, something that happens all the time. ‘Come on, Grandpa, get your groove on’. I haven’t made it over there yet though. I’ve just toured Australia, and I want to tour Ireland and the UK. You guys know your comedy, and that’s why our movies always do well over there. My great-great-grandfather would have gotten a kick out of that…