A Haunted House had an estimated budget in the $2 million range and rang up $40 million before exiting theaters. The sequel has a similar budget and could, given the popularity of the first film – and the popularity of the Wayans’ films in general – enter theaters without much in the way of a promotional campaign and still do well at the box office. However, Marlon Wayans doesn’t take his fans for granted and he hit the road visiting more than two dozen cities to promote the R-rated comedy. Among the stops on his multi-city tour was San Diego where I had the opportunity to talk to Wayans about his work ethic, determining what works in a movie, and his plans for a comedy tour with his family.
Exclusive Marlon Wayans Interview
Why do you still go out on lengthy publicity tours?
Marlon Wayans: “I like to. It’s getting in touch with people directly; it represents me talking to fans. You know, I always do all my own social media, I do all my postings, I do all my Instagrams when I take a picture with the audience. I ask them to tweet about the movie, whether it was good, bad, or ugly. I believe that the movie-going audience are my critics, and I want other people to know what people feel about my movies, because movies are expensive nowadays. I want to make sure people are getting their money’s worth. When I’m working, I like to talk to people.”
You spend a lot of time on the road with your fans.
Marlon Wayans: “You can’t take them for granted. I just think that if you believe in a movie, then you go let people know you that you believe in the movie. You sit and you talk to them and you go do the local stations and the affiliates. And I have fun. For me, I love performing, so it gives me a purpose to wake up at 5:00 in the morning and try to be funny until 5:00 at night. It’s just the challenge of doing that. The more you do that, the more you’re sharpening your knife, so when you get on screen and you don’t have to be funny for the 25 days while you’re filming. It’s just your inherent nature. It’s your go-to, what you know. You don’t know anything else. So I don’t mind. I don’t mind hand-delivering stuff to the audience. I believe stars should do more of that. They are so disconnected and far removed that their social media is bridging that gap. I just think it’s better that if the fans are coming to you, you know, just reach out to the fans, too.”
Has anything you’ve heard from audiences during these screenings been used as fodder for future jokes or films?
Marlon Wayans: “They always want you to do White Chicks 2, so I know there’s an audience out there that really wants White Chicks 2. So it’s something that I definitely think they do influence you. Even joke-wise, these experiences, funny things just kind of happen so it’s good to go do. You never know what you can uncover and discover.”
How did you figure out what films you were going to poke fun at and what you were going to incorporate into A Haunted House 2?
Marlon Wayans: “I don’t know. At first I just tell a story. I used to go joke first…well, I still do. I go watch a hundred movies and I go, ‘What’s funny?’ Or I allow myself to brainstorm, and just go, ‘What’s funny and just outside the box?’ This movie is a horror/comedy with parody moments, so the pressure of trying to parody every moment and make a story that makes some sense – no, I don’t do it that way. I go to first the jokes and then I figure out a story and character evolution for the lead character and then what’s his group situation, what’s the comedy and what’s the characters. Then from there, the character scenes kind of jump out at you. I can’t tell you the process. It just kind of happens.”
How long does it normally take you from the initial idea to a finished script?
Marlon Wayans: “Six months. This was kind of rushed because they wanted it right away, and so this one I wrote in like three months.”
Marlon Wayans: “It is. But then again, this is the guy who’s going on a 25 city tour. [Laughing] I don’t know. I live a harsh, crazy life.”
Marlon Wayans: “Yes and no. When I write my movies, my character normally is the least funniest character. I just make sure that I write very strong characters. I have a good sense of where I can go comedically, because I’m reactive in these movies so it just allows me to play a situation. And playing a situation, I have a broad sensibility and a broad sense of humor, like Jim Carrey has. Physically, he’s just broad. I can’t help it. My face is plastic and I’m just rubbery and I just go to weird, crazy places, put under the right pressure. I was like Jack Nicholson in The Shining in this movie, all this crazy stuff happening, and it just allowed me to go to really fun places. I write everybody else funny, and then I’m last.”
Do you change your own script very much while you’re filming?
Marlon Wayans: “Oh, yeah, this was like 40% improv.”
So the script is more of a jumping-off point?
Marlon Wayans: “This is just a blueprint. My brother taught me that. It’s the Keenen Ivory Wayans school of comedy. He’d tell me, ‘It’s a blueprint and you’re bettering the joke all the way through.’ You collectively make three movies: one when you write it, two when you film it, three when you edit it. The job of the first two is to collect information, as much as you can. First, you write a strong script. Then you hire funny people, and then you have those funny people improv and you kind of rewrite your script. Then let’s take it to the basics, and then when you into editing, you have a lot of decisions to make. And that’s when the movie really comes together.
I like having different points of view. People gravitate to their character. I know when I’m doing a movie and I’m doing a character and not improv’ing or stuff, I think if I was the director, I’d go, ‘You know, improvise. Have fun,’ because I know the zone that I go to. So I trust these guys. They make audiences laugh all across the country, so it’s a simple thing for me.”
Do you think that was the most important thing you’ve learned from Keenen so far?
Marlon Wayans: “No, there’s so much I learned from Keenen. I wouldn’t have a career, be equipped for a career, if I hadn’t had my brother. My brother Keenen taught me so much. And Damon. Damon is more about performing and about stand-up, and Keenen is when it comes to this business and being a writer and being a producer. Keenen taught me a lot about life. He kind of raised me from puberty on, so he’s like a co-parent.”
When are you going to work together again?
Marlon Wayans: “We’re actually going to do a tour: me, Keenen, Shawn, and Damon.
A cross-country tour?
Marlon Wayans: “Cross country. We’re probably going to start doing some spot dates in June, and then we’ll probably plan on a big tour come January next year.”
What was the impetus behind the decision to tour?
Marlon Wayans: “Just the four of us going, ‘Let’s do something together. Let’s make some history within ourselves and work together and put together something great and something for our kids to see, us working together.’ Because you know, they weren’t alive to see the uncles all working together. So now for the next generation to see that, ‘Look at all the uncles play nice together,’ so they’ll play nice with their cousins. We really play nice together, but to see us work together, I think it’s such a powerful message – not just to our family, but to every family. I think it’s a mother’s dream to see her kids working together, playing together, having fun together, and just learning to love one another. It’s a strong message to send not just to America but overseas, because we all have families. And to have a strong family to me is the greatest gift in the world.”
How does this second Haunted House ramp up the action and comedy from the first film?
Marlon Wayans: “I think this one is a lot more of both because Malcolm is more put upon. There’s so much going on, in terms of it’s not just the house that’s haunted, and crazy ex-girlfriend moving next door, and dealing with being a father to these kids that are not his kids, being a stepdad, then the daughter who’s a teenager going through her teenage stuff, then her having this bad imaginary friend. You know, on top of that, the crazy doll that he winds up with from The Conjuring. There’s just so much going on, so many twists, so many turns. And then you’ve got Gabriel Iglesias, the character Miguel moves next door.
I think the well of comedy comes from so many different places because I think this movie represents more of the world, because you’re dealing with interracial relationships. You have the white people’s point of view, you have the Hispanic people’s point of view, You have the black person’s point of view. Everybody is kind of represented. Although there’s a lot of racial humor, what happens is, at a point, all the race goes away because it’s like equal opportunity offender. And all you see is comedy, and a joke’s a joke. People just laugh, and it makes me feel good that they enjoy the movie.”
Is there a point you can’t push past with your humor?
Marlon Wayans: “No, You have to go past it sometimes. I won’t say I’m always I’m spot on. I look for reactions from other people. If they’re uncomfortable… It’s not even like one or two people – if it’s one or two people, I’ll go, ‘Grow a pair of balls.’ But if it’s the majority of people, if it’s more than like 20% you’re offending, if I get more ohs than there are ahs, I’ll take that joke out.”
You really pay attention and listen to the reaction?
Marlon Wayans: “I screen the movie for two audiences and then I make adjustments. I play the movie back, based on when they are laughing and when they are responding and when they are not, when they are offended, when they are uncomfortable. You can hear it, so I take that all into consideration. I’m not self-indulgent in my comedy. I make a movie, or I tell a joke, and I want the world to laugh – or as many people as possible. You have to listen to the audience, and you have to go, ‘Hmmmm, not working.’ It’s hurting the momentum of the movie for this joke that I may think is funny, and I have a darker sense of humor than most people. So if you’re smart, you have to listen to your audience. You can hear when they’re restless. I like making 90 minute comedies because that to me is a good set. I don’t want to make a two-and-a-half hour comedy because I feel like that’s just me loving myself and being self-indulgent.”
Is there a Haunted House 3 in the works?
Marlon Wayans: “No, not one in the works, but, you know, who knows? Maybe if two is successful, I’ll do a third.”
Do you mind playing the same character multiple times?
Marlon Wayans: “No, as long as you keep changing the situations and you are able to show a different kind of dynamic, you are able to showcase a different style of your comedy, I think that you can play a character over and over and over again. You just have to find the different complexions. You know, my brothers played the same characters on In Living Color. It’s, ‘Where can you put them next?’ You show them in something different, different shade, different color, and a different angle. You just don’t do the same thing over and over and over again. You have them react differently. What’s the new stimuli? Once you change the stimuli, you change the characters surrounding them, now you have a whole different set of circumstances.”
Is it difficult when you’re on set to put aside being a producer? Are you able to forget all the other demands on you?
Marlon Wayans: “Yeah.”
How do you do that?
Marlon Wayans: “I don’t know. I’m ADD and I have an insane work ethic.”
Obviously, you have an insane work ethic. You’re adding dates to your tour for this movie.
Marlon Wayans: [Laughing] “I know. I know. They think I’m insane, and I am. But I’m a workaholic. For me, I like the challenge of wearing multiple hats, and being able to appropriate…I do this for my life, I do this for my friends. I know when to be what. Like watching Eddie Murphy in his earlier movies. Eddie Murphy was probably the most appropriate comedian I’ve ever seen. He knew when to be what. He knew when to be the action star. He knew when to be the charismatic guy, he knew when to play the drama, he knew when to play the characters and be funny. He knew when to do what.”
Was that just instinct, do you think?
Marlon Wayans: “It’s choice. He made the right choices and his instincts were correct. But you have to make those choices. You have to know, ‘Okay, I can wear all the different hats.’ And it’s funny because everybody that I work with, although I’m silly on the set, have a lot of fun on the set, you know, I’m always peaceful, I’m always smiling, I love everybody, I give everybody hugs and kisses hello, give them hugs and kisses good-bye, because we’re a family in those weeks that we’re working together. And even the comedians, although we all laugh and joke, they all will be, like, ‘He’s the boss.’ But the reality is, you’re not working for me. You’re working with me.”
That’s a huge distinction.
Marlon Wayans: “That’s my mantra. We’re all responsible for putting up a great movie. Every last single one of us. We’re all, everybody from the sound, to wardrobe, everybody gets their turn to help me tell a joke. So collectively, as a unit, we’re telling jokes. Even with the comedians, when we’re in a scene, we give each other, ‘Oh, what about this? What about this?’ I’ll take everybody’s suggestions. You know, I’ll take a suggestion from craft services if you have one. You know, to me there’s no ego. I don’t have an ego, I want it fun. And I think just knowing when to be what helps me.”
Do you surround yourself with the same people over and over again behind the scenes, because they understand how you work on the set?
Marlon Wayans: “I like to work with the same people. I do. But I don’t mind trying somebody new. You know, I’m not stumped, like, ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do without this person?’ Sometimes you don’t get the person you want, and you get somebody else in there, and they’re not as good and now you have to compensate. It’s like a great basketball team. If LeBron gets hurt, Dwyane Wade has to step up. It’s just what you’ve got to do. And that’s what I mean by a team. It’s not just me. I have a great team. I have Rick Alvarez, who I’ve worked with 12, 14 years, we’re in tandem. I have Mike Tiddes, who came up in our camp. They get me. I can leave those guys in the editing room while I’m doing promotion and I come back and I go, ‘I don’t like this, this, this and that,’ and they go, ‘Aughhh,’ but they make the changes. And then we’ll discuss what works, what doesn’t work, and I trust they go make those changes. I can’t do without my team. It’s a strong team.”
Did you expect White Chicks to still be so popular with fans and to still have people demanding the sequel? Out of everything that you’ve done, I would imagine that’s the one that you gets the most sequel requests.
Marlon Wayans: “It’s crazy. White Chicks still gets the biggest, ‘Oh my god!’ Don’t Be a Menace, people are like, ‘You have to do a sequel!’ I’m like, ‘How old would Loc Dog be?’ People ask for a sequel to Little Man. People like our movies. We’re silly and they make people feel like you’re 15. It’s silly, it’s fun, it’s a smile. We do it with kid gloves, even though we talk about the craziest things and go to crazy places, we come out with some great, some fun laughs, some good hearty laughs.”
People remember your movies. Your comedies aren’t forgotten as soon as the credits roll.
Marlon Wayans: “Well, hopefully. I think to the audience we do. I think some people don’t like our movies.”
Everyone has their own taste and sense of humor.
Marlon Wayans: “But you know, if you like to be a kid, if you like to laugh, Wayans movies are for you. I have a website, whatthefunny.com, and it’s filled with just my sense of humor, just all this really fun content on there. Video and webisodes, and funny sketches and sketch shows. My nephew Damon, Jr., has a sketch show on there called ‘Wayans’ World.’ Rob Stapleton has a sketch show. There’s a show called ‘The Commuters’ which is a really funny show about three guys that commute to work together and their misadventures. Todrick Hall, who’s an amazing Broadway artist who used to be on American Idol, he does a flip on Broadway musicals so instead of ‘Singing in the Rain,’ he does ‘Twerking in the Rain.’ He does ‘Mary Poppin Dem Pills.’ He just remixes and it’s a really fun concert.”
It sounds like it could be a fun variety show on TV.
Marlon Wayans: “Exactly.”
And one last question, I understand you fight a chicken in this movie…
Marlon Wayans: “It was a stuffed chicken. It wasn’t real, but it stunk. It stunk. Chickens stink. I don’t know how we eat the things. Oh my god, that was a crazy thing, because the chicken kept falling apart. It’s when everything falls apart, how do you hold it together?
You know, I only had $3 million to work for a budget, only 25 days to shoot, only three weeks to prep. To do all that we did in this movie is damn near impossible and it takes commitment. For me, I just go all in, and I’m willing to dive over tables. I set a tone on the set. I’m willing to do absolutely anything to help production, to make sure that this joke flies. Whether things work or they don’t work. we’re going to make it work. The chicken is not working like we want it to? ‘All right, I’m going to fight with it. Move in the camera here, we’ll do a closeup. We’re going to make this work.’ You know, we pull it together.”
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