‘We just write from the soul’ – Marlon Wayans is not haunted by the haters
As the latest comedy from the Wayans dynasty, A Haunted House, hits our screens, director Marlon Wayans tells Tara Brady the secret of their success and why audiences, but not critics, love them
Raised in New York City – by a social worker mother he touchingly describes as “ridiculously talented” – Marlon attended the School for the Performing Arts before making his way to Howard University. In 1992, he turned up on the hit TV sketch show In Living Color, the imprint that launched Jamie Foxx’s career. He hasn’t rested much since. One wonders if the siblings are competitive. How else can we explain their roaring, promiscuous success?
“Never. We are not competitive,” he says. “All of my brothers wish each other success. There really is no rivalry between us. The only rivalry is when we are sitting around talking nonsense. Who has the best jokes? But then we are just trying to come up with the best material. That’s all that is. There’s no squabbling.”
A sort of fork in the road appears in Marlon’s CV at the start of the past decade. The year 2000 saw the release of the brothers’ hugely successful Scary Movie. But that same year Wayans also gave a very decent performance in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Was there – to summon up Robert Frost – a road not taken here? He is a pretty decent actor. He could now be winning awards instead of annoying critics.
“It’s just the way things wound up,” he says casually. “Those opportunities weren’t there for me. There were no doors open after Requiem for a Dream. I did what I do naturally and created some comedy. That’s what I have to do. I just create my own industry and do what I do. I can’t sit around and wait for work.”
At any rate, the Scary Movie franchise fast became a phenomenon. As more than a few commentators observed, the films threw up satirical circles within other satirical circles. The main target for the brothers’ comedy was Wes Craven’s Scream, a film that was itself a pastiche of the modern horror film. Some terrifying class of post-modern sprite seemed to have been summoned up.
“I don’t know how much the success was to do with distribution and how much it was just to do with timing,” he says. “It was before the internet was huge and it was hard to see crazy R-rated comedy. And the success of Scream was a factor.”
And then there was the Wayans’s sly racial comedy. A large part of the fun in the Scary Movie franchise is a result of the filmmakers asking themselves a particular question about certain popular horror films: what would a black guy do in these circumstances? The gags crossed racial and class lines with great efficiency. You didn’t have to be black to love the films. You didn’t have to be white to dislike them. Scary Movie is, in terms of box office, the most successful film ever directed by an African-American (Keenan gets that credit).