Marlon Wayans lets go of his training wheels (namely his two brothers Keenan and Damon) and writes and produces and stars in his first movie completely on his own, sans any family Wayans help.
The result is A Haunted House (Open Road Films and Endgame Entertainment), a funny take on the paranormal genre, that uses the found footage horror phenomenon.
This movie, which opens Jan. 11, is an extension of the Wayans’ brand.
The movie, shot in 21 days in one location, stars Wayans, Cedric the Entertainer, Nick Swardson, David Koechner and Essence Atkins, who plays Kisha, a woman who moves in with her boyfriend (Marlon Wayans) only to have some unexplained stuff start to happen.
The result is a hilarious comedy.
ESSENCE ATKINS & MARLON WAYANS
Atkins is best known for the roles of Dee Dee Thorne on the UPN sitcom Half & Half and as Yvette Henderson on the WB sitcom Smart Guy. She currently stars on the series, Are We There Yet?
Atkins, 40, has also appeared in a variety of movies and television shows, including How High, Deliver Us From Eva, Family Matters, Sister Sister and The Cosby Show.
We caught up with the actress at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills to talk about A Haunted House and her career.
DD - Darlene Donloe: This movie is just 96 minutes of fun and laughter. How did you come to be involved in the film?
EA: It’s interesting. It’s the third time I’ve worked with Marlon. The first time was in 1995 on The Wayans Bros. I played Shawn’s girlfriend. Then, I did Dance Flick. This film, I was literally home and my son was 22-days-old when I got a call from my agent. He said, “Marlon has asked to meet with you tomorrow at 12.” Uh, I had a C-section, mind you. How can I leave the house? I love working with them. I went to the meeting not knowing what I was walking into. A week and a half later, he called and said, “You know we saw a lot of people. Are you depressed? You might be postpartum. Can you do it?” I said, “Yes, I got you.”
DD: So, talk about Kisha, cuz it seems sista girl is possessed.
EA: We all have baggage. Kisha just comes with a little something extra. Ultimately this movie is a love story. What you won’t do for love. It’s about someone who loves their girl and moves in together. All those secrets get uncovered. It happens when you cohabitate. So now you have to work it out. She’s worth it.
DD: How can you play opposite Marlon Wayans without losing it on every take?
EA: I don’t know. Maybe I’m just numb and sleep deprived from working all day and not sleeping all night. I blow a lot of takes. There is a scene with Cedric (the Entertainer), Dave (Koechner), Nick (Swardson) and Marlon all in the room together and listening to them talk about me. I loved it. It was a bunch of fun doing that scene. It was so much fun. Working with people who are good at what they do is fun.
ESSENCE ATKINS & MARLON WAYANS
DD: Marlon says you have to be a force of nature in Hollywood. He said he did the film out of necessity. He can’t be a black actor in Hollywood because there is no work, so he had to write and produce so that he could act. What are your thoughts on being a black actress in Hollywood?
EA: I’ve been fortunate. Someone tweeted, “Essence Atkins, why did she get this role?” I tweeted, “Cuz God said so.” I’ve been working since I was 19. I know I’m talented and conscientious. I try to be pleasant and grateful. I’m kind to everyone from the grip, to the director and my co-stars. There are so many talented actors out there. I don’t know why I’m being blessed. I just am. I’m doing the best I can with what I’m given. I think as black people we have to take ownership of what we do. Like it or not, we’re making an imprint for a race, not an individual. We’re a representative. You have to make sure the imprint you leave is a good one.
CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER AS FATHER WILLIAMS
DD: Is there a role you won’t take?
EA: According to my husband, “No.” I don’t know. I don’t do things that I don’t connect to. If I don’t feel a legitimate connection or I can’t do it justice, I won’t do it. I have to bring something to the story. I don’t know that there is a certain character or role I would turn my nose up at.
DD: Did the director just let you guys go and have fun or did he reel you all in?
EA: We always would do what was written at least twice. We talked about it, then we’d always be allowed to improvise. I feel like Marlon, “Why hire people and put your trust in them and then not trust them with your ideas and concepts?” He hired people he could trust. We weren’t shackled.
DD: Do you like paranormal kinds of films? If so, which ones are your favorites?
EA: It’s funny. I like scary movies, period. I like bad scary movies. I like the idea of sitting in my seat and not knowing what’s coming next. A good comedy is when you don’t know what’s coming next. I like when you get hit with an uppercut.
DD: You’ve been in this biz for a while. What is the biggest lesson you’re learned?
EA: Not to take anything for granted, not the check, the people, the experience, the blessing of the job, or the opportunity.
DD: What is your ultimate goal – for your career?
EA: I‘d like to produce. I’m anal enough where I could be a good producer. As Essence, I look at things in an organized way. I see all the elements that could come up. I could try my hand at that. Ultimately, the success of life is similar to the success of a career. I approach each day with gratitude. I’d like to win an Emmy.
DD: Talk about motherhood. How has your son, Varro, changed you?
EA: He’s given me permission not to be hard on myself. Having a baby and kind of watching yourself change – this is external pressure. I don’t have to be like Heidi Klum and four weeks later walk down the runway at Victoria’s Secret. I’m very scheduled and regimented. Having a child forced me not to focus on body image and aging. I’m not looking at myself and thinking I have to look 20 or 25. I can really embrace this new element of me. I’m just as valid and just as beautiful. It’s a process to kind of free yourself of the expectation. Some days I feel really good. I’m 40 and feeling good. Then another day, I’m like, “Oh, God.” I have to give myself some tenderness.
DD: What else is going on in your career?
EA: You can see me on Are We There Yet on TBS, and Mr. Box Office with Bill Bellamy. I will also be co-hosting the Trumpet Awards with Rickey Smiley. It’s airing this spring.