Marlon Wayans is sitting, slouched in a bulky black leather jacket, in a conference room of the Hotel Palomar Phoenix. A stark contrast to his buoyant on-air screen personality, he’s reserved.
Wayans is discussing his new film “Fifty Shades of Black,” a parody of the infamous book and movie of a similar name that opened on January 29. In the R-rated comedy mimicking “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Wayans’ millionaire control freak Christian Black introduces a shy college student Hannah Steele (Kali Hawk) to the world of “romance” after she interviews him for her school paper. Unlike “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Wayans’ character is a little lackluster in the sex department.
“It’s mature,” says Wayans, in between eating sections of an orange. “We made some mature choices, although it’s still silly. It’s crassy but classy.
“We have the responsibility of having the female audience on this one. We had to find the sweet spot so both sides enjoy it. It’s a really funny movie. We want to make it really inclusive, but out there.”
Wayans wrote this movie after seeing woman after woman engrossed in the book.
“I saw women reading his book all hot and bothered,” he says. “I read the book and I was like, ‘This is basic.’ I was going to write my first parody book or comedic retelling of that story. But I thought about how Christian Grey would be as a black man and how we’d be in that situation.”
Wayans’ character is rich but he’s shady. The sex scenes in both movies are “pretty basic,” he explains.
“I did that in the third grade,” he says with a laugh. “It was a chance to do some really funny jokes. Comedy and sex go hand in hand for me. We use the drama and the intensity to lead us to joke. It’s just the rhythm. It’s the same way we used horror in ‘Scary Movie’ to lead you to jokes.”
Wayans says he had a “great time” filming “Fifty Shades of Black,” which he calls a romantic comedy.
“It’s going to have a female audience,” he says. “But it’s a guys’ movie, too. It should be a date movie where the woman comes out feeling good and the guy feels good because she feels good.
“It’s like ‘There’s Something about Mary.’ It’s a hilarious movie with a nice romantic ending. It was crassy but classy. ‘Fifty Shades’ is a parody, but at the same time it’s a romantic comedy. It’s dark and creepy because that’s what the character was. We just made him a stalker.”
Although “Fifty Shades of Black” is romantic, it’s still biting.
“I’m an equal opportunity offender,” Wayans says with a smirk. “You’ll see in this movie that’s it’s not in-your-face humor. We do all of the stuff through dialogue. I find a way to infuse those hot-button topics into the movies, in a way that’s enjoyable not offensive. We hit everybody from Donald Trump to Bill Cosby to Kanye to Kim, Beyonce, Jay. They’re part of pop culture.”
Wayans is part of the first family of comedy, which also includes brothers Shawn, Damon and Keenen Ivory. He was born in 1972, after his two most famous brothers.
“I think my brothers raised us like Jedis,” Wayans explains. “Keenen’s Yoda and Damon is Obi-Wan. Damon is more biting, so biting and funny. Those who don’t agree still laugh. It’s a guilty pleasure. Keenen is spot on. He will not do a joke that is a party for one. He taught us to do things with kid gloves. It’s an attempt so everybody can love the joke.”
Wayans wasn’t only in town to promote the film; he had gigs at the nearby Stand Up Live. It’s a profession he only started four to five years ago.
“I think my hesitation [starting stand-up comedy]was because of a couple things,” Wayans says. “One was fear. When you grow up in a house with other comedians, it’s intimidating. We all had the same experiences, so who tells the joke first?
“I think, two, is you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Damon’s just a great stand-up. That’s Shawn’s world. I was comfortable being an actor. I always wanted to be different. I love my brothers to death. I chose to be different. I went to performing arts high school. I went to Howard University for film and for theater.”
Those traits, he says he feels, gives him hope for winning an Academy Award even though his parodies and comedies have grossed more than $750 million in domestic box office, an average of nearly $50 million per outing. The money is great, but serious movies are on his mind, too.
“I do these crazy movies, but I know my skill set as an actor,” he says. “One day I’ll do it all. But don’t get me wrong. I like a good scatological joke. I’ll always be a 12-year-old boy.”
He’s taking baby steps toward those dramatic roles, using each project as a stepping stone and a learning experience.
“I just hope to get better,” he says. “I analyze that situation and say, ‘Here’s why we and how we made choices. Those failures will make me prove to be my greatest successes.
“I stay open to the experience of learning and growing. Even though I made 13 movies that I’ve written and produced. I’m still in the infancy stage. I’m part of the legacy, which is the Wayans, but I’m still in the infancy stages of Marlon.”