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Film and media professor to host Q-and-A with Marlon Wayans

March 24, 2014

Film star and comedian Marlon Wayans will show both his funny and serious side at a Wednesday appearance in Tempe.

The film and media studies program in the ASU Department of English will present Wayans, actor, writer and producer of “A Haunted House 2,” in a Q-and-A with ASU associate professor Bambi Haggins. The event takes place at 4:30 p.m., March 26, at ASU’s Tempe campus, Life Sciences Center, A Wing, room 191, 451 E. Tyler Mall.

The event is free of charge and open to the public, but seating is limited. Everyone who attends will receive a pass to attend the advance screening of “A Haunted House 2,” which opens nationwide on April 18.

The 41-year-old tour-de-force spoke to ASU News about the advantages of higher education, art versus commerce in the film industry and the serious side of comedy.

ASU News: I’m curious as to how much laughter there was growing up in the Wayans household?

Marlon Wayans: We always had fun no matter what. We as a family have a very warped sense of humor. Whenever one of us was getting a spanking, the other nine were lined up at the door laughing and telling jokes. Every incident was joke-filled.

ASUN: You graduated from a prestigious performing arts high school in New York City and then later attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. How important is education to someone pursuing a performing arts career?

MW: Education is huge to someone pursuing the performing arts, but I like stressing focused education. I had passion and a dream, but I also chased after it with an appropriate education. It’s important to have good study habits and apply that to the thing you love. Students should find their passion, and not worry about what makes their parents happy. If you’re not pursuing what you love, then you’re wasting everybody’s money. If you go to college, know what you want to do and then go find that educational path that will take you there. Even now, I’m still a student. I study Hollywood. I study directors. I study acting. I study stand-up comedy. It’s all about your initiative and hard work when it comes to your vocation.

ASUN: You had a big part in Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film “Requiem For A Dream.” What do you absorb and take in when working with a director of Aronofsky’s caliber?

MW: You take in everything and absorb the whole process. When I found out Darren was directing the movie, I flew in three months early so I could be around for rehearsals and really work with him to get into the character. Darren walked us through the colors, the shots, the feeling and the cold weather, what it was going to feel like to be cold. He had me walk around New York City with no jacket in the wintertime. I told him, “I grew up here, so I know this.” And he said, “But I don’t ever want you to forget this because we’ll be shooting in the summer but pretending it’s winter.” I also absorbed his use of the camera to create frenzy, his editing skills, quick cuts to make things more exciting and intensified. I saw how he takes and digests words to create the nuances of the character, and the truth he allows you to bring out. I also took notice of how he communicates with each actor, because his process was completely different with Jared Leto than it was with me. It was also completely different than how he communicated with Ellen Burstyn or Jennifer Connelly. Somehow, he found a way to talk to each and every one of us to pull those performances out of us, and that’s what great directors do.

ASUN: You wear many hats – actor, writer, director, producer and stand-up comedian – which do you prefer and which is the most challenging?

MW: They’re all challenging, and I honestly enjoy them all. It’s hard to pick one because I love them all. But the reality is I write movies and produce movies so that I can work as an actor. I love acting and I love stand-up because there’s nothing like being in front of a live audience and making them laugh.

ASUN: Your movies have never failed to make money, which has allowed you to work non-stop for the last two decades. Where does art have to meet commerce in the movie industry?

MW: Art and commerce should always meet. You don’t need to wait until you’re dead to know what your value is. There’s always a need for great art, and a lot of artists should have strong partners who understand the business, politics and the science behind their art. If they understand those needs, then there’s a chance they’re going to be very successful. If you’re just an artist and you don’t understand those things, then you’re just going to get eaten up. You’ll be the only one not getting paid. If I had to do it all over again, I’d study both film and business, because it is a business.

ASUN: You’ve been doing stand-up comedy now for two years, in preparation for a Richard Pryor biopic. How has stand-up sharpened your artistic skills?

MW: It’s greatly improved me as an all-around performer. I have a better understanding and gauge for what is funny. I can hear the audience immediately tell me what’s funny, what’s flat, what’s touchy and what will offend people. These are good things to know if you’re writing comedy.

ASUN: What made Pryor so special as a comedian?

MW: He was a fifth-dimensional comedian. Pryor would tell you a joke and you’d laugh. Then he would show you the joke, and you’d laugh even harder. He was funny, but he was also social and political. He gave a very up-close-and-personal look at race because he was often involved in interracial relationships. His perspective came from such a true place. In fact, he took his pain and made you laugh. When he’d do a monologue on the junkie or wino, he took you places. For five or seven minutes, you’d get so into his characters that you forgot you were watching Richard Pryor. That’s just genius.

ASUN: “A Haunted House 2,” your new film, is a comedy filled with parody. I’ve often heard it said that parody is very hard to write.

MW: Parody and sketch comedy are two of the hardest things to write in the world. This movie is more of a horror-comedy with moments of parody. I say that because I tried to start this movie in a grounded place, although it’s a little crazy. In a parody, everything is a joke. Everything that appears on the written page is a joke. Even starting with the location – it’s a joke. Then you have the characters … you have them doing things that are funny, but you also have funny things going on in the background. But did you create a funny character? What’s funny about him? Is his or her point of view clashing with somebody else’s point of view? Everything is a joke, which means you’re shooting about five to 10 jokes a page and you hope to land two. It’s a tough medium because it’s all rapid-fire jokes and you have to hit the target.

If you go:

What: Q-and-A with Marlon Wayans

When: 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 26

Where: ASU Tempe campus, Life Sciences Center, A Wing, room 191, 451 E. Tyler Mall

Information: 480-965-7611 or