|Marlon Wayans will star as Richard Pryor in “Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?” which is expected to go into production in late 2011. (AP file photo)
Who can play Richard Pryor? People say that only Eddie Murphy can mimic the late comedian. Others have pointed a finger at Mike Epps. But don’t sleep on Marlon Wayans, the youngest of the Wayans family clan. He certainly has the potential and the self-determination. With the film “Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said?” expected to go into production in late 2011, Marlon will play the lead and is already on the road, doing the work before the work begins, so to speak.
His visit to Boston this week for two live stand-up performances at the Wilbur Theatre is part of his quest to create a meaningful role as one of his major life influences. While Shawn — his older brother by just a little over a year — will be performing standup at the Wilbur too, this tour is research for the multi-talented Marlon.
How do you define yourself? Is there one single definition?
I’m an artist. I can do drama. I can do comedy. I can do physical. I can do verbal. I can write. I can produce, I can direct, I can play piano — taught myself. I’m trying to learn guitar. I love to do, I love to work, I love to know. I take pictures, trying to learn some photography. To me it’s just expression. I love to express. I want them to open up my head when I die and see a burnt up little nugget there.
What are your parents like? Is there like a family credo — that everybody must help each other out?
Kind of. My mother used to make the older brother carry the younger brother around, no matter what. Always. And she just taught us, “each one, teach one.” My mom also used to tell my brother that “I made him for you … but this is your responsibility.”
Yes. Not only did she create that whole system, but it was kind of good for her because she had a whole bunch of babysitters. When I came along, I was self-sufficient! I was cooking at six-years-old! My brothers would come home from college and I would cook breakfast. And we were doing laundry. It was like we were our own little dry cleaners. I had to wash my father’s stinky drawers. I had to wash my sister’s old nasty panties, my brothers’ old nasty drawers, my mama’s socks, my father’s socks, and those were hell! But we learned to be self-sufficient before we got out of that house.
That’s some serious child-rearing.
My mom was like “I don’t want you to have to need no woman! They should be lucky to have you, son. My baby’s gonna take care of that gal, you hear? So you put on some lotion. Women don’t like no ashy man. And wash your behind after you go to the bathroom. They don’t like no stink man, either. Don’t be like your father; don’t smell like green onions.”
We loved you in “Requiem for a Dream.” You were amazing in that movie! We heard on the streets that you’re doing this stand-up tour because it’s supposed to give you practice for your role as Richard Pryor. Is that true?
Thank you! And yes, the streets are right. Pryor brought me to the stage. We’re supposed to be doing it next year. But in the meantime, I say why sit around and wait? Let me go learn what it’s like to be a stand-up, to go on the road, to build an act, you know, to play in front of different crowds, just go enjoy what it’s like to be a stand-up. So I won’t really be waiting until you’re filming to start acting. I think acting is preparation, and if I can prepare before the moments, then once we start filming, all I can do is live and have fun as Pryor. But I’m not even touching Pryor’s material yet. That’s the greatest material ever. What I’m trying to learn is just how to work the stage, how to do stand-up, how to articulate thoughts and go through that journey. Because once I understand that, with the Pryor-isms, I think all in all that will make for a good performance.
Have you ever done stand-up comedy before?
No, this is my first time starting.
So you are just naturally funny.
I wouldn’t say naturally. Stand-up isn’t something that you’re naturally funny at. It takes work. I went to a performing arts high school, so I know all about being a comedic actor, but to do stand-up is a whole different instrument. It’s kind of like if I play piano, now I’m learning how to play guitar. It’s still music. Some notes are the same, but they’re different.
Is Richard Pryor one of your influences?
He is the greatest comedian to me, ever. He’s more than a comedian to me: He’s an artist. He’s a jazz musician of comedy. He’s just brilliant. He can take any hook and make it his, in his own flavor, I mean. He can act, he can tell you a joke, act it out, become a character. He was political; he was irreverent; he was fearless, and he was truthful.
Is it true that several people, including Eddie Murphy, auditioned for that role of Pryor?
I could never take anything from Eddie Murphy. They should be doing an Eddie Murphy movie next. Eddie Murphy is a god. It’s like Zeus playing Mercury, you know what I mean? Eddie’s a god, and so is Pryor. It’s like Jesus Christ playing God in the biopic. They’re both GREAT. I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, and gave a really good performance on a screen test after Eddie said no. So, this is the case of one man’s garbage being another man’s treasure, and I just want to clarify that humbly.
I love Eddie Murphy and, I worked with Eddie on “Norbit.” I’ve known Eddie since I was eight- years-old; he came to my house, my apartment in the projects. I’m a big Eddie fan and I love him.
Are you striving to be a better actor or a better comic?
Both. I believe that by becoming a better comic, it will make me a stronger actor because for me, this is character work: to know the journey of a comedian. This is real; this is what you do. This is called research. It’s also commitment. You know? So I’m trying to do both. As well as become a great writer. My goal is just to be a great artist. To give, express, and hopefully people like what I express and how I express it, and can dig my thoughts. They can contest and not like what I’m saying, but still enjoy the ideas.
We heard that you are in the development stages for something called “The Year of Living Biblically.” What’s that about?
It’s a script right now, and I have been getting it out to the studios to see what they think, and trying to get it done. It’s like a “Bruce Almighty” or one of those types of pictures. Like a “Liar, Liar;” something of that vein.
In an interview online, you talked about your experience working with the late Tupac Shakur, and you described him as a leader who followed. Can you explain?
Well, Pac is — was a tremendously talented guy. Some guys are like, good; Pac was great. But he wasn’t a gangster. The man had hands that were softer than Palmolive models. He could have been a Palmolive model, that’s how soft his hands were. He was smart. He was articulate, well-read, well-versed, spiritual. He was just somebody that had something, so much to say, and I just think that he got caught up in the wrong crowd. I think there are always these little gaps or synapses, these little spaces you have to make decisions about, and I think if Pac would have maybe taken a couple steps to the right and thought about the journey of an artist instead of the journey of a thug, he would still be alive and affecting our generation in a whole other way.
He’ll live on forever through his art, because the legacy he left behind infected a generation with his words. The man was a hard-working beast, and I think for kids, you’ve just got to watch what you do, watch who you hang with. Be the scared guy. Don’t be the tough guy. A scared guy runs away and lives to see another day. A tough guy gets shot. I don’t want to be the guy that gets shot nine times. I’d rather be the guy that got shot at nine times. But they couldn’t catch me, because I was too damn fast! I’ll run! I have no problem running.
Will you and Shawn continue to build on this tradition of the comedic duo? It’s inspiring to see you working together all the time, and it goes back to this legacy of being responsible for your siblings.
Yeah, we’ll always do stuff together. Doing this tour with him is fun. We love being around each other. It’s comfortable. It’s not work until we get on stage. We support each other, and work on each other’s stuff, and go, “Here’s why this joke didn’t work,” or, “Here’s what will make this one funnier.”
We love knowing what younger African Americans think about having an African American man as president. How does it feel?
My God! Where do I start? We never put a cap on our dreams. Never put a ceiling on our thoughts. When Barack was elected president and when he won, it blasted open the roof of whatever ceilings were there. They just broke away. I cried for my children. My kids were like “What are you crying for, stupid?” I was crying because my mom and my dad and I thought I wouldn’t see a black president in my years. I thought that would be way in the future, like in the time of the Jetsons; when you could fold your car and put it in your pocket, and when there would be moving sidewalks. I never thought there’d be a African American president, but to see that happen in my lifetime, I was happy at the maturity of America. I may take some of that back now watching how they are responding to it. I love his work ethic. The man’s working hard. He should get an A for president, because they gave him the office during Armageddon.
Some black Hollywood celebrities feel like the industry has been closing its doors on black talent, but when we look at you, and see that you’re about to be in what will eventually become one of the hottest movies of 2011, it makes us wonder.
Well, there’s validity to what they’re saying, but it’s nothing new. Those doors are always going to be like that, but the door for a black president was non-existent, and with hard work, perseverance and working toward a dream, something opened up. I don’t sleep to a dream. I work toward living my dream. I think that you make things happen. I don’t think it’s about people giving you anything. I think you’ve got to take it. When doors shut, it means there are other openings. You’ve just got to be creative and find ways around it. What’s beautiful about Hollywood is that you’re never over. You’re never over. There’s no such thing as over. It’s one thing to create, but can you re-create? Can you shed skin and come back different? You might make it as a caterpillar, but can you go into a cocoon then come out as a butterfly and soar?
Good question! What are some other upcoming projects that you’re working on?
I’m working on a TV show called “Black Family.” It’s basically an inter-racial Brady Bunch meets “South Park” or “The Simpsons,” so it’s an edgy cartoon about an inter-racial family. We’re working on that at TBS, and I’m also in the lab, writing other stuff. I love what I do and I’m going to do this until the day I die, to some capacity. When my tenure’s up as a star, I’ll be a writer-director. To me, as long as you’re on the road, there is no destination called success. There is a road called success, and as long as you’re traveling on that road, you are successful. If I pull over, or pop off onto a different highway, that’s when I’m not successful. But the journey I’m on, I love it, and I will always be on it.