'Fifty Shades of Black': Marlon Wayans Talks Female-Skewing Parodies and Drinks with E.L. James (Q&A)
The seasoned comedian talks stepping away from parodies and broadening beyond just poking fun at Hollywood tropes: "I'm a workaholic — my work is bae, and everything else is side chicks."
At first, Marlon Wayans was just plain curious about Fifty Shades of Grey.
"When I had seen women on the plane reading this book and just getting so hot and bothered, I was like, what is in this?!" he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Part of me was reading it because I wanted to learn something, because, you know, women, I always want to please you guys."
The comedian then got started on Fifty Shades of Black, which began as a humor book with his Haunted House producing and writing partner Rick Alvarez. Directed by Michael Tiddes and also featuring Kali Hawk, Mike Epps, Jane Seymour and a saucy Florence Henderson, the parody film sparked a bidding war at last year's Cannes Film Festival.
Wayans says the Open Road release, shot for under $5 million, is intended to appeal to the devout Grey fan base. "If you watch Wayans comedies, we rarely do anything that's just offensive. We're equal-opportunity offenders — everybody gets it," he says. "For us, mockery is the best form of flattery, and you want the people that you're sending up to probably laugh the hardest."
The following is THR's edited chat with the 'Fifty Shades of Black' producer, co-writer and star about writing a female-skewing parody, having "a couple thousand glasses of wine" with Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James and broadening his projects beyond just poking fun at Hollywood tropes: "I'm a workaholic — my work is bae, and everything else is side chicks."
This movie looks like a fun one.
It's a naughty little movie, but it's classy and crassy at the same time. In this movie, we had to mature some of our decision-making. When you're dealing with a female audience, it's important that you try to walk that line — you can't go too crazy because they have to like the guy and the girl, and you have to pay the substance of the relationship some credence, even though it's a parody. This movie and this genre [of Grey] is kind of serious in tone, so we found ourselves saying really funny things in a serious tone, which is awesome. Because the character of Christian Grey was so creepy, we just made our guy like a stalker — still creepy, but we pulled the fun out of the creep. Then when it comes to the sex — it's a very sexual movie — every time we went to sex, he'd be such a bad lover. We found a lot of fun in that.
Did you think about this parody upon the release of the books or the movie?
Books. I was gonna write my first parody book — me and my producing and writing partner Rick Alvarez. When I had seen women on the plane reading this book and just getting so hot and bothered, I was like, what is in this? So part of me was reading it because I wanted to learn something, because, you know, women, I always want to please you guys. Once we saw the movie, everything clicked. Oh my god, forget the book, scrap the book, do the movie.
Are you trying to appeal to that fan base?
Absolutely. I hope this movie appeals to people who loved it, people who hated it, and all the people who did not see it. I think this one is just a really funny comedy, because of the strong characters and funny angles on the characters. It's broad, yet it's grounded, and there's a lot of fun set pieces. There's nothing that's just random, everything is fluid and it makes sense.
Will fans be offended?
No. I actually bumped in E.L. James. We had a drink together, a couple thousands of glasses of wine. She was like, 'Would I be offended?' I said, 'You can see the movie!' She said, 'Is there anything I wouldn't like?' I said, 'Alright, there's one or two jokes you may not like, but other than that, you're gonna think it's absolutely hilarious.'
We always do things with kids' gloves. If you watch Wayans comedies, we rarely do anything that's just offensive. We're equal opportunity offenders — everybody gets it. For us, mockery is the best form of flattery, and you want the people that you're sending up to probably laugh the hardest. That's the goal, and I think we've achieved a certain amount of respect in that way that although you know it's gonna be crazy in terms of the flavor, it's always gonna be a little bit insightful and just funny.
For these sex scenes, you were chained for hours on some days on set.
When I've done sex scenes, normally, they have been with-- I'm just a free spirit, so I'll have a sex scene with a doll, and I'll let it toss my salad, I'll do all kinds of crazy things! But when you're doing crazy things with a person, it's a little bit different. Especially because the character of Hannah is kind of a prude, and I think Kali [Hawk] is kind of a prude, which is great and worked great for the character. You have to make people comfortable. Everybody has their own approach, and you just have to be aware of that and try to nurture as much as possible because at the end of the day, you just want people to be free and have fun. Get everybody out of their head, just go balls out and have fun.
This film sparked quite the bidding war at Cannes. Are you nervous about its release?
No. Look, movies do what they're gonna do. All I can do is promote them, make them as funny as I can, and have the best time making them and promoting them that I can. The end result, I can't make people go to the theater, all I can control is what's in the movie, and I do my best to sell the movie.
At the end of the day, I'm very happy with what we turned out, and there was a bidding war because to do a movie of this scale at the price point we did it — when people see the movie, it's gonna look like a $30 million comedy. We filmed this for under $5 million, and that's still a great price point to make a comedy. Especially because I have a track record [in comedy and parody]. I think there's a built-in audience to see the movie, and I think there's a great female audience that it [the parodies] has actually come to attract. The trailers, as funny as they are, they don't do the movie as much justice.
There are sequels planned for Grey. Would you be open to Black sequels too?
If it's successful, sure. But I don't know, I guess I'm not as much [equipped] inside with confidence as George Lucas, where I go, "I'm gonna do three of them!" I just go one at a time, and if they love it and I have ideas for the second one and a third one. But I just want to make sure this one is successful, and you can't do a sequel to a movie that bombs. Who wants to do a Howard the Duck 2? I just do the best I can and see what happens.
Honestly, I want to take a break from parody. I just want to go do some comedies: go write a buddy action comedy, or write up my own Beverly Hills Cop, or write a romantic comedy or a family comedy. I want to start working different layers, all under the umbrella of comedy, but I want to start showcasing more of what I can do overall. It's a good transition.
And you've recently been doing stand-up comedy too.
Yeah, every weekend. I don’t have days off – it's crazy. I just work, I'm a workaholic. My work is bae, and everything else is side chicks. I just love it, and I'm committed to it. I do a movie, you put me on a plane, I'll sell it wherever we need to go, I work tirelessly. And then on the weekends, I'm just working my craft: hitting the stage, getting better as a performer, every time I hit the stage, I get better as a writer and get more in touch with the audience. You gain some more fans, some more respect. These are the things that are putting more air under my wings, because you would think that after 25 years in the industry, I'd be a little tired. I feel brand new, I feel like I just started my career yesterday. I'm looking forward to doing [stand-up] specials and really expanding the brand of me, of Marlon. I've been apart of the legacy of Wayans, but I'm really excited about the journey of Marlon. I know I got work to do, so I just do it as much as I can.