"I think family is key, and if you have love for family, then you have love for others-and you have unity as a people."
Marlon Wayans is probably best-known as the youngest member of comedy's ubiquitous Wayans clan, but he's a talented comic actor in his own right. During a short stint on the TV series In Living Color, Wayans made his big-screen debut with brother Damon in 1992's heavily hyped Mo' Money, followed by a performance opposite the late Tupac Shakur in the 1994 basketball drama Above The Rim. Wayans then co-wrote and co-executive produced the uneven but occasionally hilarious 'hood-movie spoof Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood in 1995, during a break from his oft-maligned WB sitcom The Wayans Brothers. Since then, he's made a pair of films, The Sixth Man and Senseless, the latter of which just opened in theaters nationwide. The Onion recently spoke with Wayans about his TV show, the sad demise of Shakur, and why Hollywood won't let a black man play Robin.
The Onion: What was your involvement with Batman Returns?
Marlon Wayans: I got paid for almost being Robin. Actually, I was Robin: They paid me, and then they decided they wanted somebody else. I was like, "Hey, as long as the check clears, baby."
O: Did they make that decision during test screenings?
MW: No, this was way after that. I got the role, and I was supposed to do the second one. I got my wardrobe fitted and everything, and what happened was that there were too many characters, and they felt Robin wouldn't be of service. So they put me in the third one, and when the third one came around, they got a new director on it [Joel Schumacher replaced Tim Burton], and their vision of the project changed. They decided they wanted somebody white to play Robin.
O: Your sitcom has received a great deal of criticism on the grounds that it reinforces negative stereotypes of African Americans. Do you think that criticism is valid?
MW: First of all, I think a lot of critics were responding to the first season of the show, when we were plagued with bad writing, and my brother [co-star Shawn] and I were trying to overcompensate for the lack of story and the lack of emotional contingency in the script. Second, I think they reacted late, and third, the audience really loves our show. I think some of the critics who were criticizing our show don't really watch it. I don't think our show is negative: It's about two brothers who are trying to make it in this world, and it's all about family. Me, I think family is key, and if you have love for family, then you have love for others—and you have unity as a people, you know what I'm saying? So, I can't see anything negative about our show right now. If you think physical comedy is negative, then that's your opinion. It's all subjective.
O: How much of your show is improvised?
MW: We improvise a lot. Me and Shawn now have a lot more control than we did back in the day, so we influence the stories more, and we're able to improvise to a greater degree.
O: You co-starred with Tupac Shakur in Above The Rim, before he had really risen to superstardom. What was that experience like?
MW: I think people have a lot of misconceptions about Pac. I always thought he was a good guy, but he was troubled. He laughed, he smiled a lot; he wasn't just this crazy ruffneck that people thought he was. That was just his image. Unfortunately, he got caught up trying to uphold his image, but we always laughed a lot and had a good time, and I miss him. Unfortunately, he was a leader who followed. He was such a contradiction in so many ways. I mean, here was a guy who did songs about loving his mama, and on the next song he would call a girl a bitch. But that was just Pac, you know? At heart, he was a good guy.
O: Did you keep in touch with him after you made the film together?
MW: Not now. [Laughs.] Not lately. I don't think I could afford that telephone bill. No, off the set, we didn't really hang out. I just couldn't get with the crowd Pac was hanging with. As cool as he was, he was running with a crowd that I tried to stay away from. When I saw him, though, it was all love. It'd be like, "What's up?," you know? It's just a shame his life had to end that way.