Wayans talks second 'Haunted House,' embracing success, failures

Actor-filmmaker takes every job as learning opportunity

Marlon Wayans is doing double-time. On the road most of March and April, the comedy actor and third of five Wayans brothers -- he's wedged in between Dwayne and Keenan Ivory, and Damon and Shawn -- has not only been previewing his mid-April horror movie spoof "A Haunted House 2" in markets stretching from San Francisco, Dallas, New Orleans, Minneapolis and New York; he's been doing a Q&A sessions with fans that often times feels like a stand-up act.

The comedy routine certainly isn't by accident. After all, Wayans is in the running for the coveted role of Richard Pryor in an upcoming biopic about the famed funnyman. Until then, it's his resolve to be as outrageous as he can be on the big-screen with his "Haunted House" sequel, mocking such horror movie hits as "The Possession" and "The Conjuring." The latter especially takes a beating from Wayans, given that he has an outrageous sex scene with a creepy-looking doll that's a dead-ringer for the menacing "Conjuring" plaything Annabelle.

Wayans, 41, recently called me to talk about the film, which opens Friday, why he gets serious with his preview audiences, and he even takes a shot at embattled Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.

Tim Lammers: Congratulations on "A Haunted House 2." I know it's parody, but did you have to get permission from Warner Bros. to use the likeness of the doll?

Marlon Wayans: Nah, you don't need to get permission. We knew as long at the doll didn't look exactly like the doll in "The Conjuring," the laws of parody would allow us to do that. We had to change her name, too, so instead of Annabelle, it's Abigail. Plus, I think our doll is a little cuter.

TL:  Plus you reveal a little bit more with your doll. The dress stayed on her in "The Conjuring."

MW: I loved the stuff I did with Abigail, how she turned into the crazy girl that you date. It was a pretty fun spin.

TL:  There are horror films ripe for parody coming out all the time. How many different versions of the script are there before you settle on one, or is it an evolving process?

MW: It's an evolving thing. You pick one, and we talk about the story line and beat out the ideas before you start writing it down on the page. We had a pretty good idea once we saw "The Conjuring" and "The Amityville Horror," "The Possession" and "Insidious" that we knew where were going.

TL: Plus you leave plenty of room from improvisation.

MW: That's how it happened with the doll scene. It was completely improv. I just looked at it and went, "Hmmm," and everybody on the set went, "Noooo." So I just went there. We didn't write the scene for it. We take it to weird places.

TL: I love how at the Q&A you brought up what people might perceive as failure. But I'm impressed with the way you've handled it. You noted how you shouldn't hold grudges and how missed opportunities aren't bad things, necessarily, but things that led to more opportunities. That's some really important stuff for people to hear.

MW: Thank you -- because I honestly do believe it. If something doesn't happen it doesn't happen for a reason. If one door closes, a thousand others open up. You can look at it as a loss or as an opportunity, and to me it's always an opportunity. You don't let anything beat you down, you let it build you up. You don't place blame, you accept blame and you grow. I don't say, "This person did this and that," I say to myself, "OK, how can I get better? How do I prevent this from happening again? What things can I create that can't be taken from me and I can't be written out of?"  I try to grab onto the positive and leave the negative behind.

TL: You've also had some of would-be moments, like when Tim Burton cast you as Robin for what would have been his third "Batman" film, but it all fell apart when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise.

MW: I'm the guy who always would have been a huge star (laughs). I've always been a step away and something else happens . Some would think that anyway, and I just go, "You know, it just gives me more time to prepare for what's to come." I think I'm growing and maturing, and as a man, I'm able to articulate things a lot better. I came in as a child and I get the business and I get the industry, I got my emotions intact and learned a skill set. I know how to write and produce, and I know how to edit and put together a film.

There's so much that I've learned that's going to help me in the first 25 years that I've learned, that's going to really propel me that's going to propel me to the next 25 years and allow me to sustain a certain level. It's not about success, it's when I have failures and going back and assessing them. You have to go back and look at them as failures, but steps backward to regain momentum and take a huge leap forward. I believe in alchemy. I read (Paulo Coelho's) "The Alchemist" and I think it's a wonderful book, and the reality of success is that there's no destination called "success." Success is just a road that you travel on, and as long as you walk on it every day, you are being successful. I've been blessed being successful and taking care of my family while doing what I love. I can't ask God for nothing better than what I have.

TL: Besides, success at a very young age can be a very destructive thing.

MW: I would have done so much crack (had I been successful when I was younger). I would have been the Jim Irsay of moviemakers (laughs). I'm glad it didn't happen. Thinking of success now, I'm an adult man in his 40s and I still look young. I think I understand success and the responsibilities that come along with it. I'm much more prepped the level of stardom that is destined for me, whatever that means. I'm not saying, "I'm going to be the biggest star in the world!" I just mean that whatever level of success I attain, I'm going to be prepared for it.

TL:  Is there a chance that success will include playing  Richard Pryor?

MW:  I filmed a great Richard Pryor screen test -- if it materializes, great. I've been doing stand-up for three and a-half years preparing for it. If it happens I'll embrace it and work my a-- off.

Tim Lammers is a nationally syndicated movie reporter and author of the ebook "Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton."