You know Marlon Wayans from his days as a formidable comic force of genius. He first broke onto the scene with his brothers on Fox’s In Living Color, an inclusive sketch comedy show that originally premiered in 1990. Wayans leveraged that comic background to launch a phenomenally successful series of parody films including the Scary Movie series, A Haunted House 1 and 2, and Fifty Shades of Black.
But along the way, Wayans stepped outside his comic comfort zone to grow his chops as a dramatic actor. His most notable dramatic effort previously emerged as his acclaimed turn in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream starring opposite Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, and Jared Leto. To win the role, Wayans dove into extensive prep including reading the novel three times and auditioning five times for Aronofsky. The acclaimed director put Wayans through his paces, asking him to refrain from sex and sugar so that his on-screen jonesing would appear fully genuine.
Flash-forward to 2020 and a co-starring role in Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks. Here, Wayans plays Dean, the husband to Rashida Jones’s Laura who may or may not be carrying on an affair with a co-worker. The film primarily focuses on Jones’s Laura and her father, played wonderfully by Bill Murray, but Wayans provides a compelling morally ambiguous husband.
But that’s not how Wayans saw the role.
Here, he talks with Awards Daily about his role as Dean and how he played Dean as a nice guy throughout the film. He also talks about the difficulty in performing some scenes with enough shades of grey to sustain the possibility of his infidelity. Finally, he talks about working with Rashida Jones, Sofia Coppola, and legendary actor Bill Murray.
On the Rocks is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Awards Daily: So Marlon Wayans, what was it about On the Rocks that really excited you as an actor?
Marlon Wayans: First of all, it’s Sofia Coppola film. I’m a big fan of her movies. She’s tackled so many different genres and types of films and period pieces. She’s so versatile that I always see great performances in her films, and I just wanted to go be. This is a movie that allowed me to kind of just go be and to just trust her. At this point in my career, I want to work with great directors so I could put my greatest performance in the best material and see where that takes me. When I read the script, I saw the character and thought it’d be nice to play a good guy. I love the fact that he, at the end of the day, was a good guy and a good man. That’s something that women need to see. So many times, women have girlfriends that go through things with their husband or goes things with their significant other, and all of a sudden that just becomes a blanket statement for all men. I just love the fact that everybody had this opinion of this man that was wrong. There still is a Prince Charming that will love Cinderella and commit to her. I just thought that was beautiful. Even though they get lost in their journey, they come back and find each other through communication. That’s what gets you to forever, and I love that.
Working with Rashida was something I always wanted to do. She’s such a great actress, and she’s just so well versed in so many different things. I just thought this would be a great opportunity to work with a great actress and put together a really sweet performance in a sweet movie. I also loved the cross-cultural, cross-generational, cross-gender conversation that happened throughout the movie. There was so much said and so much to explore there that it was hard to not get swept up in it.
AD: So, it’s interesting that you’re talking about playing Dean as a good guy through the film from your perspective. The film is told from Rashida’s perspective, so the audience sees him (and her doubts of him) through her eyes. That must have been a challenge to play him in the grey like that.
MW: Dean was a hard role. It’s a lot harder than you would think on paper because I literally had to give multiple performances. I had to be ambiguous. I had to play the innocence of what has happened in some scenes and make [my response] look like a lie. I also put little things in to be subtle. Like when Laura checks Dean’s phone, he’s like, ‘Yeah, we changed our codes at work.’ I held the note for a beat longer like saying, ‘You good?’ Then, I rush out the door. Just that little beat makes the scene mixed. For a woman that’s like, forever. They see that in slow motion. Moments like that made the role both meaty and subtle at the same time.
AD: On the Rocks deals with so many themes, including the struggles of raising a family. Given that you’re in the entertainment industry, did you draw from personal concerns or experiences at all when you were playing Dean?
MW: Absolutely. Dean is not just myself. He’s a lot of men. I love kids. I have two children myself. But as beautiful as they are, what happens is sometimes they take your friend from you. Women pour themselves into children because children need them. Men pour themselves into work because it feels like work needs us, and we need to provide for them as best we can. So, I definitely went through this. Sometimes, in hindsight, you look back and go, ‘Maybe I should have focused on the family and not the work.’ A movie like this can show men and show families. There’s no real blueprint, but it’s good to see a film like this and say, ‘I’m not gonna make that mistake. I’m gonna do the ending of the movie in the beginning of mine.’ So instead of going there, I’m making better choices. I’m going to be there for my family.
AD: Given that you’re obviously from an extensive comedy background, what was it like working with Bill Murray on this?
MW: I love working with Bill Murray. It’s kind of like looking into a mirror that takes me into the future. We’re like spirits from the same like backgrounds. He’s from sketch. I’m from sketch. he did broad comedies. I did broad comedies. I love when, at 78 years old, he’s giving his best performances. I think it’s a compilation of all his performances that are now in every performance that he does. Life gives you wisdom, and it gives you confidence. It gives you this thing where you could push on the gas or ease off the gas. I could go from smiling to tears like that, and he did it so many times. There’s this one great scene in this movie when Laura and Felix were in Mexico, and she’s cursing him out. She’s talking about their relationship and her mom and how he broke their heart. He says, ‘It was hard on all of us.’ The way he delivered that, it was… It was a speech. Everything he said was a monologue, but in a simple sentence, he summed it all up. But behind the eyes, there was so much going on, so much emotions.
AD: So, when you look at Bill’s career, you mentioned you see the similarities between the two of you. What in his career in the last 15 to 20 years would you like to emulate when you reach that age?
MW: I think he just shows different moves to the basket. When you’re known for doing one thing, the minute you change it up and do something different people are intrigued by that. I’m so used to doing big broad comedies that you sometimes lose the acting in the big broad comedy. You forget that there’s acting involved in all that because of the type of film it is. But what’s great is now it’s like Bill’s dialed in, and he’s showing different moves to the basket. He shows those different moves with great directors and great scripts. That’s what allows him to put out his best work. The audience or the critics or even directors don’t know what you’re going to do next. They can’t predict it, and that’s what’s so great about Bill’s career. You don’t know where he’s gonna go, but you trust him enough to follow.
AD: Over the past few years, there has been increased recognition that there is a lack of inclusivity and a lack of of diverse opportunities for Black actors in film. Do you find that it is improving for yourself? Are you finding that you’re getting more opportunities like On the Rocks to be able to stretch your dramatic chops?
MW: There’s actually less movies being done now than there were before. I can’t really complain about roles for African Americans or anybody when roles are limited for every actor right now. So, when it speeds back up? Yeah, I do wish there were more opportunities for African American actors and people of color. That’s why I’ve always written, produced, and starred in my own movies because I’m not gonna sit around and wait on Hollywood and wait for that door to open. I’m gonna kick this wall in, and I’m gonna create a hole and we’ll put a door on it later.
At this point in my career, I have so much more to look forward to. I’ve accomplished a lot, but I have so much more to look forward to. It feels good. I’m proud of directors like Sofia Coppola that hires a biracial woman and gives her a white dad and marries her to a black guy with two biracial kids. Then, she just tells a story about a man and a woman. When you watch the movie, it’s not a problem. It’s just a family. Right? It’s natural. This could have been a Black family, a white family, Asian family. It could have been anybody, but it just so happened to be this type of family. What’s important is that the emotions and the situation and the characters are all relatable to everybody of every color. I’m really happy that Sofia made these choices. It felt great as an African-American actor to be in a movie of this caliber with these kind of themes, and race not be an issue. I applaud Sophia for that.