Kim Wayans has gotten used to getting plenty of laughs over nearly 25 years in film and television, but now the comedienne is stunning audiences with her ability to move them as well in the indie drama “Pariah.” Playing the less-than-understanding mother of a coming-out teen, Wayans tells PopcornBiz she’s finally achieved a career goal to make audience cry as well as chuckle.
Can you talk about the struggle to find someone to give you the dramatic role that you wanted? How hard have you been beating down doors to get those chances?
Well, my agent who's my manager now, whenever something of note comes along that she thinks I'm good for she would make those calls and try to get people to let me come in and show what I can do. People have their list of go-to actresses and go-to comedians, and I am just not on the go-to actress list. Time is very precious when you're casting movies and stuff, so you don't want to waste time. You don't want to take that 15 or 20 minutes or whatever to read somebody that's never done drama done before, that you've never seen any tape on. That's just the natural reaction. So this was really wonderful, that she had this connection and was able to get me in.
I'm assuming that comedy had been in your life since day one. When did you get a taste for drama, a notion that you thought you could do that?
I always had the notion, even as kid. I would act out dramatic scenes. My brother Keenan and I would do the scene from 'Mahogany' with Diana Ross, where he'd shake her and tell her that success is nothing. I'd be falling all over the place. So I was working my dramatic muscles back then, but my career has just been comedy. I love comedy and that's what I kind of fell into, but in my heart I've always known that I could do drama and always wanted to do drama.
You've had a considerable amount of success as an actress, but struggled to break into this one area. What's that like?
It's frustrating because you know you can do it and you just want the opportunity. You want to express that aspect of who you are. So, it's frustrating, but I can't say that I was depressed about anything because I just don't live in that world. It's like, 'Okay, that's not happening right now. So, I'm going to put my energies someplace where something else is happening, something positive is happening.' It was always something that I held onto, the hope that one day I'd get the opportunity. I studied. I've been studying for the past few years with a wonderful acting teacher. So I was working on my craft in class, too, getting to do dramatic scenes.
Were you nervous taking this on, or did you know that you had this part in you?
For the most part it was, 'I know I got this.' I had one momentary instance of panic. It was the night before I was supposed to fly to New York to actually do the part. I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and my husband had to talk me down. He said, 'This is just anxiety. It's free-floating anxiety. You're getting ready to go do something new. You're getting ready to leave home, your home surroundings. Everything is going to be fine.' He just talked me down and I went back to sleep and that was it. When I got on that set I knew what I had to do. I knew that I had prepared. I knew that I was going to tell the truth of this story and if you make that your focus then everything else falls away. Any doubts, anything, there's no room for that because you're too busy being Audrey and too busy telling the story of Audrey's life.
Are we at a point now where probably for the future of show business that there will probably always be a Wayans working?
Yes, we are. My nephew, he's on 'Happy Endings.' I've got another nephew who just snagged a series on Cinemax. This is my sister Deidre's son. Greg Jr. They just keep coming and it's wonderful, really wonderful. We have, like, a thousand Wayans in the family. So, yes, yes, the next five generations are taken care of.
What was it like to have your family right there all together breaking into show business, which is hard enough for one person to do, but you had each other and trailblazing into different genres? What was it like to do that together and then to go off and have your own careers that weren't so intermingled?
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It was wonderful. Since, like you said, we were young, just starting out. We were green and so it was wonderful to have that camaraderie and have the support of your brothers and sisters in the same field and working on the same project. 'In Living Color' was just like a dream. Everyday we'd go there like it was a playground and we'd have so much fun, and that sense of family love just permeated the whole set. We brought that because we were a family doing the show. So, the crew, the other actors, everybody, we were all a part of this big, extended family and it was so wonderful. So, we got spoiled. We really got spoiled. We loved working together. We had such a good time. We really are very simpatico, in terms of ideas and helping each other with something. Maybe you have something but it's not quite there and then Keenan will chime in and then help you fix it. Then Damon has an idea. We all had really good chemistry that way. So it was wonderful and I thank God for those opportunities when I did work so closely with my brothers. I have such a sense of debt to Keenan, a debt of gratitude because he really taught me everything that I know about comedy. He's always been the go-to guy for advice, career advice and comedy advice. He's just great, really great. That was really wonderful, but then as you mature you get to a place where you kind of want to…everybody is not the same. We all don't have the same dream of how we'd like our careers to manifest. Certain ones of us want to do dramatic work. Certain ones of us don't. I'm the only woman with four brothers in the industry and so I had the feeling like I wanted to stand in my own light and express my own voice fully. My voice is different than theirs because they're male voices and I'm a feminine voice. I have a different sensibility than they do in some regards. So the need to do me was something was a natural kind of evolution. I think it's really healthy that we do our own individual projects and stuff and then come together, sporadically, to do things as a family.