“I loved him because he was arrogant in his ignorance,” Marlon Wayans said of Gawain MacSam, the character he plays in Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of the famous Ealing Studios 1955 black comedy “The Ladykillers,” which starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, about a group of bumptious crooks who rent a room in the house of an elderly woman as the base for a robbery. “That was the fun of playing him–‘even though I’m wrong I’m right, and I’m gonna blame everybody else–it’s the white man!’ I’m not that guy, but I know guys like that.” Wayans was in Dallas to promote the picture, in which he plays second fiddle to Tom Hanks and Irma P. Hall, who star as the leader of the gang and the widow whose house the would-be robbers take over (though not literally, as Sellers did to Guinness in the fake string quintet of original picture).
“I had to audition,” Wayans said when asked how he got the part. “And everybody and their brother was in the audition–everybody from Ludacris to Gary Coleman. I barely beat out Jimmy Walker! No, not Gary Coleman. But there were a lot of people. And it was worth going in there. At this point in my career, because I write a lot of my own stuff, I don’t really audition much, unless it’s something great, and I want it and they don’t want me. And then I’ve got to go in there. I’m not afraid to audition.” He went on to describe this particular audition, for the Coens. “They don’t tell you how to play the character–it’s your interpretation,” he recalled, speaking as a producer who’s auditioned other actors as well as an actor himself. “It’s on you to take the words they wrote and fill in the blanks. You take something off the page and make it live and make it better. When you can enhance it, as a producer sitting there and watching an actor, I want that guy. I want somebody who can give me something new and different–change a line, make it better, give me something I didn’t put in there.”
Wayans went on to discuss to own approach to a character once he’s gotten a part. “It’s not about me, once you become a character,” he said. “You give the character a history. There’s a lot of work and preparation involved before you even step onto set. It’s not like I get a script and say, ‘Let’s go!’ I create the character–I know what cologne he wears, where he was born, where he was raised, how he was raised, how many brothers and sisters he has. You give your character a history and do your homework so when you walk in, you’re prepared. You react as the character.”
As to the actual shoot, Wayans said, “We had a good time. Everybody was very cool, and the whole set was cool. Everybody was real kind of mellow and just all lovin’–it felt like the sixties or something. And Tom is a gentleman and a nice man, and a great actor to work with and to watch and learn from. I felt like Kobe Bryan playing with Michael Jordan. The Coen brothers designed a great play and we just went out there and played ball.”
He did, however, remember one scene with Hall that was a bit difficult. It came when the actress was required to slap him repeatedly. “She took a stunt class–or so she says,” Wayans said, chuckling. “‘I took stage combat.’ Well, she failed that class! She slapped me so hard, one time she slapped the character out of me.”
But it was all worth it, he says. “I watched the original, and I’ve honestly got to say–knock on wood!–I think [ours] is better. It’s a completely different movie, and I like the characters in this movie better. I’m working with Tom Hanks in a Coen brothers movie, and I’m doing Peter Sellers–hey, I’m winning! I’m on my way to greatness!”