Marlon Wayans is a self-professed romantic. It’s for that reason the veteran actor didn’t want to portray a villain when he landed the role of Ted White in the Aretha Franklin biopic RESPECT.
“I wanted to play love because that I don’t think we get to see a lot of as Black people,” Wayans tells ESSENCE. “What was beautiful about Lady Sings the Blues is that man loved that woman. That made my sister’s skin crawl. My momma cried. It was a romance.”
Acknowledging the tumultuous nature of the Queen of Soul’s first marriage, Wayans added, “I know that we’ll get into the abuse, but I’m going to make y’all fall in love with this relationship. We’re going to fall in love with Ted and Aretha.”
When it comes to his personal life, as much as the baby of the legendary Wayans family loves love, he never saw himself walking down the aisle until recently. Sadly, it was the death of his mother last year that changed the comedian’s perspective.
“I never got married because I knew my mom needed me. Women sometimes want to battle for your attention, they want to battle for your love, they want to be the one. Me and my mama share the same birthday. I’m not trying to hear you.”
Now at 49, Wayans says as he looks toward the second half of his life he thinks, “Yeah, I probably got one in me. Just one.”
Wayans has two children with Angela Zackery: 21-year-old daughter Amai Zackary Wayans and 19-year-old son Shawn Howell Wayans. The two were in a relationship from 1992-2013 but never married.
“I like things to bend and not break, and I feel like when you get married, you have to get divorced in order to either be separated or together,” Wayans says. “I like friendships because you just learn each other and you just grow and you just get better.”
Expressing a common sentiment that marriage is no longer a necessity as it once was, Wayans adds, “You know what I need? I need peace. You know what you need? Peace. Love is a vacation. I don’t want to give nobody issues. I want to give you smiles and I hope you want to give me the same. All the other stuff is just noise and stuff that we’re battling. I just want to smile. I just want to laugh. I just want to eat well, I just want to travel, I just want to be loved, I just want to be hugged. I just want to hug you. I just want all the good stuff. All that other nonsense? It’s for the birds, man.”
That perspective is what allowed Wayans to see past the toxicity of Franklin and White’s relationship and fueled his desire to show a deeper reality of their union than what may have been obvious on the surface.
“People often forget the fact that it was something about that man that made that woman fall in love with him. There was something about him that made her trust him. There was something about him that was good. No matter what bad he was, he helped build her in a certain way to see her own life. He’s a vessel for her greatness. I just wanted to honor that about their relationship because I wanted to honor her as the Queen and I wanted to honor women.
“That’s what I love about the movie,” he adds. “It doesn’t show women as, ‘Oh, she’s stupid. She’s getting abused. Why don’t you just leave?’ No, she loves that man. That man loves her. He’s just insecure. They have a damaged relationship, but he loves her. He just doesn’t know how.”
While Wayans didn’t hint at any timeframe for potentially tying the knot down the line, he did make a point of letting his mom know she’s always been first in his life before she passed.
On her death bed, I said, ‘Can I tell you something woman?’ She was in a lot of pain and she was fighting to stay alive and I say, ‘I’m 47 years old and I’ve never been married because I always wanted you to be my number one girl.’ My mother turned over, she looked at me, she grabbed my hand, and she pulled me close to her. I said ‘I know, I love you too’ and I gave her a kiss and I said, ‘I’ll see you soon, but not that soon because I got a shit load of life to live.’ She laughed in pain, and I gave her a kiss, and those were my last words to my mom.”