By accepting the role of “Audrey,” Kim Wayans boldly pushed her professional envelope in Pariah, Dee Rees’ critically-acclaimed feature film. Although a few humorous moments emerge on-screen, the beloved comedienne fearlessly tackled her first dramatic role. A true actor, Kim Wayans can seamlessly juxtapose tears of laughter and pain.
In the midst of a promotional campaign for Pariah’s theatrical release [limited – December 28, 2011 – New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco; nationwide – January 2012], Kim Wayans squeezed some time out of her busy schedule to chat with AllHipHop.com’s Alternatives – reflecting on her connection with “Audrey,” Hollywood’s small cadre of leading women, and the influence of growing up in the Wayans household.
AHHA: Your role in Pariah is very dynamic. From beginning to end, “Audrey” steadily reveals the varying layers of her character. What aspect of her life story were you able to connect with on a personal level?
Kim Wayans: You know, not really. What resonated with me was that Audrey is like the kind of person who puts her expectations for her happiness onto other people. It’s like she gets all these expectations and stuff about her husband and about her child. When her expectations aren’t met, she’s very disappointed, even devastated. There were periods in my life where I was guilty of that, of putting the responsibility for my happiness on something outside of myself, and I don’t do that anymore. I haven’t done it in years.
I’ve matured past that and understand that your happiness and your joy has to come from within, and that everything else outside of you is just gravy. I really understand that. But that was something that I identified with, with Audrey, and was able to hook into just that aspect of just being so disappointed by things that didn’t happen in life that I expected to happen. But more than anything, I felt just a lot of compassion and a lot of empathy for her. I didn’t see her as like a monster or like a villain. I just saw her as a desperate mother struggling to do what she felt was the best thing for her child. So, she’s coming from a place of love. However misguided it is, she’s coming from a place of love. She’s not a hateful, mean person who’s just trying to destroy her child’s life.
AHHA: Looking back on your personal life, how did you overcome similar struggles? More often than not, we tend to be our harshest critics?
Kim Wayans: I started reading a lot of those self-help books. I went on a ten-day silent mediation retreat, and that opened my eyes to a lot of different things about me and about things that were sources of unhappiness, the self-created unhappiness. And I just started realizing that for as long as you put your happiness in somebody else’s hands, that’s a very vulnerable position to be in, and it’s nobody’s job to make you happy. It’s your job to be happy, and that true happiness and true joy comes from within. It’s not anything outside of you that can make you happy or can make you sad when it’s taken away. But that joy of being is yours.
AHHA: Very true! Thank you for sharing. Even though your life and Audrey’s life don’t match-up necessarily, as you embodied her spirit, in which scene did you find your emotions running high?
Kim Wayans: I had several difficult scenes, but the most difficult scene for me was that final scene where Alike (Adepero Oduye) comes to me with her open heart trying to connect with me and trying to give me her love and I reject her. That was the scene that broke Audrey’s heart and broke my heart. It’s just a very difficult scene to play because it was just very difficult to get into that space. For me, it’s unthinkable that you could give your child up for anything, but especially for something like their sexuality. So to have to inhabit that space where I’m prepared to close the door of my heart to my child was very difficult.
AHHA: With such an emotional scene, did you find yourself improvising on the set? Considering your background in comedy, I am curious to know if that skill translated to this film?
Kim Wayans: Well, the scene wasn’t an improvised scene. Actually, I did almost no improvisation in this movie. It’s just a beautifully written script, so everything was just right there. There was just maybe one: the dinner scene at the kitchen table. What Dee would do is give us plants. She would whisper something into Alike’s ear to say something different than what it was that we were expecting her to say. That was the extent of any kind of improvisation that I, in particular, was involved in.
How my comedy helped me is doing all those wacky comedy sketches freed me up. They just made me feel that I’m open and I’m fearless. I don’t worry about how I’m going to look or worry about how this is going to be perceived. I just go there. I just go where I need to go, and so I was able to take those skills and use them in this format, as well. To just go there and to be unencumbered by anything other than doing what it is I needed to do, which was to tell Audrey’s story.
AHHA: With the release of Pariah, the cast and crew are slowly writing a new chapter in film history. When I look at the trajectory of your career, from the 1980s to the present, you have observed and experienced first-hand the limited – yet growing – presence of female actors, writers, directors and producers in Hollywood. Examine your life and place your career within this context. What accomplishments are you proud of attaining?
Kim Wayans: You know, I could go on and on about the struggles of Black women, in particular in our industry. The roles are very limited. Not very plentiful. And it’s frustrating that here we are in the year 2012 and we still just don’t get the amount of work we need to be actresses who are working more than they are sitting home waiting on their next gig. What I try to do is occupy myself by being proactive. Instead of sitting around moaning and groaning about what’s not available, I try to create the stuff that I want to do and then find a way of expressing that. I wrote a one-woman show: [“A Handsome Woman Retreats”]. That was very successful, and I continue to do it. I’ve written children’s books. I have six children’s books on the market. I have several screenplays and different things that I’ve written.
Hopefully, I can just get to a place where people stop asking me: “You got anything?” [laughter] “Yeah, I got something!” [laughter continues] So, I just stay creative. I just stay occupied, and I choose to use my energy in positive, uplifting ways instead of sitting around getting bitter and all twisted lips because the role, the work is just not there. The latest thing that we’re shopping around now is a pilot for a TV series called “Growing Up Wayans.” I wrote it with my husband and my brother is executive producer. It’s a really wonderful sitcom that is inspired by our upbringing, and it’s told from my mom’s point of view of what it was like to raise a large family in a New York City housing development, struggling and determined to give your children the tools that they need to lead successful lives. So, it’s a great family show that’s full of heart and full of laughter. We’re shopping around different networks and cable stations and trying to get it popping. So, I stay proactive.
AHHA: As a member of large, well-known family, your comedic roots run deep. It is obvious and apparent that your humor and talent have been nurtured – as a bonafide “Wayans” – but that much of it is innate as well. What attribute of your character would be missing if you had grown up in a different environment? What trait to you directly credit to being a part of this family?
Kim Wayans: I think my openness. The amount of love that I have in my heart. I have so much love in my heart because I’ve always had so much experience working my heart muscle, loving all my wonderful brothers and sisters and my mom and dad. It’s like a training ground for opening your heart and to being generous and to being loving. You know, you have to share. When you have that many brothers and sisters, and you don’t have much in terms of financial means and material things, you have to learn how to share. So I think that, like I said, my generosity and my openheartedness and the amount of love that I have are all directly related to the family that I grew up in.
AHHA: Reflecting upon the Pariah experience, how has it helped you evolve?
Kim Wayans: You know, when you think of a film, you think of something that has the quality of a classic. Something that can just go on and on. Ten years from now, people can watch this film and still be affected by it and still be transformed by it. And this kind of film, because of its universality of theme and all the beautiful elements of this project, make it something that’s going to stand the test of time.