Marques Houston: Renaissance Man

In 1994 the youthful R&B trio Immature issued their debut album, Playtyme Is Over, when Marques Houston was only 11-years-old. Singing lead on many of the group’s standout tracks, Marques’ star potential became evident. That same year he joined the cast of the television show Sister, Sister as the precocious Roger, displaying scene-stealing appeal up […]

In 1994 the youthful R&B trio Immature issued their debut album, Playtyme Is Over, when Marques Houston was only 11-years-old. Singing lead on many of the group’s standout tracks, Marques’ star potential became evident. That same year he joined the cast of the television show Sister, Sister as the precocious Roger, displaying scene-stealing appeal up until the show’s 1998 finale. With his manager Chris Stokes steadily guiding him, Marques’ career continued to flourish as Immature adopted the more grown-up moniker IMX in 1999.

Learning the ins and outs of the game, he began to provide mentorship for his brother Omarion’s hugely successful group B2K. The next few years saw his own stock rising significantly, with a warmly accepted solo debut, 2003’s MH, and the 2004 dance-heavy hit movie You Got Served earning $40 million – five times its production budget.

Now 23-years-old and seasoned with experience, Marques’ career is stronger than ever. In addition to his sophomore effort, Naked, he also has his first television starring role on UPN’s new comedy Cuts, a spin-off of the show One on One, which premieres on February 14th. As indicated by the vibrant first single “All Because Of You”, his upcoming album should cement his smooth transition into adulthood. Alternatives spoke with the multi-talented artist about his present moves just before he hit the set to continue filming Cuts. Alternatives: In 1999, you played Roger on Sister, Sister and you’ve had a bunch of small roles on various shows since. With this new show, Cuts, you’re the star. Has getting a starring role on TV been a priority of yours since the success of Sister, Sister?

Marques Houston: I never even really thought about it like that. For me, it was always just getting back to TV, and I felt that this opportunity was a good one for me. I took it because I like everything about the role, and I got a chance to work Shannon Elizabeth [of American Pie fame]. Who wouldn’t want to do that? [laughs] Now that I’m in the starring situation, though, it’s a lot of pressure. It’s definitely a lot more pressure than I had on Sister, Sister. I wouldn’t say all the pressure is on me, because I do have a great cast, and I do feel like there is no ‘I’ in team. As a unit, we get it done together. I do think that Shannon and I have the bulk of the load because we’re the main characters. It is a lot of pressure, because there are a lot more lines, and I’m in every scene. The pressure is more than I expected. With my experiences on Sister, Sister and other shows, though, it’s easier for me because I’m seasoned now.

AHHA: Is there anything that attracts you more to television than film, or vice versa?

Marques: No, I like them both. It’s cool because with this, this allows me to be funny and it allows me to be myself and try different things. With film, it’s more challenging because I have to portray different roles. In films, you always get a different role, even if it might seem the same, because you’re playing a different person each time. The part that I like about TV is that you get to be funny and show your comedic side. The side I love about music is that music was born into me. That’s just what I do. I love it all. I love to entertain people.

AHHA: Being that each film role is different, are there any specific types of roles that you haven’t been offered yet but you can see yourself doing?

Marques: I want to play a thug. You know, when you’re with your boys, you do the skits all of the time. I do want to do that, but I want to do it when the time is right. I want to build myself with an acting career that’s diverse, so we’re doing one more dance movie, and then that’s it for You Got Served type films. It’s called Soldier, with myself and Omarion, and we start shooting in April. When you want to be a movie star, you definitely got to pick the right types of roles. You can’t typecast yourself and keep doing the same thing. I want to take more challenging roles.

AHHA: What’s the concept of Soldier?

Marques: Me and Omarion play surrogate brothers from the streets. My pops was kind of his pops too, because he grew up without a father. We play for the same basketball team, but what happens is, my father dies, and that ends up changing our relationship. There was always some animosity between us because I was the real son, and he was the play son. What happens then is he ends up going out to be this big-time choreographer, and I have to stay in the hood to support my family and get a job at a mechanic spot. I have to stay on the streets, even though I have the talent to be dancing too. My mother is on the bottle heavy and the drugs. My character has a lot of responsibilities, and he blames his mother for the way his life has been going. Then, I meet this beautiful girl who changes my life around. It’s a lot more intense and street than You Got Served. I’d compare Soldier to 8 Mile. The roles are definitely more challenging for Omarion and I, because we have to act like we don’t like each other.

AHHA: Was it a surprise to you how strongly You Got Served caught on with the fans?

Marques: No, because I knew we were changing the bar. Chris Stokes wrote that movie like six or seven years ago. It was an idea that he always had, to take the physical choreography that we do in videos and have it meet the street elements of breakdancing and pop-locking. The movie was originally written for a choreographer that we had named Dave Scott, Aaliyah, and Ginuwine. If you notice in the movie, Jennifer Freeman’s character is Liyah, mine is Elgin, which is Ginuwine’s real name, and Omarion’s is David. It was originally written for them five years ago, but things got changed, and when Chris finally got to make the movie, he thought of us as the cast. When the opportunity came to me, I jumped on it instantly. Like, dancing is so big in the videos, but what about the streets? These people make dancing their lives everyday on the streets. I think that was a great opportunity for me.

AHHA: Now let’s talk about Cuts. How much creative input are you allowed to give for your character, Kevin Barnes?

Marques: They give me the opportunity to do my own thing. I’m totally in control of my character, and that’s the good thing about this show. We gel as a cast, and we get that freedom to just wild out and be how we want to be.

AHHA: It seems like your character and Shannon Elizabeth’s character come from two different backgrounds completely. How was it developing chemistry with her?

Marques: It was immediate. It’s funny how it happened almost immediately. The first day we sat down, actually, they brought her to meet me like, ‘Here is Shannon. She’s going to be doing the show with you. Y’all talk.’ And it was like a beat of awkwardness, like, ‘Ok, how are you doing?’ [laughs] Once we started working together, the whole chemistry was immediate. It was great. The whole cast has a great chemistry. That’s the kind of person I am. Whenever I have to work with somebody, I open myself up to be cool with that person and really get to know them.

AHHA: On top of this show, you have your sophomore solo album dropping in April. Did filming the show affect the recording process at all?

Marques: No, because I actually finished the album before I started the show. With the show process now, I’m starting to promote the album too. The schedule is crazy, man. You wouldn’t believe it. [laughs]

AHHA: The title, Naked, implies that its very personal, and you’re giving more of yourself to the listeners. Is that the concept behind it?

Marques: I feel like the sophomore album is more important than the first one. The first album, people don’t know what to expect, but once you set a bar for yourself, it’s almost like you have to top yourself. You can’t go backwards. You can’t be the same. It’s like an athlete who gets better and better every season. There is a lot of pressure on me doing this second album, with which direction to go and which ways to turn. I wanted to be more mature than my first album. It was hard to top MH, though, because in my eyes, that album is a classic to myself and I spent a lot of time on it getting it right. In my eyes, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot with Naked. My voice changed for the better, and I hope people can feel that. My focus with the first album was separating myself from IMX. With this one, I want to let everybody know that I’m a 23-year-old man now. I go through real stuff. I’m dealing with ladies and relationships on a higher level now. I don’t want people to see me as, ‘Oh, he’s cute little Roger from Sister, Sister!’ [laughs] See me as what I am – and what I am is a grown man now.

AHHA: How involved with songwriting and production were you while recording Naked?

Marques: Very involved with the whole process. I only wrote four songs, but I was very involved with every song in one way or another. Chris is my Quincy Jones. If I’m Michael Jackson, then Chris is Quincy. The reason why I have worked with Chris my whole life is that he sees my vision as well as I do. We hardly ever disagree on anything – it’s good to have that strong bond. He’s kept me going this whole time. I trust him to the point where if he says we have to do something, I’m not going to sit there and argue at all. That great chemistry is what led to this album.

AHHA: You’re only 23, and you’ve been in this business for a while now, and have been able to maintain success and keep a level head.

Marques: Yeah, but I feel a lot older. [laughs]

AHHA: I bet. Being able to stay grounded while having a diverse career at such a young age, how have you helped your brother Omarion get through this tough transition of B2K’s breakup and his solo career?

Marques: We don’t really talk about stuff like that. I don’t really give him advice on how to be a solo artist. Our relationship is not like that. It’s not business like that. We focus on being brothers and just being able to do the same thing and maintain a strong relationship. A lot of the time, you can get competitive, and then your relationship can start bending. We focus on the important thing, and that’s our brotherhood. I don’t really like to get involved with trying to teach him so much, because I am still learning a lot for myself. I do teach him, as a person, how to handle things. We did have one sit down conversation, when B2K first broke up. He was shook over that. My thing was just being there for him whenever he needs me. I am just there for him, as opposed to just giving him advice. If you need anything, I got you. He’s definitely going through big changes, but when you’re growing up, you have to experience things on your own. Omarion and I are two different people, so even if I tell him everything that I know, he is going to react to certain situations differently than I would.

AHHA: Switching gears, a lot of your fans are definitely holding their breath for another IMX album. Are there any plans for the three of you to get back together and make that happen?

Marques: 2006! ‘06 baby! Look out for that new IMX album. We started it up already by having Young Rome on my ‘All Because Of You’ first single. That’s our way of getting familiar with each other again. It was good to do that, because that’s definitely a perfect set-up.

AHHA: At this stage of your career, what is the one thing that you’d like people to know Marques Houston for?

Marques: I just want them to think of an overall entertainer. I don’t want them to see me and categorize me as anything. I want them to see me, and see me. See the man, the legend. Look behind the music and see what I stand for, as opposed to what you see on TV.