Essence Atkins Talks ‘A Haunted House,’ New Motherhood

It’s not too late to check out A Haunted House in theaters, which stars Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins. Speaking of the latter, we caught up with Atkins to chat about how she got roped into shooting a movie twenty two days after giving birth. She also explains the horror and comedy connection and more. –Starrene Rhett Rocque

How did you get involved with A Haunted House?

It’s interesting. I’d just had a baby and 22 days later I get a call saying Marlon requested to meet with me. And I was like “I just had a baby!” I wasn’t even thinking about auditioning or meeting anyone. But because I’d worked with Marlon before, twice before—once in the 90’s on The Wayans Brothers, their TV show and then on Dance Flick—I was like “Okay…I just had a baby, but I’ll be there.” So I met with the casting director and just had this great meeting. Two weeks later, I get a call from producers and they said, “We saw a lot of people. We loved what you did and we want you to be a part of this movie. Are you up to it?” And I was like, “Uhhh…If the doctor says I am.” And as soon as I got my clearance that Friday, we started work that Monday. Six weeks and one day after my son was born. And if you see the movie you can tell. My boobs are ginormous. My boobs are like ready to explode at any second because I was breastfeeding and lactating.

It’s funny how the movie is a spoof but the reactions are more like what would happen in real life.

We are saying what everyone is thinking. That’s what I love about it. We go to the movies, we see these movies and we are literally asking questions out loud at the screen. “Why are you going in there? Don’t do it!” We actually ask these questions in the movie out loud, like we’re responding to the viewers because we know. We know that’s what we do.

Did you study the real Parnormal Activity flicks for inspiration?

I love horror movies. Horror and comedy are distant cousins because it’s really about taking the audience to a place of expectation. And in horror, it’s something that frightens you and in comedy, its something that makes you laugh. But there’s a lot of tension involved in watching both if it’s done right. And usually if it’s done well, then you are surprised because you didn’t see that coming. You didn’t see the joke coming. You didn’t see that scary moment coming. So they’re distant cousins and I love horror. I’m all about being scared and action and blood and guts. I’m kind of like a dude in that way.


How  much of the movie was improv vs. scripted?


I would say the ratio was probably like 70/30. We would do takes as written and then Marlon, because he’s so creative and because he’s an actor—just being a writer and producer, he trusts the actors he hired. He says, “Ok, Now do what you wanna do with it.” And it’s so great to work in that kind of environment where you feel trusted, where you feel like you’ve been hired to do something and the person who wrote it has kind of released it to you and says, “Ok, now play and have a good time.” And like I said, in the final edit, I think it was 70 percent scripted and 30 percent improvised, which is part of why I think the movie is so funny.


How awkward was it doing sex scenes with Marlon?

[Laughs] Oh God yeah it’s always awkward. I mean, it’s like 30 people in the room watching. And the director’s scream out “Can you moan a little louder? Can you ride it a little more?” And you’re just like, “Really? Umm..Ok” And you’re in a room with like 30 people and they’re all kind of scrutinizing and watching. Yeah, its always very vulnerable when you’re in this position but you have to kind of let go of your vanity and your self consciousness, if you’re gonna do a good job. Just like in real sex [laughs]. I can’t believe I just said that but it’s true.

You must have tons of wild moments from set, huh?

Oh yeah. I bit Marlon’s ass [laughs]. You see Marlon’ s butt so much in this movie, and in one take, we were doing this scene where I was supposed to wake him up because he passed out. And Marlon would start out fully clothed and the next thing you know, he’d come of the bathroom and he’s got plumber’s crack. And so I’d smack him like “Malcolm (character’s name), wake up.” And one scene and he had pulled his boxers down and his butt was out so, I bit it. And then we finished the scene and he goes “Did you bite me on the ass!?” And I said “Yes, I did. Put it away.” It didn’t make the cut but it made him laugh. He was like “You did something I was not expecting.” Yeah, he loved it.

Do you actually believe in ghosts?

I do. I believe that there is some spiritual stuff going on, some other realm stuff going on. I think it’s very possible. But I’ve said this before. I think that if you encounter a ghost, I was raised where you respect your elders. So, if you encounter a ghost and they tell you to get out, you should respect your elders and get out. Don’t challenge them.

Going back to you just delivering your son prior to taping, how do you balance work with motherhood? Was he on set with you?

No, he wasn’t. He was very young. He was only 43 days when I started, but I’d pump breast milk on set and I would bring it to him the next day. It’s a delicate balance. It’s a work in progress. That’s the one thing I know. As women, when we decide to do it all—homemaker, mother, career person—we have to be patient with ourselves and loves ourselves through our moments when its not so easy and moments when we feel overwhelmed and learn to ask for help. That’s something I’m having a hard time with though.

What else are you working on?

I’m hosting the Trumpet Awards in Atlanta on the 26th and it’ll be broadcast on TV One this spring. Are We There Yet? is still airing new episodes on TBS. And I’m working on a show called Mr.Box Office with Bill Bellamy, Rick Fox, Jon Lovitz and Tim Meadows.