At first glance, “Little Man” fits neatly into the jewel-heist movie genre. Of course, being a Wayans film (Keenen Ivory Wayans directed) the phrase “jewel-heist movie” hardly begins to capture the film’s weirdness, as Marlon Wayans plays a CGI-crafted pint-sized robber named Calvin hoping to get his diminutive hands on an enormous diamond. Marlon recently sat down with MTV News’ Chris Williams and weighed in on working with his siblings, growing up poor and the young actor who provided him with his little onscreen body.
MTV: Your older brother Keenen has been in the business for quite a while. What was it like working with him on “Little Man”?
Marlon Wayans: When we were young, all of us gathered around this black and white TV that our family had — it looked like it was snowing on every station because the reception was so bad, and we couldn’t afford an antenna so we used a wire clothes hanger. It didn’t have knobs, either — we used pliers to turn the channels, and we turned it on and off with a knife. Anyway, this was in 1978 or 1980 or something, and there we were, watching my brother on TV with Johnny Carson.
From that day on we thought he was a millionaire, but of course he wasn’t — he was just broke and on TV. Years later, though, he was instrumental in getting all of us out of that [poverty].
I like working with Keenen a lot. He gives all the other actors directions, but he just tells me and [brother] Shawn [who plays my adopted father in the film] what to do. Because we have the same life experiences Keenen can direct me with a sound. He would make a sound and I would know exactly what movement or face to make. We had a shorthand way of communicating, because he kind of raised us. I don’t think another director could have talked me through it, but my brother is a damn genius at it.
MTV: How has success changed you?
Wayans: It just makes you feel good, man, because we were poor. We were poor as hell. We were “bread and mayonnaise and no meat in the middle of the sandwich” poor. Flour, water and no chicken. Just flour, water and some oil. Fry that up. Matter of fact, we didn’t have salt. We just sweated. My mother’d say, “Don’t wash! Save that sweat to season the flour!”
It’s a beautiful thing that we were able to make it out of there.
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MTV: You spent the whole shoot acting against a green screen, right?
Wayans: Yeah, basically I filmed two movies. I would go down to the set and watch what they were doing — you know, Shawn kind of needed me to be there — and when I was filming no one came to the set. It was me and the green screen and, like, cardboard pictures of Shawn. I had nobody to work with so that was kind of hard. And I had to act in a chair, a swivel chair. When Linden [Porco, the 9-year-old whose body was digitally melded with Wayans’ head] turned, he turned fast because he’s compact. Everything he does is fast. And you have to keep your face in a certain expression and your body in a certain position and act like Shawn’s there, when he’s not there. He’s at the gym working out and resting and enjoying himself in rainy Vancouver when you’re there working by yourself. Vancouver! We filmed in Vancouver for three months and it rained every day. I almost built an ark — Marlon’s ark. I was going to get two frogs, two camels, two girls …
It was also hard because Shawn got to kiss [co-star] Kerry Washington, but I got to kiss this green ball. I had to literally make out with a green basketball. That’s my life. I guess Tom Hanks had Wilson when he did “Cast Away,” and I had Spalding. One of my friends told me that joke.
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MTV: What was it like working with Linden Porco?
Wayans: Linden Porco — that little guy is great. He’s a good actor and he was fun on set. He made me a little insecure at first. Keenen would give me directions like, “Do it more like Linden! You’re taking away from the Linden Porco-ness of it all!”
I felt a little jealous, but he did such a fantastic job. He’s such a great kid and he’s so talented and so physical — the body movements were perfect. Every time we gave him a direction he just took it and I thought, “Together we’re like peanut butter and chocolate.”
MTV: And how was it for you, creating this character of Calvin?
Wayans: We would have loved to shrink me down and had me change the world — you know, “Little Man in Space” — but the reality was that we didn’t have that kind of budget. So we had to work with what we had.
MTV: Like the green screen?
Wayans: It was definitely a tough thing, that first week. I was like, “How do I do this?” It was impossible. But what I love about Keenen is that he doesn’t let you have any excuses. He would just say, “You’ll figure it out.” And guess what — eventually, I figured it out. There were no excuses. We had to do it. We had a shot list we had to hit, so Keenen was like, “Don’t complain to me. I don’t want to hear about the problem.”
MTV: What was it like seeing the Calvin character for the first time onscreen?
Wayans: The first time I saw myself with my head on Linden’s body I kind of bugged out, because it was seamless. I really couldn’t tell. Am I really that short? I see the scene and I’m sitting there laughing and going, “Oh, my God, I can’t wait to see this movie.” Normally I don’t see our movies after we do them, but I’m going to see this one. A couple of times.
Be sure to watch the “Little Man” episode of Your Movie Show, Monday, July 10 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on MTV.
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