— by Larry Carroll
BEVERLY HILLS, California — As long as there have been movies, there have been visionaries eager to revolutionize how we look at them. From DeMille and Harryhausen to Lucas, Spielberg and Cameron, new technologies like sound, stop-motion and CGI have been bravely adapted while generations of audiences rushed to get a glimpse.
Now, it might just be time to add a new name to that august list of innovators: Wayans.
"We're not trying to break new ground and make [exhibitors] break down the "theater systems they've already got and put in all-digital video players," promised Marlon Wayans, perhaps referencing the THX sound systems George Lucas helped popularize, which require specific room design and equipment. "We're just trying to tell some jokes, man, that's all."
"It's not like we set out to change technology," explained Shawn, another of the three brothers behind "Little Man," a seemingly goofy comedy fueled by unsettling CGI imagery of a man's (Marlon Wayans') head grafted onto a child's body. "We just wrote a concept, and then tried to find technology to execute our vision."
The film tells the story of Darryl (Shawn Wayans), a wannabe dad who mistakes a tiny thief named Calvin (Marlon Wayans) for an abandoned toddler and adopts him. Much like the Wayans' 2004 smash, "White Chicks," the new film uses cutting-edge Hollywood craftsmanship to pull off a concept that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
"We had the private eye, Head Detective," older brother/director Keenen Ivory Wayans said of the initial concept, which the family used in early '90s "In Living Color" sketches starring Damon Wayans as an investigator who was lacking a body. "That was an early idea, and then I played a character on a late-night show called Baby Keenen, an X-rated stand-up comic who was a baby. All of these 'Little Man'-type ideas spawned this movie."
After locating a London visual-effects house called the Moving Picture Company, the Wayans realized they could convincingly graft Marlon's head and comedic performance onto the body of a 2-foot-6-inch body double (a young actor named Linden Porco) who would perform on-set with Shawn and the other actors. Much like their Paris-Hilton-as-an-albino characters in "White Chicks," the result is something simultaneously humorous, groundbreaking and more than a bit disturbing.
"You come up with the idea, you write the movie, and then you go, 'Wait, can we actually do this?' " said Keenen. Then, recalling a recent screening, he added, "Marlon asked one of the people in the audience, 'If you found me on your doorstep, what would you do?' The lady said, 'I'd close the door'. "
"They just seem to be getting weirder and weirder," marveled Kerry Washington, the "Ray" actress who found herself caught in the middle of the Wayans on the "Little Man" set. "It probably isn't the weirdest movie I'll ever do, but it's definitely the weirdest movie I've done up until now.
"They were making fun of me for all kinds of things," Washington remembered of the shoot. "They were making fun of me as being a serious actress. They would often say, 'Does that work with your motivation?' "
As the 29-year-old actress quickly learned, there is one thing the Wayans are more interested in than technology: discovering someone's weak spot for laughter.
"What I do when we're in a scene is I try to make him laugh — like if I get silly, Shawn will literally break character," Marlon grinned, saying that he sees himself as a modern-day version of comic pioneer Tim Conway, who was known for cracking up co-stars — particularly Harvey Korman — on the set of "The Carol Burnett Show." "Me and Keenen call [Shawn] Harvey Korman, because Shawn will be in this scene and I'll do something crazy, and he'll just go and start laughing, but that's the cute part about it."
Occasionally, they say, their director needs to remind them that the cameras are rolling and that time is money. "Keenen may get mad at first," admitted Marlon.
"But then Keenen starts laughing," grinned Shawn. "Like when Marlon had 'new mouth' in 'White Chicks.' "
Laughing at the phrase, Marlon explained: "Keenen had made me cut my moustache off, so I was sitting there with no moustache, and my lip looked real big. It was like a camel, like a smooth camel."
"So he was trying to do a serious scene," Shawn added, "but he was close up on me, and his mouth was moving and I just kept laughing. At first, Keenen was real mad, but then he looked at the video playback and he started laughing at Marlon's mouth, too."
When straight man Shawn does get goofy, Marlon said he can't help but pull a Harvey Korman himself. "[I crack up] when he gets silly and turns into Jell-O," he said. "I like when Shawn 100 percent commits to characters. In 'Little Man,' he made me laugh being the happy-go-lucky dad; that was a lot of funny stuff."
Soon after the release of "Little Man," the family plans to begin work on their next "high concept" film (see "Rewind: Sometimes 'High Concept' Is Just Plain Old Awful"), one that could similarly exploit a new technology and bring them one step closer to being mentioned in the same breath as Lucas and Spielberg. But always planning to keep the comedy first, they promise to draw the line before their baby successes make them too gaga over special effects.
"You ain't gonna see two penises talking," pledged Marlon. " 'The Vagina Monologues,' yes. But 'The Penis Dialogues'? I don't want to see that."
"Yeah," laughed Shawn. "That's hacky."