*“This was my 3rd collaboration with Marlon. The first time we worked together was in ’95 on “The Wayans Brothers” show. And we worked together in the movie “Dance Flick,” says Essence Atkins as we sit together in her hotel room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
“What makes acting in a film vs. TV different is your character has the chance to evolve over a long period of time.” – Essence Atkins
Although she has been doing interviews all day long (its about 3:30pm. now), she is the picture of sheer perfection. Her makeup is immaculate, and her hair…well, suffice it to say that not a strand is out of place. She is a petite little thing; wearing a lovely white pantsuit, with a black top, and her spirit is undeniably warm.
Who is Essence Atkins?
Essence Atkins is an actress best known for the roles of Dee Dee Thorne on the UPN sitcom Half & Half and as Yvette Henderson on the The WB sitcom Smart Guy. She is currently starring in the TV series Are We There Yet? as Suzanne Kingston-Persons.
She started her career at a young age of 14 and has featured in a variety of movies and TV shows, including How High, Deliver Us from Eva, Family Matters, Sister Sister, and The Cosby Show. One of her television roles was in the Saved by the Bell spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The College Years. She appeared in the pilot, but when Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, a regular from the original, opted to return, Atkins’s character was written out.
She also had a main role in Smart Guy as the older sister Tasha Yevette Henderson, as well as the starring role of Dee Dee Thorne in the series Half & Half, playing half-sister to Rachel True’s character. She also has a recurring role on Mr. Box Office starring Bill Bellamy.
Essencd is in an interethnic marriage to Central American former college football player Jaime Mendez and the couple have a one year-old son named Varro Mendez.
Essence on juggling motherhood with acting…
We know you just had a baby, are you going to bust a stitch?
“And when they called, literally, my son was 22 days old…And I was like, ‘Marlon wants to meet with me…but I was curious and I couldn’t say no,” she continues to describe how she became involved with the film, “A Haunted House” with Marlon Wayans.
“So I went and I had a meeting with them about this movie. We talked, we worked on it, and we had this great meeting and I left and I was like, oh that was fun. Then two weeks later I get this phone call and they were like: “We saw a lot of people and we really want you to do it but are you post-partum?” (Laughs).
Essence says her son was 6 weeks and one day old when they started shooting the film. When asked about the challenges, she did not deny there were some.
Although she had four stunt doubles, she did a lot of the stunts in this physically challenging role, herself. There is a crazy shot of her crawling up the wall—ala “The Exorcist”—and the scene is not done by a stunt double. Its pure Essence; as is the crazy banister scene, while Marlon is busy with his headphones on.
“They made sure I was safe. They took good care of me. We had a great stunt coordinator who just made sure everything was OK; and tried everything out really slowly, and had patience and was very genteel with me. But it made me feel invincible. I felt like I could do anything. I don’t know if going through 40 hours of labor does that to a person, but I think that may have been a byproduct of just having had a kid.”
Essence on stereotypes of ‘black women’ in Hollywood…
Fans may not necessarily equate Essence Atkins with a sistuh-type. We know she is African American, but many may not have thought of her as someone who would tackle a roll such as this one – in a Marlon Wayans film. She speaks on this,
“That’s one of the misnomers I think that I dispel whenever I’m given an opportunity because there is so much more than we give ourselves credit for. There is a deeper experience to the Black experience than just singular and just because someone can coordinate their verbs and nouns in the proper context doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have a lil’ hood or a lil’ edge and can’t connect with that other element.”
As the actor reflects on her character in the movie “Dance Flick” she says many people don’t even realize that it is her because the character has a really rough edge.
“I changed my voice, I changed my look. I like to facilitate the character,”she says.
Extremely proud of a compliment given to her by co-star and executive producer, Marlon Wayans, Essence says:
“He said I am so good at comedy because I lack a vanity that gets in the way; that most women have about themselves…I really enjoy kind of abandoning that self consciousness and really going, ‘does it facilitate the joke, does it facilitate the story, does it make sense’ and if it does, game on!”
Essence on working on ‘A Haunted House’…
“ I’ve worked with Michael [before] as well, on ‘Dance Flick,’ and Rick [Alvarez, Co-writer]. Again, it was like a reunion for us to be in the same room together, a collaborative.”
“And what they give you to do is to use the script as a blueprint and just kind of jump off from there and… so it’s a great thing when you have that trust from your director, from your producer and the writer; who just kind of say that the reason we hired you was because we thought that you could service our interpretation, but we also thought you could add to it, that you could supplement it.”
“And that is just such a great platform from which you can work. You’re like, ‘oh wow, great, you’re gonna let me freestyle on this’? (I high-five her on this one!)”
Essence on difference between TV and film…
When asked if she prefers TV or film, Essence had this to say, though it didn’t necessarily appear to be an easy answer, she is squirming a little bit.
“Now, I really enjoy both. TV is probably my home, you know. Films are the vacation. It’s like, ‘oh, I want to go to a tropical destination for a couple of weeks, or a month, or two, or four; and then I’m gonna part ways and release it.”
“But with TV it really feels like the home life, you know. That’s the day-to-day ; the same people, the same crew, the same destination, the same family, and the same writers; so it becomes way more familiar, like home.”
Essence on her role as ‘Dee Dee’ on the sitcom ‘Half & Half‘…
She says that what makes acting in a film vs. TV different is this:
“In a film, you’re acting for say ninety minutes or 120 minutes; whereas TV, you have the chance to evolve; your character has the chance to evolve over a long period of time.”
“I started as Dee Dee on “Half N Half” and my character is not anywhere to where she ended up 91 episodes later. You know when she started she was a law student. She was very selfish and she was kind of very disconnected to the spirit of her sister, which is what she wanted to move into the same building [for] to have a relationship with [her].”
“But she’s very disconnected to how insensitive her life and how spoiled her life had made her. By episode 91 it was a very different person. She had graduated law school; she had encountered failure as a lawyer, she had, you know, not been employed for a while and had to budget ; she had this whole time of living life under the same roof of her sister and getting to know Mona and her battles and insecurities, and all of that.”
“And I think that that Dee Dee in episode 91 was very different than the one that was in the pilot; so that’s the thing that can happen. But again, its prolonged for days, and months, and years if you get a good show and its allowed to mature in a much kind of slower process.”
“Doing a movie is just like (snaps figures here to emphasize ‘fast’)…it’s a lot…the detail is much more specific because you have more time, but at the same time the process (snaps fingers again) is more expedited.”
Watch the trailer for Haunted House below:
- KolorBlind Spotlight: Essence Atkins … lights, camera, KolorAction! (kolorblindmag.com)
- Official Poster for A Haunted House Materializes (dreadcentral.com)
- A Haunted House Review (uniearebelution.wordpress.com)
- Video: Marlon Wayans at it Again With ‘A Haunted House’ (atlantablackstar.com)
- A HAUNTED HOUSE: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:02.1 (cinefantastiqueonline.com)
- ‘A Haunted House’ Star Marlon Wayans: ‘I Got Twice the Meat’ as Channing Tatum (hollywood.com)