With the Richard Pryor biopic in the works, and comedian Mike Epps chosen for the titular role, it’s a bit too late to recast. But, with newly released footage of Marlon Wayans’ audition tape from when Chris Rock was attached to work on the project, it’s not too late to have some second thoughts and mull over the possibilities and the could-have-beens.
The footage, originally leaked by filmmaker Tambay Obenson on Vimeo, showcases Wayans’ intense and, frankly, pretty damn good rendition of the comedy legend in two powerful scenes. The first is a therapy session with Wayans playing off Omar Epps, with Pryor discussing his oft-talked about self-hate and his tumultuous relationships with the women that tried to curb it. The second, finds Pryor in his element, breaking down on the mic, where he would find the most comfort and acceptance.
Overall, Wayans knocks it out of the park. His performance brings a desperate depth to the complex nature of a man with unfathomable natural talent that could only really be matched by his own troubled past and coping mechanisms that would often lead to his worst lows. Wayans plays Pryor with the wild-eyed sadness clashing with the lightning quick masterfully irreverent humor that typified the legend brushing off his very real hurt. It’s a hard persona to portray, but Wayans manages it.
Generally, I’ve been of the same opinion as Rain Pryor, Richard Pryor’s daughter, in regards to the casting of Epps. Kind of whatever. Epps certainly has the comedy chops, with a career spanning the better part of two decades, and has been in movies, albeit primarily strict comedies. It is easy to confuse reverence with readiness, though one can’t fault a comedian for trying his best to do justice to the role of a lifetime.
That being said, Wayans can play troubled. He can play drug-addled. He can play downright depressing. It seems a lot of people forget his excellent turn in Requiem For A Dream, an underrated role to say the least. And it goes without saying his comedy pedigree is just as valid (or more) than Epps’. For now, we’ll have to hold judgment for Epps’ performance and stare wistfully at this video of Marlon having a stellar run at playing the legend.