EXCLUSIVE: Marlon Wayans Opens Up About Having 'Real Conversations' With His Kids and Co-Parenting With His Ex

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Marlon Wayans is returning to TV with his new NBC family sitcom, Marlon, in which the comic stars as a somewhat juvenile single father trying to co-parent his two kids with his much more mature and intelligent ex-wife. The show takes inspiration from Wayans' real life, but the star says his parenting philosophy isn't exactly the same as his on-screen counterpart.
The 45-year-old star recently spoke with ET's Courtney Tezeno at YouTube Space LA, where he opened up about his progressive parenting style.
"I stopped being their dad a long time ago. I was like, 'We're going to be friends,'" said Wayans of his 15-year-old son Shawn, and 17-year-old daughter, Amai. "As a dad I don't want to be all possessive like, 'Who you talking to? I want to meet 'em!' I don't want to be sitting there shining bullets. No, I'm going to be your friend."
Wayans said that the dad he plays on TV doesn't really act the same way, because his on-screen children are a little younger. However, in real life, he says it's important to have your kids' trust.
"At a point when they become teenagers and they're dealing with real stuff, you have to have real conversations," he explained. "Because what you don't want is sneaky kids. If you tell me what's poppin', I can protect you. But don't come to me after the fact. If you come to me and say, 'Dad, I'm thinking about having sex,' I'm like, 'OK, well here's what you need to do.'"
Waynes shares his two children with his ex, Angelica Zachary, and the actor says they are still very close and great at co-parenting because they still have a lot of respect for each other.
"At the end of the day, the person that you had those children with, you love and love dearly. And I always will," Wayans said. "I'll always have nothing but love and respect for that woman. I think of her as my family."
"We go to dinner, we go to the movies, we hang out, we laugh. Now, she won't give me none, but that's OK," Wayans joked.
On his new sitcom, Wayans explores the often under-represented friendlier side of divorce with Essence Atkins, who plays his ex-wife. And the star had nothing but praise for his talented co-star.
"She's awesome, man! That woman gets me. It's weird. We have like, this set marriage," he said. "When I'm on set and I'm doing my little runs she's always in pocket. She's always supporting me. Always keeping us in the scene while I'm doing all kinds of crazy things. And that's hard!"
"She's never breaking. She puts her head down, bites her lip, does what she's gotta do, but she just stays in it. It's a joy working with her every day," he added. "When we have our emotional scenes and you telling someone that you love them, it's good that you actually love someone. So I really love working with Essence."
With his return to TV, Wayans is looking to change the way he does comedy and bring a whole different presence to the screen.
"I think in the first 25 years of my career, all I cared about was being funny, " he explained. "Just to push the envelope [and] to go past the uncomfortable feeling of 'Should I laugh at that?' and continue to go."
"I look at the art of comedy now and I go, 'I know how to make you laugh. Now I want to make you think.' And most of all I want to make you feel," he continued. "If I can do a combination of those three things with great character, with a strong perspective, with truth, with humble, loving approach… then I think I have the matrix to be great."
The veteran comic is also getting ready for the upcoming release of his raunchy romantic comedy Naked, in which he plays a man who goes out for drinks the night before his wedding, and wakes up the next morning totally naked in an elevator. He's forced to relive the same awful day over and over until he can get his wedding day in order and become the kind of person who deserves to be married.
The role called for Wayans to show a lot of skin, and the star says he had to put in the effort to get camera ready.
"I did a lot of squats, worked real hard," the comic recalled. "I had two female trainers to work with me, because I don't want to be jacked in movies, I don't want to be distracting. I want girls to be like, 'He has a nice body,' but dudes not to go, 'Man, I wish he'd put some clothes on!'"
Check out the video below to hear more about how Wayans got ready for his totally nude scenes in Naked.
Marlon premieres Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. Naked hits Netflix on Aug. 11.