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Laughing All the Way Into Overtime

Movies* Making and promoting a basketball farce is a lark for two members of the cast.

June 24, 2002|TERRY ARMOUR | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO — Kim Wayans and Tommy Davidson are sitting at a table in Edna's, a popular soul food restaurant on Chicago's West Side. Folks are strolling in and out, showing them much love.

Wayans and Davidson are eating it up.

They pose for pictures. They sign autographs. They mingle with the 100 or so people who have joined them for breakfast on this rainy Chicago morning as part of a radio promotion for the new movie "Juwanna Mann," which opened Friday.

"Sometimes you go back to Hollywood and you go to the networks and they act like [black actors] are not even out there," Davidson says while acknowledging a curious woman whose face is pressed against a restaurant window. "But I walk into Edna's and everybody--from babies to old people--knows who I am. I get to be a damn star for a while. I can hardly get through the velvet rope at an 'N Sync concert, but everybody here knows who the hell I am!"

Both Davidson and Wayans, chatting during a much-needed coffee break at Edna's, let out hearty laughs. They say they did a lot of laughing and clowning around on the set of "Juwanna Mann," about a brash NBA star (Miguel Nunez) who gets banned from the league but resurfaces as a woman and plays in the WNBA.

Hmmm. Sounds like the Bulls' former cross-dressing rebounding machine, Dennis Rodman.

"Now that I think about it, there is an element of Dennis Rodman in the story," says Davidson, looking across the table at Wayans, who nods in agreement. They both laugh.

The two, who have known each other since they were part of the cast of the in-your-face sketch comedy show "In Living Color," go back and forth like this all morning. With Wayans egging him on, Davidson explains that his over-the-top character in the movie--street-hustling rapper Puff Smoky Smoke--is based on several people he's come across during his life.

"It's a combination of people I have grown up with, people I have seen on music videos and people I have worked with," says Davidson, who finishes his thought in his character's voice. "It's just that 'street genius.' He just swears he knows what he's talking about. You can't tell him anything."

And then there's Wayans' character, Latisha Jansen, a lesbian who openly--and comically--drools over her teammates.

Wayans has friends in the WNBA, including New York Liberty star Teresa Witherspoon, who helped Wayans work on her basketball skills. Does Wayans expect any negative feedback?

"My character is a lesbian--that just happens to be who she is," Wayans responds. "Lesbians like women. I'm not saying all women in the WNBA are lesbians. I didn't say that I was the poster child for the WNBA or anything like that. I'm just being true to my character. Kim Wayans has played an array of characters."

Then, as if she catches herself being too serious, Wayans lightens up.

"If she sees a fine woman, she's going to mack on her," she says while leaning forward in her chair. "And she likes the ladies."

Wayans and Davidson are now unwinding in a private room at the ESPN Zone on Ohio Street after another stop to promote "Juwanna Mann." They've been up since 6 a.m., and eight hours later, they're starting to hit a wall. But they're still talking, particularly Davidson. He blames his adrenaline rush on the coffee; Wayans says it's a combination of the coffee and Davidson.

Wayans, who considers herself a big fan of the WNBA, says she has noticed that the league is now pushing the feminine side of its players in TV spots. She sees nothing wrong with it.

"It's a business," Wayans says. "Sex sells. They use sex--half-dressed women--to sell toothpaste these days. Now, I'm not going to make a judgment call on whether they should or should not do it. But I understand the strategy behind it. If a little belly button is going to get somebody to tune in to something really great that they need to be seeing, more power to them."

Wayans looks at Davidson and begins to break into a smile. Without missing a beat, Davidson responds.

"In every NBA commercial just put me in a G-string and let me do my thing," Davidson says. "That will bring in some fans."

They're both laughing again.

*

Terry Armour is an entertainment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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