It is perhaps one measure of an actor's ability when they can remain in character and in the scene when their partner goes off script. It is in this area where Essence Atkins believes she can hang with the best of them. As Ashley, the adult-in-the-room ex-wife of man-child internet superstar Marlon Wayne (Marlon Wayans) in the NBC sitcom “Marlon,” which returns for its second season today, the 46-year-old Brooklyn, New York, native often finds her ability to think on her feet challenged by the series star's tendency to improvise.
“I think this is part of why Marlon wanted me for the role,” she says of Wayans, who is also the series' creator and executive producer, “that I'm able to keep in mind what the story is and where the story needs to go and kind of bring him back. Let him be as free as possible but keep him tethered to the story and bring us back into the whole overall arc of what it is we're trying to say. And stay within the bounds of the character. But it's super fun.”
“This show is loosely based on his real life,” she continues, “so the fact that he trusts us to know these characters and to be able to improvise ourselves and contribute, which he's always encouraging all of us to do ... you know, when you feel appreciated and trusted, it's such a great environment to flourish in in a workplace.”
The second season continues the premise of the first, in which the amicably divorced spouses are committed to co-parenting their two children Marley and Zack (Notlim Taylor, Amir O'Neil). The Waynes still love each other and would probably still be together were it not for Marlon's tendency to exhaust Ashley's patience and goodwill.
Now that the characters are established, Season 2 will be about the storylines, says Atkins. One episode will deal with the H&M sweatshirt controversy while another is about how Marlon never told his family about his divorce. And in another storyline, Wayans' sister Kim guest stars as a therapist counseling Marlon and Ashley.
“She's just hysterical,” the actress says. “She plays our therapist, kind of a like an Iyanla Vanzant character, so she's fantastic and hilarious. But I think you see, particularly in that episode, where the issues are but you also see where the hope might be in terms of will they/won't they?”