In the 1990s, Snipes was one of the most dynamic actors in Hollywood, displaying his diverse talents in a wide range of films. He was nasty as crime lord Nino Brown in 'New Jack City,' turned in gripping performances in Spike Lee's 'Mo' Better Blues' and 'Jungle Fever,' showed his funny side in 'Major League' and 'White Men Can't Jump,' and even played a saucy drag queen in 'To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.' But what made him a worldwide draw was playing action heroes in such films as 'Passenger 57' and the 'Blade' franchise. Recently though, Snipes' career (and personal life) hit a rough patch. Wesley Snipes is back.
In the 1990s, Snipes was one of the most dynamic actors in Hollywood, displaying his diverse talents in a wide range of films. He was nasty as crime lord Nino Brown in 'New Jack City,' turned in gripping performances in Spike Lee's 'Mo' Better Blues' and 'Jungle Fever,' showed his funny side in 'Major League' and 'White Men Can't Jump,' and even played a saucy drag queen in 'To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.' But what made him a worldwide draw was playing action heroes in such films as 'Passenger 57' and the 'Blade' franchise. Recently though, Snipes' career (and personal life) hit a rough patch.
Starring in straight-to-DVD titles consistently for the past five years, Snipes looked like he was the latest action superstar who couldn't change with the times. Then, in April 2008, things got worse when he was sentenced to three years in prison for failing to file tax returns from 1999 to 2001 (he's free on bail while appealing the ruling).
Snipes returns to the big screen in this weekend's 'Brooklyn's Finest,' 'Training Day' director Antoine Fuqua's latest police drama (which also stars Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle). This is Snipes' first big-screen starring role since 2004's 'Blade: Trinity' and shows there's more to him than just kicking ass. In the film, he plays quasi-rehabilitated drug dealer Caz, who attempts to get out of the hustle after one last big deal. Unbeknownst to him, however, his most trusted soldier (Cheadle) is an undercover cop.
In the role, Snipes shows he still posses the chops that made him such an engaging actor to watch a decade ago ... but don't tell him that this is a comeback role.
You and Antonie had been trying to work together before 'Brooklyn's Finest,' right?
Man, for 10 years.
That long? How did you know him?
Well, he actually asked to have a meeting with me in California, and he came to my house and we talked and made promises and he left and I was like, yeah, whatever [laughs]. But sure enough, we stayed in touch over the years and kept looking for our opportunities and this one came along and it was the right time for me and him.
Were the projects that you guys were trying to do in the same subject matter as this film?
For the first eight years it was, "Are you around? Are you available?" That kind of thing. But we were initially, and we still are doing a piece on 'These City Walls' (On the 2006 Black List, which spotlights the year's best unproduced screenplays, the story follows a man who, after delivering a teen girl to his pimp benefactor, attempts to rescue her) which is probably the best dramatic script that I have ever read being in the business. It is like 'Wall Street' meets 'Taxi Driver.' It's an awesome piece. We tried to get it made and funded and we were going through that process, then this was ready to rock and roll and he read it and said, "Wow, I want Wes to play Caz." And I said, "What about 'These City Walls?'" And he said, "Yeah, yeah, we're going to get to that, but right now just come and do this." I really didn't want to play another drug dealer. I didn't want to bring that Nino Brown thing back. People get too hyped on it and I'm not trying to project that with cats just killing themselves left and right. And Antoine was like, "No, no, that's not how we're going to do it. He was a contributor to the destruction and the demise of his community, he recognized the error of his ways and that the hustle game is futile and he wants out."
In the conversations you had with him over the years did he even mention casting you in 'Training Day'?
No, but I was thinking, he did 'Training Day,' this is probably going to be good.
Did he tell you that most of your scenes were going to be with Don Cheadle?
Oh, that was the hook that got me [laughs]. I respect Don's talent and his range immensely and was very much looking forward to the opportunity to work with him. In fact, the first thing I wanted to do was exchange lines with him. It's like being on the court, let's D-up. Before the game let's see the skills, is it fake or is it live, and it was real.
I read somewhere that at a screening of 'Brooklyn's Finest' you told the crowd you were considering a few years ago of getting out of acting.
Yeah. That's true. A lot of people in the industry, their only interest is in making a lot of money and not in the art, and I butted heads with that. I said to myself, look you made some nice paper, your skill set is strong enough where you can perform in other places and other venues. I can speak a couple of languages, or my ears are good enough to learn a couple of languages, so you can perform someplace else. You don't have to stay in Hollywood. So I thought about quitting. And then a cat came up to me one day and said, "Everything you guys have done has changed my life and how people in my country see you, please keep doing what you're doing because I used to be invisible and now they recognize me as a man." So, I was like damn man, I was almost out.
Did you also feel that your tax issues were affecting the roles you were trying to get?
No, I was having these thoughts way before that and it just bubbled to the surface in the last few years. Trying to do films and being accustomed to having rehearsals and getting a chance to work the scenes out with your fellow actors and then getting on the set, where you have $30 million into the movie, but they don't want to have a rehearsal. That's insane!
So you don't feel you aren't getting the roles you want since your tax troubles?
Not at all.
Then when people say that 'Brooklyn's Finest' is Wesley Snipes' comeback, you don't believe that.
I'm appreciative of the recognition, but I've been here for years. Like, LL says, "Don't Call it a Comeback" [laughs]. I was doing films all around the world, my fan base is expanding exponentially and I was in the game of doing the straight-to-DVD projects, unknowingly, long before others figured out that that was the move, that's where you can make a lot more money. Because people don't realize that the majority of revenue that's generated from feature films in America is from DVD and international sales, not box office. So there are cats out there making more money on that side of the fence then they are getting in contracts with a studio, so I went over to that side of the fence. [laughs]
What are the films that people always mention when they come up to you?
Top five are 'White Men Can't Jump,' 'Major League,' the 'Blade' films, 'New Jack City' and 'To Wong Foo.' Oh, and can't leave out 'U.S. Marshals,' a lot of police and military guys love that film.
Is there a character you've played that you love the most?
A couple of them, for different reasons. The Blade character was for me a childhood dream. Except for 'Blackula,' I had never seen a black vampire and never one that was a martial artist. And anything with Woody [Harrelson] I've had a ball. All of those characters, just being on screen with Woody is an absolute blast.
That's funny, because I interviewed him for 'The Messenger,' and he said he wants to make more comedies. So here's my pitch: You and Woody get together and do a 'White Men Can't Jump' sequel.
Absolutely. We've been trying to figure out what the confidence game would be and how we can rehash those two characters and advance them forward. I mean, we can't do the basketball thing again because, like any kind of hustle, you have to do it full throttle.
You and Woody are still in great shape, you can be like the old kings of the court, but you two can still beat the young guys.
[laughs] The geriatric pair. Wearing our Huggies and stuff like that like.
Do you want to do another 'Blade'? I know there was a lawsuit for a while.
That's all squashed. Yeah, I'd be open to it. I think the fans have expressed an enthusiasm for it. What's amazing is even journalists, who seem to be fans of the film, have expressed interest in seeing me revisit that role. But we've created something that's going to put 'Blade' to sleep. I try to tell people, 'Blade' was an experiment in what we thought we could do, now we know what we can do and we're much better at it. And vampires are on blast right now, but not that many black vampires.
Though you're in incredible shape, do you feel there's a cutoff date where being an action star isn't believable anymore?
I can tell even in my recovery time that unless I really change my lifestyle, which I'm not prepared to do, I only have a couple of more years of being able to do it with the intensity and energy that I'm doing now. I mean, Jackie Chan is amazing to me, but even Jackie is using more and more stunt doubles. But he's 55; if I'm 55 and doing the action thing I won't be doing what he's doing and I'll have a lot more stunt doubles. [laughs]
Do you still do most of your stunts?
I still do most of them, my main stunt guy is still down with me, but interestingly enough my guy is the guy who wears the Iron Man suit and does the stunts for that film [laughs]. So you have Wes's energy in the Iron Man suit.
So you have been around, we just don't recognize you.
There you go. Exactly. [laughs]