Wesley Snipes, From Ballet to Blade

Submitted by Paul Fischer on Tue, 03/19/2002 - 01:27

Paul Fischer traces Wesley Snipes career from Bronx boy to the upcoming second part of the Blade trilogy which, says Snipes, is so action-packed "it's gonna blow your mind".

Originally aspiring to do ballet, Florida-born Wesley Snipes grew up in New York's the Bronx where he developed an early interest in acting and attended Manhattan's High School for the Performing Arts. His mother moved him back to Florida before he could graduate, but after finishing up high school in Florida, Snipes attended the State University of New York-Purchase and began pursuing an acting career. 

It was while performing in a competition that he was discovered by an agent, and a short time later he made his film debut in the Goldie Hawn vehicle Wildcats (1986). 

Although he appeared in a few more films during the 1980s, it was Snipes' turn as a street tough who menaces Michael Jackson in the Martin Scorsese-directed video for "Bad" that caught the eye of director Spike Lee. 

He was so impressed with the actor's performance that he cast him in his 1990 Mo' Better Blues as a flamboyant saxophonist opposite Denzel Washington. That role, coupled with the exposure that Snipes had received for his performance as a talented but undisciplined baseball player in the previous year's Major League, succeeded in giving the actor a tentative plot on the Hollywood map. With his starring role in Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever, Snipes won critical praise and increased his audience exposure, and his career duly took off.

That same year, Snipes further demonstrated his flexibility with diverse roles in New Jack City and The Waterdance. Both performances earned strong reviews, and the following year Snipes found himself as the lead in his first big-budget action flick, Passenger 57 which proved to be a hit. Snipes' other film that year, the comedy White Men Can't Jump, was also successful, allowing the actor to enter the arena of full-fledged movie star. 

After a few more action stints in such films as Rising Sun (1993), which featured him opposite Sean Connery, Snipes went in a different direction with an uncredited role in Waiting to Exhale (1995). The same year he completely defied his persona with his portrayal of a flamboyant drag queen in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar. 

Snipes' diversity continued in such films as The Fan (1996), Mike Figgis's One Night Stand (1997) -- for which he won a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival -- and as Alfred Woodard's handsome cousin in Down in the Delta in 1998. 

That same year, Snipes returned to the action genre, playing a pumped-up vampire slayer in the original Blade and a wrongfully accused man on the run from the law in the sequel to The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals.

Snipes will hit cinemas again as the half-human, half-vampire Blade in the slick, Guillermo Del Toro-directed Blade 2, set and shot in the Czech Republic. 

This time around, Blade must align himself with a high-powered team of vampires to take on a greater evil than either has ever faced -- a new kind of super-vampire that is itself on a vicious hunt to eradicate both races.

It was an elegantly attired Wesley Snipes who talked vampires, action movies and getting older in a tough business to Paul Fischer in L.A.

Paul Fischer: So what can we expect from this new "episode" of Blade?

W.S: Well, this one is over the top! It's gonna blow your mind because it's full of non-stop action. You know, I loved the first one, even if it was slow at times, this was the beginning of the trilogy, because this is how the writer/producer David Goyer, always saw it, like a three part big action adventure, but in this one we really pushed the envelop in terms of action, of emotion since we tried to have some semi-romantic link for Blade and also in term of the shooting; you'll see camera moves that will blow your eyes out off their sockets!

P.F: You went with a tough and dark horror director, Guillermo Del Toro, why this choice?

W.S: Well, it's true that at the beginning there was a little bit of hesitation with him because he is know for more gory, dark and depressing kinds of horror films like "Mimic" or "Cronos" and this one, "Blade 2", had to be a comic tale full of speed and action. But Guillermo had so many good ideas with the monsters, with the vampires, with the weapons of Blade, he is so detailed oriented that we thought he would be perfect. Also, we wanted to pump up the level of emotions in this film, you know, it's like a Greek tragedy with lots of dramatic conflicts between each characters and Guillermo gets the emotions, he knows how to make them stick in the middle of all the action scenes.

P.F: When did the training start for this?

W.S: I was filming Undisputed, a boxing movie, just before we started Blade 2, so I was already in training and pretty much in good shape. And I trained in Prague a lot. But you know, because I've been doing martial arts, and yoga, and mediation, and following a good diet, it doesn't really take me too much time to be in shape and ready for a film like this. When you have a regular health discipline, your body stays in shape all the time. I've been lucky to never stop exercising and in this film it's cool to have incorporated all kind of fighting and physical styles, from a Hong Kong style in the opening,  to a more "Wesley style" which is more ju-jitsu, African, kick-ass whatever I feel like, so it was intense but fun.

P.F: So, why do Blade 2 at this point in your career?

W.S: Well, I've been quite busy with other business ventures and with my production company, Amen Ra, we've been forging relationships with HBO, New Line and various filmmakers. I've created also a VIP personal protection company and trying to create a few businesses for my friends and partners in order for them not to depend only on my film successes. 

P.F: What's the difference between doing more character-based dramas and this type of action film?

W.S: It's a different animal. The action movie requires much more physical dedication and focus, you have to be careful because of potential injuries and so it's very hard and you have to be cautious, while the drama taxes the emotions, and so if you're using some past experienced trauma and try to use it for a scene it might move you beyond expectations.

P.F: You're a quite a fighter with a black belt, yeah?

W.S: Yes, yeah, I guess, and it's cool to have some black belt in martial fighting but it doesn't mean you can fight. To fight you need heart and I'm lucky that I have that, and that's all you really need at the end of the day. 

P.F: Is it harder to fight as you get older?

W.S: Sure, I get sore quicker so there are many more massages than before!

P.F: Any good masseuses in Prague while you were shooting Blade 2?

W.S: (laughing).You bet, but you know I was doing the super-hero so I had no time for that, just for pure pleasure!

P.F: What about the use of CGI in some of your fight sequences?

W.S: Well, I thought this was great because we didn't want to suspend reality like in The Matrix but wanted  the action to really keep going and keep blasting so CGI helped us to enhance this and to create scenes that are unseen until now.

P.F: I understand that you did some puppet theatre when you were younger ?

W.S: Indeed, I used to do puppet theatre and also mime and musical theatre in Florida for competitions and festivals, which was great. I was very much involved in theatre when I was in college. It's funny because all I wanted to do when I was young was to become a dancer and then I went to acting school, where they taught me great drama! And that was it, I became an actor.and the rhythm went through the door. But I can still do some dancing, some choreography in my films and that's cool.

P.F: So what are the things you've tried to do with Blade 2 compared to the first one?

W.S: Well, first we wanted to enhance Blade's romantic life, and get him laid! Also we wanted to make it a different environment. Initially it was going to be Vegas but Prague came up, for various reasons, and that's where we went. Also we wanted to make Blade feel more at ease with what he is. I think that when we do the next one, Blade 3, by early next year we will go down that road of enhancing his emotions even more but by keeping the action and the stunts breathtaking as well. I'm in shape so it's now or never! I just want to go ahead and do it and then just watch cartoons on TV and relax, put the Blade suit in the closet.

P.F: What do you think about seeing so many African Americans nominated this year in the Oscar race?

W.S: It doesn't really have any personal effect on me. I'm happy for them but they go to the people who deserve them and it's not a question of colour or race. It's all good, we are all good and coming together.

P.F: Do you believe in Vampires or did you meet any?

W.S: Well, yeah. There are Vampires all over... right here!

P.F: What other languages do you speak?

W.S: Well... that would be Hip Hop!