Born in Orlando on July 31, 1962 to Marian, a teacher’s aide, and Wesley, Sr., and an aircraft engineer, Wesley Trent Snipes was raised in the South Bronx, although the family moved back to Florida before he was able to graduate from NYC’s famed, Fiorello La Guardia High School of Music and Art. Still, Wesley went on to study drama in college at SUNY Purchase’s prestigious acting conservatory.
However, he dropped out during his junior year to pursue his passion professionally. In Hollywood, the versatile thespian’s stage and Shotokan karate training came in handy in helping him land a variety of roles. The accomplished actor/black belt’s long list of credits on his enviable resume’ include the “Blade” Trilogy, “Jungle Fever,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “U.S. Marshals,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” “New Jack City,” “Murder at 1600,” “The Fan,” “Demolition Man,” “Passenger 57,” To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar” and “The Art of War.”
Wesley’s many accolades include a couple of NAACP Image Awards and making People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World List. And he and his second wife, artist Nikki Park, are raising their four children both in the U.S. and South Korea. Here, he talks about his latest film, “Brooklyn’s Finest,” a gritty, NYC crime saga, directed by Antoine Fuqua, which co-stars Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Ellen Barkin, Lela Rochon, Will Patton and Vincent D’Onofrio.
Kam Williams: Hey, Wesley, thanks for the time. We met last year in New York when you were receiving an award at the Jacob Javits Center.
Wesley Snipes: Oh yes, wonderful.
KW: Laz Lyles asks, what drew you to “Brooklyn’s Finest’s” script, especially with the screenwriter [Michael C. Martin] being a first-timer?
WS: Well, it wasn’t as much the script, as it was working with this cast and with Antoine Fuqua. So, I’d have to say that the idea of working with them motivated me more so than the script.
KW: Why so?
WS: I wanted to work with the ensemble of great actors that Antoine Fuqua had assembled. He and I had talked about doing a film together maybe about three or for years prior to actually working on this one. We were trying to find the right project. He was working on other things. I was working on other things, and was out of the country. Then there was a window if opportunity, and he said, “Wes, I want you to play this.” I had some reservations, because of that Nino Brown reference [the character he played in “New Jack City”]. But he basically explained to me, “that’s part of the reason I want you to do this. The characters have some overtones of that old Nino’s type of lifestyle.” When he told me that Don [Cheadle] would be playing the other character, and who else would be in the cast, I was like, “Well, let’s do this!” [Chuckles]
KW: Richard Gere… Ethan Hawke… Ellen Barkin…
WS: It’s always great when you can work with an ensemble of very, very talented people. And Ellen and I had worked on “The Fan” together.
KW: Don’t you sometimes have a clash of egos, when you have so many stars on the same set?
WS: I didn’t experience that. I actually love the ensemble environment. That’s what I come from, the so called “bus and truck” repertory theater. So, you put me in with a group of artists, and it’s like a breakdance battle. “Let’s go!”
KW: I know that your family moved back to Florida while you were attending a prestigious acting academy in NYC. How did you prevent that disruption from spoiling your dreams?
WS: After I finished high school, the first chance I got, I caught a Greyhound bus back to New York where I ended up being accepted to a program in drama at the State University at Purchase.
KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls says that from “The Waterdance” to “Blade” you have handled many different roles. She wants to know which one is your all-time favorite?
WS: That is.
KW: Jimmy Bayan asks where in L.A. do you live?
WS: [LOL] What, does he want to come over for dinner? I’m a universal man, but tell Jimmy I’m back and forth between the East and West Coasts a lot.
KW: Documentary director Hisani Dubose is interested in knowing how you positioned yourself to play Blade, the first high-impact, black superhero. She said she knows that your company, Amen-Ra, co-produced it, but it still must have been a major task.
WS: It was challenging. It was one of our firsts, and it was early on in the game. I had an inkling that it was something that hadn’t been done before, and some of my management at the time didn’t approve of the idea. They actually told me I shouldn’t do it. But I reflected on the fact that we had never seen a film like that before, not just a black superhero, but a black, vampire superhero who fights martial arts. I thought, “We gotta try this, even if just for the fellas around the way.”
KW: Larry Greenberg, says, after I receive my black belt in Kempo, I am considering looking at another martial art form. Which one would you recommend?
WS: Shu-to Kwon Do. [Laughs] No, that’s a joke. I would recommend, Yoga.
KW: Yale Grad Tommy Russell asks: “Do you think Obama will be able to resuscitate the healthcare reform bill?”
WS: Resuscitate it? Doesn’t something have to be alive first to resuscitate it?
KW: Tony Noel asks, as a martial artist, who do you see as the next generation of martial arts actors coming into prominence?
WS: That’s a difficult question. It’s hard to tell because a lot of martial artists aren’t strong actors, and a lot of actors aren’t strong martial artists. But we hope to be able to produce some of them through our company in the near future.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would? WS: Nothing that comes to mind.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
WS: I am full and well.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
WS: [LOL] Yesterday.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
WS: ”From Fatigued to Fantastic” by Jacob Teitelbaum.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What are you listening to on your iPod?
WS: The Larry Levan Story, the whole series.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
WS: A beautiful expression of God having a wonderful human experience.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
WS: Grits and eggs. [Chuckles]
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
WS: [Whistles] Oh man… Playing with my babysitter’s toes.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
WS: Long-lasting health.
KW: Thanks again, Wesley, and best of luck with Brooklyn’s Finest and all off your endeavors.
WS: Thank you.