Wesley Snipes is a lean and athletic 40-year-old who
doesn’t appear to need any bodyguards. His good looks easily lend themselves
to romantic leading roles or parts that call for fighting and handling
firearms. Wesley Snipes is one of the most popular Hollywood stars of the
1990s. He first came to prominence with roles in Spike Lee's “Mo' Better
Blues” and “Jungle Fever.” Snipes went on to prove himself as an actor who
could appeal to all audiences. He is both a man that women want and the man
other men want to be.
He was born in Orlando, Florida on July 31, 1962. Wesley Snipes grew up on
the streets of the South Bronx in New York City, where he very early decided
that the theatre was to be his career. He developed an early interest in
acting and attended Manhattan's High School for the Performing Arts
(popularized in the TV series “Fame” (1980)). Despite the fact that Mr.
Snipes does not often acknowledge it, he did attend the State University of
New York at Purchase and graduated with a BFA in 1985. As the most famous
alumni of this school, he joins the other notable SUNY Purchase graduates
who include: Parker Posey, Sherry Stringfield, Melissa Leo, Stanley Tucci,
directors Hal Hartley & Nick Gomes, and producers Todd Baker and Bob Gosse.
Luck started smiling on him when an agent saw him in a competition and got
him his first movie role with Goldie Hawn in “Wildcats” (1986). He also
appeared in the Martin Scorsese-directed video of Michael Jackson's "Bad".
You can only see him in the full length, 16 minute, black & white/colour
music video. He was the gang leader who threatened Michael Jackson.
He also appeared in a supporting role in “Streets of Gold”
(1986) where he showed his boxing skills. After the video exposure, he made
strong impressions in the baseball comedy “Major League” (1989), Abel
Ferrara's “King of New York” (1990) The role in “Bad” 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 Spike Lee's
1991 “Jungle Fever”, as a middle-class architect who becomes romantically
involved with a white woman, Snipes won critical praise and increased his
audience exposure, and his career took off. He also caught a lot of
attention as a vicious but stylish druglord in the melodramatic “New Jack
City”. Snipes cemented his lead status as a basketball hustler in the
popular comedy “White Men Can't Jump” (1992), opposite “Wildcats” co-star
Woody Harrelson; then gave one of his best performances as a paraplegic in
“The Waterdance” (1992). He toplined his first martial arts action film in
1993, “Passenger 57”. He co-starred in the high-profile thriller “Rising
Sun” (1993) with Sean Connery. He bleached his hair to play a
larger-than-life, futuristic villain opposite Sylvester Stallone in
“Demolition Man” (1993).
Many films followed that helped further establish Wesley’s career. Wesley
feels that he owes a lot to some of Hollywood mega-stars: Sylvester
Stallone, Robert De Niro, Dennis Hopper and Sean Connery. All of them had
veto power over casting and all approved him for the roles he played with
A New Martial Arts Star
Snipes never approached acting from an angle like “wow,
maybe one day I'll be using martial arts on films”. And even while he was
training at the State University of NY in Purchase, he didn't try to include
martial arts in the acting side of his life. But he has been training in
martial arts since he was twelve. And he has trained in a number of styles,
under some really great teachers. A lot of them come from Harlem. Then one
day he was in a casting and he said “Well maybe we should shoot a reverse
punch in there, like that”.
Then some people saw it, and the next thing they said was, “Let's do the
whole movie, it's called ‘Passenger 57’!” “Can I do martial arts in it?” he
asked. They said yes and the rest is history. When I first saw “Passenger
57” I could not believe my eyes. There was this guy who I knew was athletic
and a rather good actor but now he was using these very unconventional and
sophisticated martial arts moves like I had never seen (and believe me, I
have seen a lot).
In “Demolition Man” he fights against Sylvester Stallone in an epic battle.
He draws a lot more attention on him than Stallone does. Stallone convinces
no one that his character’s tough-guy style could win Snipes’ sophisticated
and vicious style of fighting.
Although it was never even his intention to bring that aspect of his private
life to his work, now it's just become the main event of his career. He is a
martial arts star. He doesn't have a problem with it because it opens up a
lot of doors internationally. He has a strong fan base internationally. Then
it also gives the company and himself opportunities to bring more boutique
films and more personal films to the same audience, to that broader
Wesley likes suspense thrillers because he thinks they work consistently.
They are timeless, really good ones. Hitchcock films you can watch now; you
can watch it ten years from now; you've watched it ten years before. Some of
the stuff that Harrison Ford does in terms of his political thrillers, you
still like them, you still watch them. So he likes producing suspense
thrillers and then he adds the extra element of the action on top of it and
in a sense, he is creating a whole different genre of movies. This is his
way of raising the quality of action films, so people don't go and say, "Oh,
another action movie with mindless action." No, they will not say that of a
Wesley Snipes movie.
There are a lot of his sensibilities in his movies, a lot of his tastes, a
lot of his own eye and a lot of his rhythms. Some people do action films and
don’t like them and it shows. His team is educated in and likes action
And that's how his company puts it together; they just want to make slick
movies. They want to make them make sense first and foremost. Then the story
has to be tight, and they need to cast it with some good actors, and then
they'll handle all the action parts.
I would like to add that Snipes is doing something very wise, something that
Bruce Lee first started doing. He and his crew search for effective martial
arts techniques and find a way to incorporate them in their films. He may
not have the kicking abilities of Jean Claude Van Damme but what he lacks in
flexibility he gains in innovation and charisma. He uses street-smart moves
and he has created his own style of fighting, thus creating history in
martial arts films.
I have to say though that in “Blade 2”, they used animated characters in
some of the fighting scenes. I hope it was just an experiment. Wesley, don’t
do it again!
Anyway Wesley has contributed a lot to helping western audiences accept the
role of martial arts in films. After all he has starred in so many
non-fighting films that a lot of his fans are not martial arts fans. We also
have to note that he is one of the few martial artists that do not over-use
wires in their films. He keeps his martial arts very realistic. We in the
martial arts community need guys like him making films. Good luck Wesley -
keep up the good work!