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Rodrigo Medeiros

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Wesley Snipes

     
 

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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 them.
 
 

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 audience.
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 films.
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!
   
 

More topics:

The Vampire Movies

Wesley's Martial Arts Training
     

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