Wesley Snipes: The Wisdom of Wesley

Wesley Snipes discusses his new vampire-chic thriller Blade, talks about working with Maya Angelou in his upcoming Down in the Delta, explains why he thinks Sean Connery has African blood, responds to Jennifer Lopez' tales of his romantic aggression and offers to take his pal Woddy Harrelson's interest in hemp.

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When Wesley Snipes was growing up in the south Bronx, his ambition was to be a singer and dancer and make it out of the south Bronx. Sitting now in his Marina del Rey home with views of the Pacific Ocean, he is keenly aware of how far he has traveled in his 36 years. Not only has he appeared in nearly two dozen movies, including such gems as New Jack City, Jungle Fever, White Men Can't Jump, The Waterdance, Sugar Hill and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, he's become an independent producer with the recent The Big Hit and nearly a dozen projects in development. Snipes has made his share of humdrum flicks, like Demolition Man, Drop Zone, Money Train and U.S. Marshals, but ever since his performance in New Jack Cit_y (hailed by no less than Pauline Kael), he's been an actor worth watching, and his best actor award at the Venice Film Festival for _One Night Stand reflects that.

As far as Snipes is concerned, the sky's the limit. Hell soon be seen costarring with Stephen Dorff and Kris Kristofferson in a vampire thriller, Blade, and will follow that with Down in the Delta, directed by Maya Angelou. An outspoken and at times controversial figure, Snipes has had run-ins with the law and with some famous women. As we talk in a room filled with enough electronic equipment to make a cat burglar feel he'd hit the jackpot, Snipes holds two rubber-tipped drumsticks and plays them against his legs, ready to give his side of those stories, and tell plenty more of his own.

LAWRENCE GROBEL: This room is certainly wired. Do you follow what people say about you on the Internet?

WESLEY SNIPES: You get some very unbiased opinions. I'd hear comments like, "Wesley is a good actor, it would be nice to see him in a better film." I agree with that.

Q: Blade's a vampire movie. Are you a vampire in it?

A: I'm half human, half vampire. My mother was bit by a vampire while she was pregnant. It altered my genetic makeup. My only purpose in life is to rid the world of vampires. It's sexy and chic.

Q: You've also completed Down in the Delta, which marks Maya Angelou's directorial debut. How was it working with her?

A: I'm still trying to get over the shock of being directed by Maya Angelou. When I went to college up at Purchase, I was head of the black student association when she came to speak. She influenced me to learn how to find the music in words. You humble yourself when you're around her, but at the same time I was the producer of our film. She's the Queen Mother, but she knew how to come in and say, "What do you think, Mr. Producer?"

Q: Let's talk a bit about your childhood. What were the roughest times you had?

A: I was really short and dark skinned, two issues that motivated more unhappy times than anything else. Lack of money wasn't an issue because nobody had any money.

Q: When did you start to grow?

A: College. I remember talking with some cats about ejaculation. I was about 15 and I could count the pubic hairs I had. They're all going, "Do you? Do you?" I was like, "No. What's that?" I never had any sex education. I asked, "How are you supposed to know when you can ejaculate?" One of my friends said, "This is how you know: there's a yellow ring around the tip of your penis." I was looking for yellow rings for years, man! And I didn't find out until I met this girl who was older and she took me to her house and we did it. I said, "I've got something to tell you--I think I may have peed in you." She laughed, "No, no." Man, that was my first time. And I never found that yellow ring.

Q: Did you make up for lost time?

A: I was always kind of a slow guy. I had acne late, in college. My skin used to be really flawless. Went to college, became a vegetarian, ate a lot of cheese--big mistake. Here I am trying to be healthy and I'm eating grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries every day, having mad eruptions all over my face.

Q: Were you into drugs at all growing up?

A: Wasn't with it. We had cats older than us that would bust our ass if we even considered it. Nobody I knew did that, no marijuana, nothing. We had a Jamaican cat in the neighborhood, a Rasta, he was an herb smoker--and the pariah of the community.

Q: What about the first time you finally smoked a joint, assuming there was a first time?

A: Yeah. [Eyes look upward, sings a high sound of revelation] I can't believe I was so sheltered. [Laughs]

Q: Ever try acid?

A: Never did. My mom put the fear of God in me when it comes to the whole experimental drug thing. I never tried heroin. I'm not passing any judgment at all.

Q: It's OK to knock heroin.

A: To each his own. I'm not a champion for either side.

Q: Let's talk about your controversial film New Jack City. Did the shootings and lootings that occurred outside theaters in big cities it played in concern you?

A: No. [Laughs] Wasn't my problem.

Q: After the LA riots, you visited several high schools--what did you tell the kids?

A: How ridiculous it is to destroy your own property in your neighborhood. It's like throwing a bomb in your house when you're mad at your neighbor. Throw the bomb at your neighbor and deal with the consequences

Q: How important was appearing as a gang member in Michael Jackson's music video Bad, which Martin Scorsese directed?

A: The association was powerful--Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Martin Scorsese. To be in that kind of company was no joke.

Q: What did you think of Michael Jackson's troubles with the young boy?

A: That just was a bad year for cats named Mike. [Laughs] Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson...

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