Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Wesley Snipes was one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. His roles in New Jack City, White Men Can’t Jump, Passenger 57, Demolition Man and Blade made him one of the best-paid and most popular celebs around.
Since then, however, his star has somewhat faded, leaving many to forget this action movie titan. Now, join us as we delve into the fist-pumping, wall-jumping world of Wesley Snipes, with 20 fun facts about this underrated actor.
19. He’s a double black belt
You may have noticed from films like the Blade trilogy that Snipes is pretty skilled in the field of martial arts.
But what you may not have realised is that he really is a martial arts expert.
Snipes started learning martial arts at the age of 12 and we went on to earn a 5th degree black belt in Shotokan Karate.
He also achieved a 2nd degree black belt in the Korean self-defense style of Hapkido.
He was also taught capoeira – an Afro-Brazilian martial art that incorporates dance and acrobatics – under acclaimed Mestre Jelon Vieira.
He is also skilled in several other disciplines, including kung fu, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and kickboxing.
18. He was almost Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation
Believe it or not, Snipes was almost cast in the legendary sci-fi TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation.
He was strongly considered for the role of Geordi La Forge, a part which eventually landed on LeVar Burton’s desk.
Back in 1987 when the show first aired, Snipes was still very much an up-and-coming star.
He was yet to star in New Jack City or White Men Can’t Jump, and so casting him in Star Trek might have been considered too risky at the time.
Instead of appearing in Star Trek, in 1987 Snipes appeared in comedy film Critical Condition, making a cameo as an ambulance driver.
The film received mixed reviews, but Snipes managed to secure his breakthrough role in acclaimed film New Jack City in 1991 in any case.
17. He almost played Black Panther in the early 90s
- Credit: Marvel Comics
Nowadays, the late, great Chadwick Boseman is practically synonymous with Black Panther or T’Challa, king of Wakanda in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Panther was released in 2018, but there were initially plans to make another Black Panther film some years earlier.
Snipes told The Hollywood Reporter back in 2018 that Marvel had actually approached him about a potential Black Panther movie back in the early 90s.
However, the project was plagued with issues – Marvel was still relatively new and far from the production powerhouse it is today.
The whole thing was eventually scrapped: “we couldn’t find the right combination of script and director and, also at the time, we were so far ahead of the game in the thinking, the technology wasn’t there to do what they had already created in the comic book,” Snipes explained to The Hollywood Reporter.
Of course, Snipes did go on to play a superhero in a 1990s film, starring as Blade in 1998 – a film which resultantly had a huge impact on the MCU.
16. He stole Prince’s role in the music video for Michael Jackson’s Bad
You may have forgotten – or never even noticed – that Snipes appeared in the music video for Michael Jackson’s song Bad.
Not only that, but the actor actually claims he “stole” what was meant to be Prince’s role in the video.
Speaking on Conan in 2016, Snipes explained how he wrested the role from the 80s singer.
“Me and Prince were auditioning together, and I blew Prince out of the water,” Snipes recalled.
“Michael had told Prince that he had the role, and then he met me. This is a true story,” he stated. “Michael met me then kicked Prince to the curb.”
Snipes’ performance in the video caught the attention of director Spike Lee, leading to roles in Major League, Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, King of New York and – most importantly – New Jack City.
15. He was so difficult to work with on Blade: Trinity he would only communicate via Post-it Notes
Reports have indicated that Snipes has become increasingly difficult to work with over the years.
For example, during the filming of Blade Trinity, Snipes’ erratic behaviour included chasing the director, David S Goyer, around the set and spending hours in his trailer smoking…substances.
Not only that, but by the end of filming it’s rumoured he only communicated with others via post-it notes.
VICE asked Snipes to confirm or deny the post-it notes rumour in 2018, to which he replied: “That may have happened.”
Snipes’ Blade Trinity co-star Patton Oswalt told The AV Club it was “a very troubled production.”
If the stories about the post-its and chasing Goyer round the set are true, “very troubled” would be putting it mildly.
14. The Blade: Trinity FX team had to digitally open Snipes’ eyes for one scene because Snipes refused
Snipes was notoriously difficult to work with on the set of Blade: Trinity according to his co-star Patton Oswalt.
According to director David S Goyer’s DVD commentary for the movie, on one occasion Snipes refused to open his eyes.
Naturally, the production team couldn’t just leave in one scene with Snipes’ eyes closed for no reason.
It was especially important that Snipes opened his eyes as this happened during a scene where Blade is thought to be dead – and then suddenly opens his eyes.
And so the team were made to use digital effects to sub in CGI eyes for Snipes – and it’s pretty obvious that the eyes are fake.
Snipes has always been fairly coy when it comes to explaining his behaviour on the set of Blade: Trinity and has never publicly commented on the closed eyes debacle.
13. He sued New Line Cinema for $5 million over the Blade: Trinity debacle
Fresh from the allegedly drug-infused troubles of Blade: Trinity, Snipes sued New Line Cinema, as well as the film’s director David S. Goyer.
Snipes claimed that the studio did not pay his full salary and sought more than $5 million in damages.
He also claimed that he was cut out of casting decisions and that his character’s screentime was reduced in favour of Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel.
The actor also felt that he wasn’t permitted to object to Goyer’s “juvenile humour” in the script before shooting started.
Snipes also claimed that the believed Blade Trinity was made primarily to enable spinoffs featuring other cast members.
Ultimately the case was settled out of court and no details about the case’s resolution were shared with the public.
12. He temporarily converted to Islam
Snipes was raised a Christian, but he converted to Islam in 1978 before leaving the religion behind a decade later.
He said in a 1991 interview: “I like to read about different religions – Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism.”
“It was actually my martial arts training that got me into it – after all, it’s quite spiritual.”
“And at the theater, they always tell you what you’re not. That actually made me wonder who I actually am.”
“[Islam made] me more conscious of what African people have accomplished, of my self-worth, [and gave] me some self-dignity.”
It’s unclear why Snipes left Islam in 1988, but he has since said that he still holds a great deal of respect for the religion and Muslim people.
11. He credits his daughter with saving his life on 9/11
Devastatingly, Snipes’ New York apartment was destroyed during the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Thankfully, at the time of the attack he was in California with his wife and newborn daughter.
Snipes credits his daughter for saving the lives of both himself and his wife.
Snipes’ daughter Iset Jua-T was born in Los Angeles in July 2001, meaning both Snipes and his wife had not yet travelled back to New York with their newborn baby.
“We were taking care of her in Los Angeles, because there’s a tradition that you don’t travel with a newborn,” he recalled after the incident.
Almost 3,000 victims were killed in coordinated terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001.
10. He was incarcerated for three years for tax fraud
Money and power can be a dangerous mix. In 2010, Wesley Snipes joined the growing list of celebrities who’ve been incarcerated.
He began his three-year sentence in McKean County, Pennsylvania in December 2010, after being convicted of failing to file US federal income tax returns.
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
He tried to appeal but the United States Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal in June 2011.
He was released in April 2013 and spent the rest of his sentence under house arrest, completing it in July that same year.
- Credit: Nicolas Genin via Wikimedia Commons
He rarely speaks about his time behind bars, but he recently did so in an interview with the Guardian in November 2020.
“As far as the streets were concerned, it didn’t change their appreciation for my work and my artistry one bit. Not one bit,” he said.
9. He originally wanted to be a professional dancer
Back when Snipes was a kid, he enjoyed physical activities such as basketball, martial arts, and dancing.
He also enjoyed acting and talent shows, and even landed a small role in a local play when he was 12.
But despite his success as a young actor, Snipes always believed his future lay with professional dancing.
He enrolled at the High School of Performing Arts as a teenager and hoped to study both acting and dance.
However, he quickly realised that pursuing acting would lead to a more rewarding and enjoyable career.
Snipes continued to dedicate himself to acting throughout his time at high school and university. Shortly after he graduated he was cast alongside Goldie Hawn in 1986 film Wildcats.
8. He trashed John Singleton’s Shaft remake after Samuel L Jackson was cast as the title character over him
Snipes was initially supposed to star in John Singleton’s 2000 remake of 1971 ‘blaxploitation’ film Shaft.
But Snipes reportedly dropped out of the film due to “moral reasons” and went on to call the resulting film “offensive.”
“There’s only one Shaft – Richard Roundtree,” Snipes said to reporters back in 2000, referring to the original 1971 film.
He went on to say: “if you’re going to do a remake there’s only one person that can do that – Snipes, period.”
“I was offered the film and it was terrible, horrible. It was an insult not only to the African-American culture, but an insult to what the icon of Shaft was.”
Samuel L Jackson went on to play Shaft in Singleton’s remake. Snipes continually stressed that he had no issue with fellow actor Jackson, but instead was being critical of the film itself.
7. He’s great friends with Woody Harrelson
White Men Can’t Jump sees Snipes team up on screen with fellow acting veteran Woody Harrelson.
The film saw the two buddy up and hustle street ballers who underestimate Billy’s (Harrelson’s) ability to play basketball.
But this wasn’t the first time Snipes and Harrelson appeared on the silver screen together.
The two actually first appeared alongside each other in the 1986 film Wildcats and have been firm friends ever since.
Harrelson even wrote a character reference letter for Snipes during his trial for tax evasion.
In the letter Harrelson called his friend a “true citizen of the world” – but unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to spare Snipes from jail time.
6. He deliberately sabotaged Keanu Reeves’ White Men Can’t Jump screentest
Snipes and Harrelson are great together in White Men Can’t Jump, partly because the two have such real chemistry in real life.
In fact, it was their real-life bromance which actually landed Harrelson the role, as Snipes sabotaged the other candidates.
As Snipes was cast as Sidney Deane first, those in the running to play Billy Hoyle were made to do a screen test with Snipes.
Keanu Reeves was one of the actors vying for the part of Billy – but naturally, Snipes was keen for Harrelson to land the part.
Snipes purposely acted awkwardly alongside Reeves in his screen test to improve Harrelson’s chances of getting the role.
“[Reeves] would improvise and say something where there would be a natural response from me, and I just left him out there like dirty laundry,” he told Entertainment Weekly back in 1992.
5. He was supposed to play Hale Caesar in The Expendables
Not many people know that Snipes was initially supposed to play Hale Caesar in popular film franchise The Expendables.
However, back when the film was being produced, Snipes was embroiled in a tax evasion conviction.
He was unable to leave the country, and so unfortunately, director Sylvester Stallone was forced to reconsider.
Ultimately Terry Crews landed the role, and Snipes was sentenced to three years behind bars in December 2010.
Stallone was reportedly so impressed by Crews that he changed parts of the script just to give him more airtime.
Snipes does appear in The Expendables 3 as Doctor Death, or ‘Doc’ – admittedly a much smaller role than Caesar.
4. He once got into a high-speed police chase for real
Snipes famously had a run-in with the law back in the early 2010s as he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to three years behind bars.
But this wasn’t the first time Snipes found himself in hot water with the authorities.
Back in 1994, he led police on a tense 120 mph chase down Florida’s Turnpike.
The Martin County Sheriff’s Office were alerted to a motorcyclist speeding down the turnpike and they promptly headed over.
The motorcyclist then led officers on a 30-mile chase that only ended when he crashed and officers closed in on him.
Doubtless the officers were surprised when the fallen motorcyclist turned out to be Wesley Snipes. Snipes was charged with reckless driving, fined $7,150, and was sentenced to 80 hours of community service.
3. His family left New York just as his career as a child actor was taking off
It was clear when Snipes was just a boy that he had a promising career ahead of him.
Snipes was attending the High School of Performing Arts where it became apparent that he had a talent for acting, but was forced to move back to Florida before he could graduate.
To make matters worse, the school and Snipes’ classmates went on to feature in Fame, which was filmed at the High School of Performing Arts in 1980.
Snipes unfortunately missed out and was unable to appear in the film as he’d moved to Florida shortly before shooting began.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, on the very day that Snipes left New York he received a call from legendary Broadway theatre director Joseph Papp.
Papp wanted the fledgling actor to feature in his production of the musical The Me Nobody Knows – but of course, it wasn’t to be.
2. He takes credit for Robert Downey Jr’s success as Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr dazzles as Iron Man, but Snipes actually takes credit for Downey Jr’s stellar performances.
Speaking to the Telegraph in 2014, Snipes recalled a phone conversation he had with the Iron Man star wherein he imparted some words of wisdom to the nervous actor.
“I remember he actually called me, but I didn’t return the phone call at the time,” Snipes claimed.
“Robert was concerned before Iron Man and was trying to find out what it’s like to play this comic book character, because I had already done Blade.”
“Not to say that… OK, I’ll take all the credit for his success as Iron Man,” Snipes asserted.
To be fair to Snipes, some critics have gone as far as claiming that without Blade, there would be no Marvel Cinematic Universe.
1. Tekken’s Raven was modelled after Snipes
If you’ve ever played fighting game Tekken, chances are you’ve stumbled across the character Raven.
Raven was introduced in Tekken 5 and has appeared in all subsequent games besides Tekken 7.
Raven was based on Snipes himself: both the video game character and the actor are accomplished martial artists.
Raven even looks like Snipes: Raven’s blonde hair borrows from Snipes’ character Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man.
The character also borrows from Snipes’ most famous role, Blade, in terms of style and appearance.
Raven’s “I’ll see you in hell” ‘win pose’ is also a reference to Blade’s signature “catch you later” point and walk.