Wesley Snipes’ career resurrection will hit a high point on March 5 when Amazon Prime Video streams Coming 2 America, the 33-years-in-the-making sequel to the Eddie Murphy-Arsenio Hall hit comedy, Coming to America. The sequel follows Snipes’ well-received turns in Dolemite Is My Name, also with Murphy, and in the heist flick, Cut Throat City, which debuted at #1 on Netflix in January. The actor, who saw his remarkable career (Jungle Fever, White Men Can’t Jump, the Blade trilogy) stall due to bad film choices, rumors of being difficult, and a two-year prison stint (2010-2013) for tax evasion, is enjoying the ride and putting the past in perspective.
Now 58, and a father of five, Snipes co-stars in Coming 2 America as General Izzi, leader of Nextdoria, the African country right next door to Zamunda. Izzi is fearsome, funny, full of surprise dance moves, and ready to make a power play to bolster his family’s influence and exact some revenge against Prince Akeem (Murphy) over events from the first movie. Fatherly recently spoke with the energetic Snipes, who discussed working on Coming 2 America, addressed life’s ups and downs, and revealed that all of his kids appear in the sequel.
How long had you known Eddie Murphy?
Man, I’ve known Eddie since Def Jam. I’ve known Eddie, man, even before the first Biggie Smalls album came out. That’s how long I’ve known Eddie. I’m going to try and put it in terms of certain (names) that people can relate to. I knew Eddie before Biggie Smalls was Biggie Smalls!
Did he say on the Dolemite set that he wanted you to join him in Coming 2 America?
Nope. Never mentioned a word about it. I’m not even sure he wanted that.
Yeah. I think he was on the fence about my skills. Dolemite Is My Name, maybe that was a fluke. He was like, “Ehhh, maybe.” [Director] Craig Brewer had to convince him.
No! [laughs] No, I’m messing with you.
Didn’t think so.
But they took a while to tell me they wanted me. I think they were trying to figure out exactly where they could put me.
General Izzi is funny, dangerous, and a worried dad who wants the best for his kids. How did you thread that needle?
Well, he doesn’t mean to be funny. Unfortunately, his ways make him funny. What he thinks of himself and how he thinks of himself is comical. And realistic! I know a lot of people like that, as a matter of fact, who have this air about themselves. Of course, they become ghetto fabulous when they go somewhere, learn a part of a language — a couple of vowels — and then come back and they can speak French. That’s General Izzi. That’s him. He’s definitely a loving dad. He wants what’s good [launches into accent] — he wants what’s good for all the nations, for Zamunda, for Nextdoria. Under his control, because that’s best. What! Yes! We get along, we understand! And you’re great! You don’t get along, well, pffssst.
The film feels light and loose. How much improvising was there?
We stuck to script, but they gave us latitude to play. Me being a physical actor, I like to express my spontaneity and creativity in body movement, do something with my body that’s not necessarily deviating from the words on the page, but conveys a thought or a message of some sort.
There were mostly people of color in front of the camera and behind the scenes on Coming 2 America. You produced movies in the past where you made that happen…
Yes, I produced quite a bit. My theater days were like that, and very much my early acting days were like that. Community theater. Big difference on the big stage. But what was most paradigm-shifting, I guess you could say, was the memory of all these artists and the impact the film had on me. I was now experiencing it in real-time. That was a trip! Wow. Even with the body of work I’ve done, for me as a fan, it’s like being a school kid and seeing Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays, or even when you’re a pro player, you see it and it’s like, “Whoa! Wow!” You never lose that adoration.
In addition to Coming 2 America, you trended on Netflix with the movie Cut Throat City. How much did you enjoy getting back into the action game for that?
Oh, man, you wait until we get back into the action! This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is all a preview of some chop-socky-socky. Yes, siree. We’ve got some chop-socky-socky coming.
You’ve led the most interesting life and career. You’ve been one of the planet’s biggest stars and endured a period where work was tough to land. You’ve made millions, and spent time in prison, what you call “camp.” If you had it to do again, would you do anything differently, or not change a thing?
That’s presuming you have the ability to make that change and dictate fate. I have a movie based on this subject. Is a man’s journey written in a book? Is a man’s journey predetermined? And if it is, and if it is written in a book, where’s the book? Action-packed! Action-packed!
Not a boring life…
No, no. Definitely not. That’s what’s so beautiful. Even the period of the camp, if that’s two years out of 100, I’m way ahead of the game. You know what I’m saying? If it’s two years out of 70, I’m way ahead of the game in terms of the life journey. I plan on being around past 100, and if my martial arts is right, I should make that no problem. All of it is a journey. Sure, you make better choices with better knowledge. Sure, there was some things, some people you wouldn’t have messed with or done things with, absolutely. But, at the end of the day, based on your knowledge, is your intention well-meaning? Is your heart pure? Do you care about others? Did you abuse others? No. If you can weigh your heart against a feather and the feather outweighs your heart, oh man. That’s the game. That’s the game I’m in.
Blade is being rebooted. If they say, “Come be involved in some way, shape, or form,” how interested would you be?
I’m always open. I’m always open. I think it would be somewhat weird because of the association people have with me and my interpretation of the Blade character. I can still do a lot of things I could do then, and even better now. That would be challenging. Look, I wouldn’t want to do it if I had to come in and not do what I can do. If I’m going to come in and sit at the desk, and be like Blade’s got a gold watch and shit, a gold tooth. That ain’t going to work.
I read a quote from you years ago in which you said, “Kids give you great acting material.” You’ve got five kids. Your youngest is a teenager, and your oldest is an adult. What kind of material are they giving you now?
General Izzi is a reflection of my children and their influence and impact on me. The timing, humor, the way they played things, the nuances. What you’re seeing in my joy is a reflection of them and their effect on me.
Has your youngest seen the movie?
Nope! Not yet!
Are you excited for that?
Oh yeah! And here’s a secret: My family is actually in it. We got them in as a cameo. We’ll see if people can find them.
Maybe! Hmmm! But they’re all there. They’re all in one scene, yes.
Coming 2 America will debut March 5 on Amazon Prime Video.