The Hollywood actor, who plays General Izzi in Coming 2 America, says he owes his work ethic to Michael Jackson
Wesley Snipes, who plays General Izzi in Coming 2 America, the sequel to the ginormous 1988 hit, Coming to America, starts the video chat with a ‘namaste’.
“I haven’t been to India yet,” he says after experimentally rolling ‘Bangalore’ on his tongue. “Let me put it this way, I haven’t touched Indian soil, but I am very aware of the culture. I practise kalari [payattu, the ancient martial art from Kerala], I have studied the Vedas, martial arts and the healing system. We have incorporated this into our daily lives. Getting to India is one of my goals.”
In Coming to America, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of Zamunda was supposed to marry Imani from the neighbouring country of Nextdoria (well, yes that is the name). Akeem wanted to marry for love and went off to Queens to look for his queen. Izzi is Imani’s older brother and things haven’t been very good between the two countries after Akeem left Imani barking like a dog and hopping on one foot.
“Izzi is the most glorious, magical and wonderful leader in the whole region of Zamunda and Nextdoria,” Wesley says with his trademark velvet chuckle. “Eddie’s character left my sister at the altar and that caused disruption. It put a curse on Zamunda. It looks like we are suffering but we are not. Zamunda has the money but we have it in our hearts and Izzi is back to claim what is rightfully his.”
Talking about working with Murphy, the 58-year-old actor and martial artist says, “This is the second time we are working together after Dolemite Is My Name (2019). That was a joy. I had wanted to work with him for many years, and we grabbed the first opportunity. I thought maybe if I do a really good job, they will come back and ask me to do something else,” he laughs again.
Craig Brewer, who directed Dolemite Is My Name, has also directed Coming 2 America. Wesley jokes about his casting. “I heard many of the other actors were getting calls for Coming 2 America but I was left out. Finally, Craig asked me to join and he tells me, ‘we want you to play the bad guy.’ I didn’t want to do a Beasts of No Nation or an Idi Amin. I didn’t want to do a caricature of a despotic African leader — it has already been done. I thought let me choose the personalities of people that I know, the ones who come to Europe, England or America to study and return, full of airs. So that is Izzi. He studied in Scotland and America and came home. He brought his fashion sense with him from all his travels like every tyrannical African leader does,” Wesley says dissolving into peals of infectious laughter.
Jack of all trades
New turf (Left) Teyana Taylor and Wesley Snipes star in Coming 2 America special arrangement, wikimedia commons
Wesley has worked in every genre from comedy (White Men Can’t Jump) and action (Passenger 57) to horror (Blade film trilogy), Sci Fi (Demolition Man) and drama (One Night Stand). “This genre — improvisational and ensemble acting is my sweet spot. Also, if I get a role as a dancer, I’d do it like that, (snaps his fingers). Martial Arts action is my third choice.”
Wesley’s dancing skills reminds us of him in the Michael Jackson music video ‘Bad’ (1987) where he plays the antagonist. The iconic music video directed by Martin Scorsese, was one of Wesley’s first screen appearances. Wesley starts to laugh again. “What a glorious opportunity, it was amazing at that time. I knew Scorsese was a big Robert De Niro fan. They had a particular style of acting. I decided to adopt some of that during the audition. Sure enough Scorsese recognised the style and hired me. He hasn’t hired me since, so I don’t know what I have to do!”
Jackson, Wesley says was phenomenal. “He changed the way I approached my craft and my life. He was a consummate artist and an extraordinary piece of energy. His rehearsals were like other people’s performances. It set a goal for me. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to have a vision, an idea of what I wanted to perform in a scene and see if I can match that exactly. I wanted to see if I can deliver it when I only have one take, one chance to do it. That is always the goal, how I approach my characters, and my work. And I learned that from Michael Jackson.”
While everyone talks of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther being the first black superhero, Wesley’s Blade trilogy (1998 – 2004) based on Marvel Comics’ vampire hunter was way earlier. Now there is news of a reboot from MCU with Mahershala Ali playing the lead role. “I am happy for Mahershala. I hope he does a wonderful job. I think it is a heck of a role to take on. We are so appreciative of what we contributed, not only to that movie but to the industry as a whole — as young neophytes and now, maturing our skill sets in arts and technology. I am not going to do another Blade but we got something else that would be just as good. I think it is going to be better,” and another laugh erupts.
Coming 2 America will stream on Amazon Prime Video from March 5