An Interview with Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle
By Wilson Morales
March 1, 2010
In what is being build as a comeback to the big screen, Wesley Snipes returns to a genre that made him famous.
In Antoine Fuqua’s ‘Brooklyn’s Finest,’ the lives of three conflicted New York City police officers (Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, and Ethan Hawke) are dramatically transformed by their involvement in a massive drug operation.
While Cheadle plays one an undercover cop, Snipes plays a gangster who returns to the “game” after being locked up for eight years.
In speaking to Blackfilm.com, both Snipes and Cheadle talk about their roles in the film, the gangster genre, and working with Fuqua.
||You’ve done this type of film before with ‘New Jack City,’ and people will think of it as a Nino Brown-type film. What was the draw to come back to it?
Wesley Snipes: That was actually one of the reservations. I didn’t want to do a Nino Brown 2. Didn’t want to perpetuate the stereotype we see in movies of brothers being drug dealers and criminals. Antoine Fuqua talked to me about how the character was iconic and now the character I want you to play would be Nino after incarceration and rehabilitated. So I thought that would be a different angle because that’s not endorsing the game, it’s a reflection of the futility of the game. Then he told me who was going to be in it, I was like, “Well, two for five!” (laughs)
|And for you Don, this is something totally different. We saw a little of this when you played ‘Mouse’ in ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ some years back. This is new.
Don Cheadle: Everyone is new pretty much for me. This was a different character, but I was just coming off the movie ‘Traitor.’ I was dealing with similar character themes of a man who’s trapped, who has to serve two masters, and at the same time be true to your job and your friend. I think it destroys both of them in both films.
Obviously one third of the movie is your story. When you see the final movie and how they cut together all the other stories, how did you think it incorporated into yours?
DC: It upset me really because I really thought it was… like who are these interlopers? What are they doing in our movie? But I guess I’ll roll with it. It’s done now. (laughs)
WS: But a testament to the skillful filmmaking of Antoine Fuqua.
DC: And the scriptwriting. An MTA operator came up with this story.
||There aren’t many black directors in Hollywood. What did Antoine (Fuqua) bring to the story and why is it important to have more black directors in Hollywood?
CHEADLE: Film is a director’s medium, and everything is filtered through that prism, whoever that person is. Their experiences, things that they’ve learned being men and women on this planet, it’s a very specific viewpoint. There’s room for all those viewpoints and it’s good to have more diversity in that seat, for sure. Antoine specifically, this kind of material, he clearly has a firm grip on this genre, really understands how to wring the best juice out of this world. Once he said Wesley’s in it I thought “I wanna do that”, ‘cause I wanna play with Wesley on film.
Had you ever worked together before?
DC: Here and there. Our paths had crossed, mutual friends, but we’d never spent quality time together.
WS: There was a big all-star game and we met up at the box there.
DC: We had dinner one time at that spot you co-owned for a minute.
WS: The Chinese food restaurant? (laughs) I used to own a Chinese food restaurant.
|Can you talk about the parallels between these characters, the compromises they had to make, and what you drew from in your own lives to make that more real for the audience?
DC: When I knew I had the role I went down to the local pharmaceutical distributor, got a packet, and started slinging drugs. I’d never done it before, I’m a method actor, I had to understand it from the ground up. (laughs)
Were you successful?
DC: I decided being an actor was better than selling drugs. (laughs)
Considering your character is an undercover cop there’s a lot of acting to that profession, would you agree?
DC: Of course, it’s all acting, and acting with the greatest stakes. A bad review out there is a bullet, so you want to stay in character. (laughs)
What was it like shooting around New York?
WS: I love it. I love it. It’s magical to consider one time I was a little boy looking up on the screen, like “Wow, where is that world, Hollywood? Who are those people?” Then to be in the game and come back and shoot in your own neighborhood or places you’ve traversed on the reg, it’s magical. And humbling too. Puts certain things in perspective. Went up to some of the resident’s houses, just to remember how closed it is, 5000 people in a four block radius. “Wow, Wes, this is where you come from.”
DC: I think it’s great for the neighborhood. They were saying that no one comes to Brownsville. Nobody shoots there. They’d never seen crews there, and black people that’s the DIRECTOR. “That’s the dude that’s running it? He’s the boss?” There was all this talk about “Your safety, your safety.” Never felt more comfortable in my life.
WS: I kept getting invited to dinner.
||Wesley, do you see this as a comeback of sorts to get back in the Hollywood game?
WS: If they want to call it that it’s cool with me. I’ve been steadily working. I’ve been doing a lot of projects around the world and overseas. Expanding that fanbase. A lot of the action people overseas can appreciate projects like ‘Brooklyn’s Finest.’ I don’t mind being in the Hollywood game, but I like having the flexibility, being ambidextrous. I can play with them a little bit then I can play over here. I’m a very proactive cat, I’ll create it myself if it’s necessary. Our next project is a martial arts comedy titled ‘Master Daddy.’ That’s something we produced ourselves. Then I’m doing something we call ‘African Anime,’ which is an animated webseries that we created on our own initiative. That’s not something someone from the Hollywood studio or Marvel came and said “Wes, come and be down with us.” It’s something we put together, till the soil, watch it grow.
Are you into Manga, comic books, graphic novels?
WS: Oh yeah. Omandi Mech 5. That’s my favorite right now. If you’d like to see it there’s a Youtube trailer for it.
How’s it working with the younger cast of this movie? All of them remember ‘New Jack City’ and ‘evil In A Blue Dress.’ I don’t if you’ve seen ‘The Wire’…
WS: Oh yeah! Omar! Omar! (laughs) That’s good for me, because we travel in the world, and once you get back to California sometimes you don’t get back to the hood that often. Seeing these guys still have that kind of swagger and flavor and click, that was excellent for me. I didn’t know exactly what my character was going to be. I started picking things from these different guys. “I’m going to use that, I’m going to use that.” To keep it authentic. That was my research. I might owe them commission, right?
DC: That’s between you and Omar. All I know is you better pay Omar. (laughs)
WS: I’ll rip my blade out. (laughs)
|What is appealing about this genre for actors and audiences?
DC: I think like all movies the fun is getting to live vicariously through the characters on screen. Everyone wants to be able to walk through a dangerous situation without getting scathed. These are characters the audience really gets to watch go through the anguish so they don’t have to. That seems to be what all movie fantasies are about. Someone like Antoine, who has a firm grip on this genre, people can trust that this is gonna be that kind of high, intense ride.
WS: Creates a lot of fertile ground for intense drama, and the unexpected. You never know what’s going to happen in this world. That’s a nice little adrenaline jolt.
Is it strange go and back-and-forth between a realistic drama like this to something like ‘Iron Man?’
DC: I’ve done 40 movies, Wesley’s done 40 movies, you get so you can turn it on and off like a faucet. “Now you’re an ape in another world. Now you’re a little girl. Now you work with dogs.” Ok, I’m doing that now. It’s still the same thing, you’re still trying to create a character and flesh them out, make them believable and have real moments with the other actors and animals you’re working with on the set. It’s the same thing in every different movie.
Something like this has already come out at Sundance a while ago, whereas something like ‘Iron Man 2’ will open to a bajillion dollars no matter what you do. Is there less pressure, where you just let the machinery work?
DC: I have the same protocol of drug intake no matter what I do. (laughs) I work very closely with my doctor and now we have it in a nice place.
||You’ve done so many roles, from a basketball player to a hotel owner in Rwanda to Iron Man, what do you want to do next? What would be your dream role?
DC: I don’t have any specific prescription, “now I need to do something like this.” I just like to be surprised, see a role and say, “oh, I haven’t played around with that.” I want to work with really good directors and really talented actors. I’m at a place now in my “career”, which we are always reticent to say as actors because we are always going from job to job. The director’s with really strong visions who are going to push me…
How would you rank Antoine Fuqua?
DC: He’s very good. We’re in a movie where he had to braid these three storylines so that the movie didn’t stop every time you go to another character. It all flows through a funnel to the final conclusion at the end. He was very artful, it’s not easy to do.
What’s the next movie you would like to do?
DC: I don’t know. I’m trying to put together a Miles Davis project. I would play Miles.
For either of you are there any social causes you’re passionate about and why?
DC: I work with a couple of organizations. ‘Not On Our Watch,’ which is a group we put together to deal with human rights issues. I also have another group that has raised 3 million dollars for Darfur.
WS: I don’t have any specific foundations I’m involved with, but I’m very much into the economic empowerment of our community. My attempt to service that is by creating projects that will have legs to them which will create an institution where we have a nice wellspring of talent we can cultivate. Also get people paper, also give people trade skills. That’s why we’re doing the animation and we have the production house, and we’re doing stuff in Korea and Nigeria. That’s the agenda.
Tell us about the people Antoine found in the Van Dyke projects that worked on the film and if you interacted with them at all?
DC: Yeah, he pulled people in from the neighborhood to perform services on the film. A lot of the wardrobe he used people for that, the location stuff, grips… this was a project that was on the last stop on the train, under the tracks, and it was great that he gave that respect back to the community and it was a nice back and forth.
BROOKLYN’S FINEST opens on March 5, 2010