Twenty Years Later, Wesley Snipes Says He's Still the Only Guy Who Could Play Blade
This week marks the 20-year anniversary of the first Blade film. We spoke to Wesley Snipes about the franchise's past and potential future.
Image via New Line Cinema
Twenty years ago this week, Wesley Snipes katana sliced his way through box office history and a heap of sexy LA vampires with Blade, a gritty R-rated superhero movie about a lesser known Marvel character. With the titular character a half-human, half-vampire vampire hunter played by Snipes, Blade subtly tackled racial allegories via supernatural characters ages before films like Bright would attempt the same feat with far less nuance.
Though critics gave Blade middling reviews, fans loved the film and, in many ways, its box office success paved the way for the multiple expansive cinematic superhero universes we’re all contending with today, for better or worse. It also spawned two sequels, the latter gaining notoriety for its troubled production and Snipe's alleged anti-social behavior on set.
To commemorate the film’s 20th anniversary, I spoke with Wesley Snipes to hear his thoughts on the legacy and future of his character, as well as hear his responses to some of rumors from the set of Blade: Trinity.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
VICE: Up until this year’s release of Black Panther, you were the quintessential black superhero, not to mention the first from the Marvel universe. How have your feelings about this accomplishment evolved over the years?
Wesley Snipes: I don’t sit on the Marvel board at the moment, but I think the chairman and the people in the streets have given me the seal of approval and said, “Hey, man, you’ve done some great work. And the people that you worked with, those contributors left something that’s turned out to be iconic and a heck of a legacy and has gone on to help build other franchises and businesses.” It’s a good place to be and good thing to be a part of and it’s a good legacy to have contributed to.
Funny that you mentioned Blade building other businesses because the film’s financial success resulted in green-lights for the first X-Men and Spider-Man movies which, in turn, begat all the rest. So, do you consider your performance in any way responsible for the multi-billion-dollar superhero industry that’s transpired?
Truth be told, films are not built on and sustained with just one performance. There’s a family and community of people that make it. It’s great artists coming together to share a vision. But to be identified as one of the key figures in [the genesis of] all that is great. And… it’s true [laughs]. It’s something you want to build on and when you look and see what you inspired, it gives you a chance to remember who inspired you.
So who did inspire you and what roles did you draw from when preparing for the role of Blade?
All the way from William Marshall in Blacula to Run Run Shaw and [Orange Sky] Golden Harvest over in China producing all the kung fu flicks in the ‘70s. The great Gene Kelley and Fred Astaire. My man Douglas Fairbanks. All these cats were inspiration to me and I tried to draw on their legacy and foundation to create the characters I played and I added some of that into Blade. And, of course, you gotta talk to my man Richard Roundtree, Shaft. Blade had a coat back in the tomb of Dracula but Shaft’s coat was better.
You spent years before Blade developing your own take on [Black Panther]. So, how were you feeling earlier this year during all the hype for Black Panther? Was it all happiness or were there any lingering “what if” feelings?
I felt no loss. In fact, I felt overjoyed that the film was being made. It looked great and had the vision and the scope and the magnitude and magic. I felt fulfilled. I felt like we had our finger on the pulse then and we knew exactly why people would like this. And that it would make money. And we didn’t get a chance to be a part of it but that’s OK.
Is there any new info on Blade 4 possibly coming to fruition?
There are a lot of conversations going around right now and we’re very blessed to have the enthusiasm and interest in something coming from that world again. We’ve created two projects that fit perfectly into this world and, when people see them, I think they’re only going to have a problem with deciding which one they love the most.
All the main execs [at Marvel] and my team, we’ve been discussing for the past two years. Everyone’s enthusiastic about it, everybody gets it. But they got a business to run and they gotta square the things that they gotta figure out before they can get to it, I guess. In the meantime, we got a business to run and our own slate of things to do so…
But the next time you see something in [the Blade universe], mark my words: what we did before is child’s play compared to what we can do now.
Hypothetically, if they wanted to reboot the character with a new lead, rather than have you reprise, are there any young upstart actor’s you think would be worthy to pick up the mantle?
There’s a lot of pieces that have to come together. I mean wow. Who’s that guy? And one that can overcome everybody’s preconceived idea of who Blade is supposed to be. Skill wise, there’s not a lot of guys out there that dance, that do the martial arts, that act well and can have that Blade flavor. Not a lot of chocolate guys out there. If they’re gonna go chocolate. If they’re gonna go vanilla… ehhhh, I don’t know. Non-traditional casting: I'm with it. I’ve been a beneficiary of it. I don’t know if it would be good for marketing but you never know. So, yeah, it’s a tough one. And they gotta be in shape and have some sex appeal. Fucking Blade has some sex appeal. Maybe you know somebody I don’t. I don’t know.
I mean, they tried recasting before. During the negotiations for Blade 3 they asked me if I’d consider doing the role again, but I was like nah. So, the agency I was with told me that [the studio] was going to give me ‘til Wednesday to make a decision or they were going to move on. And I was like, what? We just did two movies and made money for everybody and you’re saying to me that if I don’t want to do the third one, you’ll make it without me and find somebody else? And I was like, 'OK, let them give it to somebody else, because we had already decided we didn’t want to do it anyway.' We were already thinking about focusing on dramatic pieces at that time. But you know how that all turned out in the end.
Well, maybe I don’t. This could be a good opportunity for you to address some of the gossip and legendary anecdotes surrounding the production of Blade: Trinity.
Here’s the first thing. Did the third one do as well as the first two?
Not to my knowledge, no.
End of conversation! That’s all you gotta say. Say no more. Say no more. And we told them this. We told ‘em. But they didn’t listen. And then they tried to blame [me] for it. “Ohh, he’s the bad guy. It’s his fault. Use the Wayback Machine and you can find all the little articles.”
Have you squashed everything from that experience? Is the bad blood still there?
I don’t have bad blood with any man. Or woman.
Have you talked to [director] David Goyer at all since those days?
Mhmm. I think we talked sometimes, somehow, somewhere. I don’t fault him. I don’t fault anybody. That’s just what it was, man. Nobody thought that the Blade stuff was gonna pop off in the first place. It was an anomaly. All of it was an anomaly. It just happens over time. Nobody knows who was the one who struck gold, but everybody claims it. So, he did what he had to do. We did what we did based on what we knew at the time and that was the way it was. It’s a wonderful thing where you can look back and say, hey, at the end of the day we still did something great. Great people, great talent, great future. We laid the foundation for something bigger than we even imagined. That being said, we were the products of those that laid the foundation for us. So, hakuna matata.
Why don't we just rapid fire through some of the rumors about the Trinity production and you can confirm or push back on them. I’ll start with an easy first one: you were method, in character the whole time.
False. You gotta look at the source of information.
Patton Oswalt, one of the cast members.
Once again, I’ll say to you, sir, look at the source of information. I didn’t know Patton Oswalt was a method actor. Would he know the difference?
Well that's why I'm coming to you to ask this, rather than go off a secondhand account. OK, next. Did you stay in your trailer the whole time?
Did you communicate with the director via Post-It notes signed “from Blade?”
That may have happened. I wouldn’t say it was frequent. Because our whole crew was banished to another side of the island of production. The only way we could sometimes get messages, since we didn’t have the radio, was to get it there by courier or pigeon sometimes [laughs].
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