There's much to be said for getting into your character. But Wesley Snipes may be taking this vampire thing a little too far.
"The movie represents a lifestyle," Snipes says of "Blade," the living-dead style action movie he produced and starred in. "This is a modern-day vampire film: very chic, very up-to-date people in it. It's cross-cultural, cross-discipline! It's not just an action film. It's a whole dynamic."A lot of us are like that," claims the 35-year-old actor, who plays a leather-clad vampire slayer who has strains of Draculian blood coursing through his own eternal veins. "We have that split personality. We function very normally in the acceptable community in the daylight, getting our jobs done. But at nightfall, it's a whole different ball game."
Indeed. Snipes, who tends to divide his film jobs between comic ("White Men Can't Jump," "To Wong Foo . . ."), dramatic ("New Jack City," "Jungle Fever") and action roles ("Passenger 57," "Demolition Man"), has been known to liven up his work-loaded life with extreme martial arts practices and the occasional high-speed police chase.
And he characteristically took an unusual approach to promoting "Blade," which opened at the top of last weekend's box-office chart with an estimated $17 million in ticket sales. To seek out self-styled live-forevers - or at least those who might enjoy the fantasy - he hosted a series of "Blade"-themed techno-rave parties in major cities.
"They were parties that acknowledged, `This is what you are'," Snipes says. "You're being let in on the new young thing. No more yuppies, no more buppies, no more X generation; that's all dead and gone. We're inviting you into an immortal nation, where your deeds will make you immortal."
As we said, Snipes may be getting a bit too into this. But you can't blame him. He's been immersed in "Blade" for more than a year, both in front of and behind the camera.
Based on the Marvel comic book hero, the film offered Snipes ample opportunity to display his fighting prowess (an eclectic mix of Asian, French, African and the dance-like Brazilian Capoeria martial-arts styles) and strike cooler-than-you poses in physique-enhancing, rubberized armor and wraparound shades (some of which he wore to the interview).
But Snipes was just as vigorously engaged in his producer capacity. His primary, self-imposed duty on that front was to ensure the film balanced the drama he loves with the action he thrives on.
"Of course, right off the bat, I liked that Blade was a brother," says the Orlando-born, South Bronx-raised Snipes, who is also nurturing long-held plans to play Marvel's African hero, the Black Panther, in a movie. "Second of all, he's not like one of these other superheroes in that he doesn't have superhuman powers. He's an enhanced human being, which afforded me the opportunity to display my martial-arts abilities and keep it within a certain reality.
"But then there's the fact that he is, in some ways, a tragic hero. He has inner demons he has to deal with if he's going to fulfill his destiny, and I liked that. We needed to add elements to the script, as good as it was, that humanized and dramatized some of the inner turmoil, as opposed to just talking about it.
"I've always thought the problem with a lot of action movies is that they have no story," adds Snipes, some of whose own action attractions - "Drop Zone" comes to mind - have been accused of that deficiency. "If it's gonna be a straight-up entertainment film, cool. You don't need it, you can do situation-comedy-type things. But if you want to do something really substantive, let's get the foundation first, where the arcs of the characters lie, then we'll pepper the action around that in context."
Snipes has been exerting his behind-the-scenes influence a lot lately through his new production company, Amen Ra Films. The spring caper comedy "The Big Hit" was the outfit's first release, and "Blade" will be followed up with "Future Sport," a television action series made for ABC, and the feature film "Down in the Delta," directed by the acclaimed poet Maya Angelou.
Snipes makes small appearances in both upcoming projects. But his main reason for setting up Amen Ra is to give a shot to talents that may not otherwise get one.
"I want to firmly, firmly establish that we have great filmmakers in the African-American experience," he says. "But they're not just African-American filmmakers; they're American filmmakers. They have stories and technical abilities rivaling all of the others that are out there. We want to expose that; we want to bring them into the mainstream."