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Wesley Snipes is a man of action.
Best known for such adrenaline-fueled films as “Passenger 57,” “Demolition Man,” “Murder at 1600,” “U.S. Marshals” and “Blade,” the 52-year-old actor will raise the stakes once again in the upcoming NBC thriller “The Player.”
Snipes stars as Mr. Johnson, a casino pit boss who recruits former intelligence officer Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) to some big-time crimes from playing out. However, Johnson is also allowing wealthy individuals to bet on the outcome of Alex’s missions. His true agenda remains to be seen.
Snipes spoke with journalists at Comic-Con International about what attracted him to “The Player,” his return to television and the show’s connection to NBC’s hit drama “The Blacklist.” In addition, Snipes also addressed the possibility of a return to the “Blade” film franchise.
What drew you back to television and particularly to “The Player?”
Wesley Snipes: I liked the idea of this show. I was a fan of “The Blacklist.” I thought the writing, the plot twists and the character development on that show were engaging. Then, when they sent me the script and told me some of the same people were behind this show, I said, “Hmm.” Then they said, “This is where we can go with it. The character is morally ambiguous. He is good, he is bad. We don’t know exactly why he does all the things he does, but it’s for a reason we’ll discover later on. That’s interesting for the audience. And, of course, we can add a lot of martial arts to it.” “Sounds good.” And it still allows me the opportunity to do feature films.
Were you excited about getting back into TV, or was it tough coming back?
I was concerned with the time demands and working on a 10-day, eight-day schedule, week to week. Challenging. Keeping it interesting is challenging. Even if we looked at our stunt guy’s team and the action side of the game, it’s going to be challenging to keep it creative and intriguing, not repetitious. Then, also as an actor, I get the chance to play different guys and wear disguises. I can do an accent over here. I can play a quieter person over here or bombastic person over here for the game’s purpose. It’s great for me. I can get to do a lot of characters that show parts of my skill set and maybe discover parts of my skill set I didn’t even know I had.
Apparently, you have the stunts down. We’ve heard you had to slow down because you are so good at beating people up.
They are going to have to catch up. We don’t have to cut corners on this one. We want good drama and we want good suspense, things that don’t telegraph where we’re going. It keeps the audience talking: “I don’t know exactly why they did that.”
You are a bit of a chameleon in this character. Are you using current events? Are you using past roles?
I come out of repertory theater; I was actually trained in repertory theater. I started my earlier career doing nothing but repertory theater. Plus, being a troubadour and doing quick dinner theater, I am actually very attracted to that. It gets my juices going. This venue offers me an opportunity to revisit those types of demands and that type of creative environment. I am looking forward to it. I’m drawing from everything, things I’ve done in the past, things I want to do and things I have seen other actors do as well.
Mr. Johnson does the FBI agent thing with a Southern accent. Was that you or was that in the script?
That was me having a little fun. That’s a precursor to other characters that I will bring to the show with different accents. If I do it well, people will say, “Wow, I didn’t know he could do that.” My goal is to disappear, let Wesley disappear, and you believe that is the guy. We are a little schizophrenic with it, so you can’t recognize me from role to role to role. That is the exciting challenge.
Considering Mr. Johnson knows more than anybody about the game, did the producers tell you more of the backstory?
No. Movie magic. I know a couple of things. I have a sense of where we are going, but the most important thing that helps guide character choices is knowing that everybody doesn’t really trust the other one. Everybody has an agenda. Everybody has a scheme and a plan, or they have their own game they are playing. From that, I can explore. When somebody says a line, I have multiple ways of responding to it.
You were talking about “The Blacklist.” Did you seek out James Spader for advice? He’s another movie actor that went to TV.
I’ll tell you how amazing the universe is. I was actually on a plane with James Spader coming from Los Angeles to New York. I didn’t see him until we were almost landing. I said to myself, “I really like that guy and I like what they are doing on the show. I don’t know if he knows who I am or not, but I am going to go up to him.” As it happened, we ended up by the luggage belt. I went over to him and said, “Hey, Mr. Spader, I just want to introduce myself. I am Wesley Snipes. Man, what you guys are doing on the show is great. I love it. If there is ever an opportunity for me to be on the show, just let the producers and the guys know that I would be open to that.” Maybe four months later, they called me to do a role on “The Blacklist,” but I was unavailable. I said, “Wow. OK. Maybe it’s because James put the word in.” I find out he didn’t, but that’s OK, James. We’ll talk about that another time. Then, about a month after that, they [management] came in and said, “We heard from ‘The Blacklist’ people again.” I said, “OK, what do they want this time?” He said, “No, no, no. They have a show that they would like to create and they would like to know if you are interested?” Interesting team to be associated with.
So, you didn’t have any ego about just coming in and doing a role on a TV show with the stature you have?
No, no, no. I’ve done a number of films and some of them have been better than others. Some of them I don’t even want to remember and some of them I’ve never looked at. Any time you get the chance to work with an ensemble of good, talented people – in front of and behind the camera – you have to jump at it, be that if it’s big or small. I never wanted to be a leading man. I was a repertory guy. It just worked out that way.
Will you be bringing in any martial arts or karate to the show?
We are going to have Japanese martial arts, Indonesian, Filipino and some exotic stuff no one has seen before. We will have Kali and some Hap Ki Do. Mr. Johnson is a Hapki jitsu kind of a man. He’s very, “Everything is OK. I’ll break your neck. It’s OK. I’ll break your finger. Ah, it’s OK. You got nine more. Don’t worry about it.” And there will be some street stuff, too.
Can you talk about the relationship between Johnson and Cassandra and how it develops during the season?
Well, Johnson jumped Cassandra in for some very intriguing reasons that we’ll reveal over the season. He has a personal interest in her success. At this point, they don’t have a romantic interest. We’ll see where that goes. You never know.
Is she his equal in the game?
No, no. He has no equal. She is an employee.
But, is he an employee too?
He is an employee. He is like the ultimate butler.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding its supernatural corners with “Doctor Strange.” How would you feel if they approached you about reprising the Blade role?
Well, we’ve had some discussions. We have had very positive and favorable discussions about the Blade character and other things they have in mind. We’ll see where it goes. For those Blade fans, if we never reprise Blade, I have another character that will stand toe to toe with Blade any day. It’s not done yet.
”The Player” premieres Thursday, Sept. 24, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.