Wesley Snipes Breaks His Silence

Wesley Snipes, New Jack City

Over the course of four hours with Snipes, it is easy to see how he became a star in the first place. He is intelligent, funny, and charming. But the actor also seems to have a natural gift for playing the offscreen role of the victim. Sometimes that role makes sense, like when he was sued for paternity in 2002 by an Indiana woman who claimed that he fathered her child. (The case was later dismissed when the biological father was found.) But other times, that victim's role has been less clear-cut, as in 2005, when he was detained in Johannesburg after allegedly trying to leave the country with a fake South African passport. Snipes calls the incident a ''misunderstanding'' but does not elaborate.

Snipes' 2005 lawsuit against New Line regarding Blade: Trinity is another example of his perceived persecution. (New Line and EW parent Time Inc. are both owned by Time Warner.) According to the multimillion-dollar suit against the studio, director David S. Goyer, and Trinity's producers, Snipes claimed that his character's screen time was reduced in favor of two new costars, Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel. He also contended that New Line didn't pay his full salary and that he was intentionally cut out of casting decisions and the filmmaking process as a whole — a role he said he was contractually entitled to as one of the film's producers.

While neither Goyer nor New Line would comment on these allegations, Snipes isn't as inclined to hold his tongue. In fact, he suggests that the color of his skin may have been a factor. ''Systematic racism was used to divert focus away from the real issues of an incompetent director and inexperienced producers with a $60 million budget,'' he says angrily, ''and onto the 'insubordinate, difficult, self-immersed actor.'''

Snipes claims the filmmakers did not take his suggestions seriously and that the film suffered as a result. He points to Trinity's underwhelming reviews and box office returns as proof of this (it made just $52 million). ''There are so few guys who do action and do it well,'' Snipes says. ''Even fewer who are African-American. Even fewer who have classical-theater training. So a cat like me coming in, I'm bringing all of that to an action movie. I'm not looking at an action movie as something where I just jump around and look beautiful and show my muscles. Since there are so few people that do this and have that pedigree, people disregard their contribution. I think that's what happened on Blade: Trinity.

Snipes believes that Goyer, his fellow producers,and New Line treated him like the hired help, or in his words, ''the new ho on the block.'' ''I found it fascinating to hear what people said about this project and how easy it was for people to jump on the 'Wesley's the bad guy' bandwagon. That's where I think the systematic racism comes in. We're conditioned in this country to believe that if there's a problem, the black man is usually the culprit.'' Snipes says that a portion of his salary — $3.6 million, according to the suit — was withheld as punishment. The New Line suit is still pending. ''We've had good conversations,'' he says. But it's hard to see how Snipes' comments will help those conversations. And somehow, the actor holds out hope that not only will the suit be resolved favorably, but there will also be a fourth Blade movie.

Either way, the damage to Snipes' career from the New Line suit may take some time to fix. It seems safe to assume that Hollywood studios won't be eager to hire an actor, even a star of Snipes' caliber, who sued one of their own. Which may explain the recent dearth of major studio films on Snipes' résumé. Snipes thinks his being blackballed is partly to blame. ''The industry began to believe that I was difficult to work with and a risk,'' he says. ''My lawyers told me, 'Wes, if you sue them, it's going to make a lot of other studio execs nervous and it could be a problem.' And I was like, 'What, you mean I'll be blacklisted?' And that's exactly what they've been trying to do.''

NEXT PAGE: ''I'm making movies, man. Who the hell wants to start a militia when you're in the movies?''

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