Coming 2 America: How Wesley Snipes Got Into Rhythm with Eddie Murphy

Wesley Snipes breaks down characters, Golden Age Hollywood, his relationship with Eddie Murphy prior to Coming 2 America, and his brush with Black Panther from back in the day.

Wesley Snipes and Teyana Taylor holding weapons in Coming 2 America
Photo: Amazon Studios

Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem left his prospective queen to go to America in Coming to America. And he didn’t even have the good grace to leave her at the altar either. Rather she was dismissed while still barking like a dog (under the prince’s orders). The princess and her brother, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) never forgot. And in Coming 2 America, he’s prepared to go to war over it.

Snipes may be most beloved to certain audiences as the half-vampire martial arts master in the Blade superhero movies. But his comic chops are supernatural. From 1989’s Major League through White Men Can’t Jump, and To Wong Foo, and Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, his choices are fearless and his timing is fierce.

This coalesced in his impatiently poignant turn as D’Urville Martin, who directed Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore in the film within the film Dolemite is My Name. The pair are at odds again in Coming 2 America. Wesley Snipes talked with Den of Geek about revisiting an iconic classic comedy, and the art of cinematic challenges, from the superhero variety to his all-time classic work in gangster cinema like New Jack City.

Den of Geek: I have been a fan since your character Willie Mays Hayes in Major League, and you stole that movie like it was second base.

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Wesley Snipes: How did it go, “Play like Mays, but run like Hayes?”

And you were definitely MVP on Dolemite. Is it easier to capture that “cinemagical” reality when you’re working back-to-back on two films with the same actor, like you’ve now done with Eddie Murphy?

Yeah. It makes it a lot easier. It makes it a lot easier. You begin to harmonize with the rhythms and the style, and you get a little more comfortable after the first one. So you get to create more and expand on that creativity, have a lot of fun with it and then also push the envelope of your skills and see where you’re at.

Does the give-and-take become like a sport?

An art is the expression of the art. I would say that the competition is with yourself, the mastery of the skills, like as a martial artist or as an archer. It transcends just the other person. It’s about your relationship with the art form itself and what you find in that mirror, right? And it just so happens, when it works well, you’re in the company of others who are also doing the same thing.

So how did you first meet Eddie and how did you get involved in Coming 2 America? Were you a fan of the original film?

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Yeah, I had this girlfriend and everything was going well. And then, Eddie Murphy did a movie. I was in a restaurant one day and I went to the bathroom, came back and my girl was sitting there at Eddie Murphy’s table. Yeah, that was pretty much how we met. The whole internet was like, “Eddie Murphy stole Wesley Snipes’ girlfriend!” It’s not true. It’s a joke. It is a joke, it’s not true.

No actually, we know each other from New York. And during those days also Def Jam was big, big. A lot of musicians had restaurants and little spots and cafes, lounges. I think we met first in one of the lounges. I actually think I met Charlie first before I met Eddie. Yeah, in a club in New York.

What was the key to General Izzi? And where did you get your royal gait for that film?

I think the key to General Izzi is his rhythm, his sense of rhythm. He, like the animals, moves with rhythm and tries to blend in with the rhythms of energy, rhythms of life. And then that embodies that shapes how he talks and how he sees himself. It was grand and beautiful, like a peacock with rhythm, a dancing peacock.

Were you tempted to ask about playing any of the extreme makeup characters that Eddie and Arsenio do?

Wow. I would love to do something like this… Oh man, yeah, throw me in. I’d be another guy. Somebody else in a barber shop and [I’d] do two of them. Definitely. I’d love to do it with an accent too. Like, I do something in French, but everything I’m saying is complete gibberish. [Does a faux French run]. Stuff like that, and he was like, “He didn’t say shit!”

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I also cover What We Do in the Shadows. When you appeared, you did it via video chat. Were you warning us about social distancing?

I was, I was. As frustrated as he was, yes. You caught that. Very good. It worked. I told you, I tell you there’s a virus out there. I told you!

You said in the past that you’re flattered Mahershala Ali is carrying on the role of Blade. Have you talked to him at all about taking on the role?

No, he hasn’t called me. We haven’t talked about characterizations or how he should play it or anything like that. I can’t imagine that call ever coming in. That would be really strange. But we did communicate about how much we appreciate each other’s work, and how I’m comfortable with saying, ‘Hey man, go rock it, baby. If you got it, do it.’ It ain’t gonna be easy. There’s a whole lot of it that you don’t know [with] them action movies. Everybody ain’t cut like that. They ain’t made for it. But if you got it, let’s go. I got your back 1,000 percent. Let’s go.”

You had a vision for a Black Panther movie back in the way, which at some point included Mario Van Peebles and John Singleton. 

As writers, yeah. They were considered the two of the directors that were considered. Yeah.

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Did you find a similar feel in Ryan Coogler’s film to what you saw in your head?

My initial idea was closer to Ryan Coogler’s expression. Yes. That was the idea because that’s what’s closest to the comic book and the idea of using vibranium for extra non-invasive operations, surgeries. This was all written in the original comics, a society that was cloaked and was a high society, highly technical. It had a nice balance between technology and nature. Oh, man, that was the vision, but we had no Pixar. We had no Pentiums. We had none of that in those days.

I want to ask a question for myself. New Jack City is in my top 10 movies of all time.

Straight gangster, straight gangster.

Nino Brown to me is very much like Humphrey Bogart’s Baby Face Martin in Dead End. What do you pick up from the old classic actors that you still use in your on screen performances?

Oh yeah, man. It’s the body language. It’s the relationship with the camera. Their understanding of how to turn, how to position themselves. How to stand a certain way and deliver the line in a way that wasn’t awkward because the posture is cinematic, it’s photographic, cinemalogical, as they would say.

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But it was straight gangster, straight gangster, and also how they would act and do action in character. They would play the characters and play the action like the character, not as an actor doing an action scene now. Yeah.

Are there any more superhero movies or franchises in your future that you’re looking at?

We hope so. Of course we’ve developed some wonderful things internally with Mondi House. I think you recall my book Talon of God is kind of cinematic, set as a cinematic horror film, action film. And that’s something that we’re looking to put into production as well. So whether we work with Marvel or we want to work with the Marvelettes, we’ll be ready in a way.

I see you as an actor who has special relationships with directors. You’ve done multiple films with Spike Lee from the earliest films to Chi-Raq. What directors challenge you in the best ways?

The ones who have a real appreciation for the craft and a good sense of story. Appreciation for the craft [means] preparation, sensitivity around what it takes to craft a great character, and to pull off a great performance that’s like The Godfather [movies] of the world. Not all of the directors have this, not all of them even care.

And then those who have a good sense of story and narrative that can help find authenticity or keep continuity with the rules that have been set, even if it’s action. Once you set the rules and you tell the audience, “These are the rules,” then you stick to them. And the best of the ones I’ve worked with know how to do that very well.

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Coming 2 America will hit Amazon Prime Video on March 5.