'Coming 2 America' scene-stealer Wesley Snipes: 'I live a comedic life' (exclusive)
After 33 years, Coming 2 America finally reunites us with pampered Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his right-hand man Semmi (Arsenio Hall), but all isn’t well in Zamunda.
When the eccentric leader of neighbouring nation Nextdoria, General Izzi (Wesley Snipes), sets his sights on the newly-crowned King’s throne, Akeem and Semmi are forced to embark on a return quest to Queens to track down a long-lost son and secure the future of this fictional African nation.
It’s a journey that audiences have waited more than three decades to see, but according to the movie’s sharply-dressed and slightly-unhinged villain, its arrival couldn’t have been better timed.
“We all need some laughter,” Snipes tells Yahoo Movies over Zoom, explaining why this sequel is the perfect antidote for an extremely difficult year. “We need some laughter we can all share.”
Watch a trailer for Coming 2 America
He’s not wrong. Originally due to hit cinemas in August 2020, the ongoing pandemic forced director Craig Brewer (and studio Paramount) to shift his comedy to March 2021 and rehome it on Amazon Prime Video. Following director John Landis’s 1988 original, Brewer’s sequel places Snipes alongside comedy multi-tool Eddie Murphy after the duo first appeared together in the director’s ace 2019 Netflix hit, Dolemite Is My Name.
Read more: Everything new on Amazon Prime in March
In Coming 2 America, the 58-year-old Blade star continues to steal scenes as a military man bent on securing justice for his sister Princess Amani (Vanessa Bell Conaway), the betrothed bride-to-be who we last saw perfecting some very un-royal animal impressions in part one. It also sticks Snipes in the middle of a who’s-who of comedy talent, including Saturday Night Live alum Leslie Jones, 30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan and returning faces like Louie Anderson and a refreshingly silly James Earl Jones.
“I live a comedic life,” laughs Snipes when we ask him how it felt joining the funny fold.
“I live around very comedic people so I’m already in that zone and on that channel. And when you get an opportunity to work and play with the masters, it’s something you can’t avoid. You want to improve your skill-set and see if you measure up.”
While Dolemite marked the first time Snipes and Murphy shared the screen, it wasn’t the first time they’d met. As movie-making heavyweights, the pair crossed paths multiple times over the years and their friendship goes way back. “We not only crossed paths, we crossed a lot of things back in the day,” he chuckles, recalling his lairy early days in the business.
“We’ve known each other since the early 90s and many of his family and crew were in communities and spots that I use to frequent quite a bit. Eddie was one of the first people to invite me to dinner when I first came to Hollywood.”
Read more: Eddie Murphy reunites with Golden Child 33 years on
In Dolemite is My Name, Snipes gave Murphy a run for his money as a frustrated Blaxploitation director forced to helm Dolemite’s so-bad-they’re-great action flicks. Here, viewers find him stealing laughs once more, emerging as one of Coming 2 America’s most watchable – and unpredictable – stars. Is there a learning curve that comes with going toe-to-toe with a comedy icon like Murphy?
“It came quite naturally,” admits Snipes. “Plus, I’m an Eddie Murphy fan. I’ve probably seen all of his movies and I had a real clear sense of his style, energy and how they like to play on these types of film shoots. Working on Dolemite made it clearer,” he adds. “It took me back to my days of improvisational theatre when I was a young artist in training.”
Also helping matters was the fact that Snipes knew exactly who his Izzi was: “I know African men like General Izzi,” he grins. “Men who have come to the West, assimilated, been Westernised and want to take all of what they know back to the hood.
"I know these guys – I know how they dress, how they talk – status and how you present yourself is important in African culture. It’s usually hyperbole — but as long as it’s good, you’re in the game,” he laughs. “I wanted so much to play that type of character as a homage to my friends and brothers in the motherland; I’ve been watching you guys.”
Having almost appeared in Coming To America as Lisa’s (Shari Headley) egotistical boyfriend Daryll (a role that ultimately went to Eriq La Salle), Snipes was keen to pull out all the stops: “It was like Second City or one of those improvisational shows,” he says of the movie’s anything-goes set. “You really wanted to see if you could make the other actors laugh.”
He also took the opportunity to imbue General Izzi with some slick dance moves, a skill that’s close to his heart. “You have to make an entrance,” smiles Snipes, discussing Izzi’s dance-heavy introduction.
“Craig didn’t know what I was going to do. In fact, I didn’t even know what I was going to do — but General Izzi isn’t just going to walk in,” he laughs.
“I love dancing and always thought I was going to be a dancer. I actually started out as a street dancer and performer doing breakdancing and musical theatre. That was really my artistic home. Once I got to college, I started focusing on dramatic skills and it took me further away from musical theatre but when I wasn’t around actors, I was hanging out with the hip-hop crew and getting my dance on,” he tells us.
“It just so happened I ended up doing all this action and dramatic work but for me, action is the closest I can get to my desire to be a dancer because action choreography is like dance choreography. If I wasn’t a dramatic actor, I would definitely be a dancer.”
Bursting onto the scene as the villain in Martin Scorsese’s video for Michael Jackson’s Bad, the Florida-born actor went on to star in a string of hits like 1992’s sports comedy White Men Can’t Jump, 1993’s cult-actioner Demolition Man and of course, the Blade trilogy, which saw him portray Marvel’s half-human, half-vampire Daywalker from 1998 to 2004.
With every new role, his audience grew — and in an age of reboots, remakes and sequels there’s more than one iconic Snipes character that fans would love to see more of. “I don’t know why people dig Demolition Man so much,” he admits, discussing fan-fondness for his turn as crazy killer Simon Phoenix.
“Perhaps the pandemic has a lot to do with it and the prescient imagery the film had. It feels like we’re living in some of those times now. I was just happy to be working with the grandmaster, Mr Stallone.”
Read more: Stallone teases Demolition Man 2 plans
Starring opposite Sly in futuristic game of cat-and-mouse, Demolition Man helped Snipes forge a friendship with Stallone that led all the way to an appearance in 2014’s The Expendables 3. Although, it almost didn’t work out that way: “During the scene where the warehouse is on fire we fight, I do a spinning back-kick and kick Sly up against a wall,” remembers Snipes.
“I thought, ‘this is Rambo, this is Rocky, so when you kick him, you’ve got to kick him’. I kicked him up against the wall and he said ‘wow, wow, wow Mr Karate Man. I can throw myself against the wall, alright?’ I went back to my trailer sweating and shaking, thinking ‘Oh my god. This is my very first scene in my very first movie with Stallone and he just fired me for kicking him,” he laughs.
Thankfully, Snipes kept his job — and with Sly recently revealing plans for a Demolition Man sequel – he’d love to return to the role if there’s a way to bring Phoenix back from the dead: “I’d add a bit more acting to the character now,” he laughs, ‘but I’d love to do it.”
It wasn’t all action though. Snipes performance as drag queen Noxeema in Director Beeban Kidron’s 1995 comedy drama Too Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar alongside Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo couldn’t feel more timely. “It was fun - and a challenge from an artistic perspective,” he says reflecting on the experience.
“For me, that was an attempt to stretch and demonstrate my range of acting skills. To show people that I can be the tough action guy but also do something with different mannerisms and have people buy into it. That was very attractive to me because I figured people would not believe I could pull that off.”
Luckily, his musical training helped out: “I’ve been around dancers all my life, so it really wasn’t that hard,” he laughs. “The hardest thing was dealing with the cold make up. We were using Max Factor back in those days and we didn’t have a Housewives of Atlanta colour pallet and all those wonderful glam eyelashes - but I had so much fun working with Swayze and Johnny. It was wonderful.”
Then there’s Blade, perhaps Snipes most well-known role and a character he came to personify until Marvel recently announced that Mahershala Ali will be taking over for a new feature film. While the star is at peace with handing the character’s vampire-slaying sword to a new hero, there are some Blade stories he wished he’d had the chance to tell.
“He would’ve had a relationship,” says Snipes on where he would’ve taken Blade next. “In Guillermo del Toro’s film, number two, there were the beginnings of him being romantic, and had it gone the way I wanted it to in three, he would have had a romantic relationship.”
Read more: Wesley Snipes addresses Blade misbehaviour stories
While that storyline didn’t come to pass, Snipes is keen to pick up these threads in a brand new supernatural franchise, with a completely new character: “Same genre, same hybrid-world but we’re going to explore shape-shifters,” he says, teasing his new mystery project.
“We’re going to put Blade to sleep.”
Coming 2 America debuts on Amazon Prime Video on 5 March