8 Surprising Facts About Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes.
Wesley Snipes. / Samir Hussein, Getty Images

From dramatic actor to romantic leading man to vampire hunter, Wesley Snipes has made a career out of showcasing his versatility. After making his film debut in the 1986 Goldie Hawn comedy Wildcats, Snipes went on to earn accolades in critically-acclaimed dramas like 1991’s New Jack City as well as blockbuster movies like 1992’s Demolition Man opposite Sylvester Stallone. For more on Snipes, including his desire to become Marvel’s Black Panther years before it made it to the screen, keep reading.

1. Wesley Snipes originally wanted to be a dancer.

Born in Orlando, Florida, on July 11, 1962, Wesley Snipes came from a divorced family. His mother, a teacher’s aide, and his father, an aircraft engineer, separated when he was just 1 year old. After relocating to the Bronx with his mother and sister, Snipes gravitated toward physical activities like basketball, dancing, and martial arts. Though he was successful in talent shows and even scored a small role in an off-Broadway play, The Me Nobody Knows, when he was just 12 years old, Snipes believed his future was as a professional dancer. He enrolled in acting at the High School of Performing Arts intending to pursue both but quickly found that acting was more rewarding. When his family moved back to Orlando—he missed out on an opportunity to be cast in the 1980 dance film Fame, which used many students from the High School of Performing Arts—Snipes excelled in the drama department of Jones High School and also participated in a street theater ensemble, Struttin’ Street Stuff, that used puppets and could bring in up to $70 a week.

After graduating from the University of New York at Purchase and their competitive theater arts program, Snipes was cast in the 1986 Goldie Hawn film Wildcats as well as several stage productions, including the Broadway play Execution of Justice. In a foreshadowing of his role in 1996’s Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Snipes played a drag queen named Sister Boom-Boom.

2. Wesley Snipes was considered for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Snipes was still a few years away from achieving stardom in films like 1989’s Major League and 1991’s Jungle Fever when he was reportedly placed on a shortlist of candidates for the role of Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation. After the casting sheet surfaced in 2010, LeVar Burton—who ultimately was hired to play La Forge—confirmed on Twitter that the information was accurate.

3. Wesley Snipes may have cost Keanu Reeves the co-starring role in White Men Can’t Jump.

Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson at the 1998 premiere of The Hi-Lo Country.
Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson at the 1998 premiere of The Hi-Lo Country. / Dan Callister/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Snipes had already worked with actor Woody Harrelson (Cheers) on Wildcats when the two were being considered for the lead roles in director Ron Shelton’s 1992 basketball hustler comedy White Men Can’t Jump. Snipes was cast in the role of Sidney Deane first—in part because Harrelson endorsed him to Shelton—while Harrelson was among one of many actors up for the role of Billy Hoyle. When Snipes was asked to audition with Keanu Reeves, Snipes said he purposely made it awkward for Reeves to make sure the audition went poorly so Harrelson’s chances would improve. “[Reeves] would improvise and say something where there would be a natural response from me, and I just left him out there like dirty laundry,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 1992. Harrelson eventually got the part.

4. Wesley Snipes almost played Black Panther.

Following its release in 2018, Black Panther became one of the biggest films to come out of Marvel Studios. Chadwick Boseman played T’Challa, the king of Wakanda, a role he has reprised in other Marvel films. But the character almost appeared onscreen decades earlier, with Snipes in the role. In 2018, Snipes told The Hollywood Reporter that Marvel had approached him about the movie in the early 1990s. Script and production issues halted the project, however, and Snipes went on to star as another Marvel hero, the vampire hunter Blade.

5. Wesley Snipes almost fought Joe Rogan in a UFC bout.

In 2005, comedian and Ultimate Fighting Championship color commentator Joe Rogan was approached about fighting Snipes in a real mixed martial arts match. According to Rogan, Snipes was looking to alleviate a tax debt by securing a bout against fellow action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, but promoters wanted Snipes to face someone else. Rogan, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, agreed but said Snipes ultimately changed his mind. The fight never took place.

6. Wesley Snipes refused to open his eyes for a scene in Blade: Trinity.

Jessica Biel, Wesley Snipes, and Ryan Reynolds in Blade: Trinity (2004).
Jessica Biel, Wesley Snipes, and Ryan Reynolds in Blade: Trinity (2004). / New Line Cinema

Snipes found the biggest financial success of his career with the Blade film series. Based on the Marvel Comics character, a human-vampire hybrid, the original 1998 movie spawned two sequels, 2002’s Blade II and 2004’s Blade: Trinity. The third film was reportedly difficult to make due to disagreements between Snipes and director David S. Goyer. According to Goyer’s DVD commentary for the film, Snipes even refused to open his eyes during one take, forcing the production to use digital visual effects to finish the scene and make it appear as though Snipes was awake.

7. Wesley Snipes wrote a novel.

In 2017, Snipes released Talon of God, a novel described as a “spiritual thriller” about a warrior named Talon who teams with a doctor to stop a demon from taking over Earth. Co-written with Ray Norman, the book received positive critical reviews. USA Today called it “a pretty entertaining supernatural adventure.”

8. Wesley Snipes lost out on Coming to America, but he’s in Coming 2 America.

Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy at the Critics' Choice Association's Celebration of Black Cinema.
Wesley Snipes and Eddie Murphy at the Critics' Choice Association's Celebration of Black Cinema. / Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Niche Imports

While doing press for 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name, Snipes revealed that he had auditioned for the role of Darryl Jenks, the heir to the Soul Glo fortune in the 1988 Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America. Snipes lost the part to Eriq La Salle, which he said hit him hard.

“I really wanted to be in the movie,” Snipes said. “I really wanted to work with [Eddie Murphy] and I was really contemplating what my purpose in life was after losing that to Eriq La Salle.” Things have come full circle for Snipes, as he ultimately worked with Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name and was also cast in Coming 2 America, which is expected to be released in December 2020.