Interview: Wesley Snipes, Director Antoine Fuqua on ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’

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CHICAGO – Wesley Snipes is a great dresser, among other talents. The coolness and intuitive skills that he had displayed in “Blade,” “White Men Don’t Jump’ and “Passenger 57” is in evidence again with his role of Caz in “Brooklyn’s Finest.”

Snipes, appearing to promote the film in Chicago with director Antoine Fuqua, is part of an exceptional cast which includes Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Lili Taylor and Ellen Barkin. Brooklyn’s Finest is an unflinching look at the politics and sorrows of the “thin blue line,” the police officers responsible for “protecting” society.

Brooklyn Heights: Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle in ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’
Brooklyn Heights: Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle in ‘Brooklyn’s Finest’
Photo Credit: Phillip V. Caruso for © Brooklyn’s Finest Productions, Inc.

HollywoodChicago sat down with both Wesley Snipes and Director Antoine Fuqua to talk about the talent and influences that characterize the drama, plus discussed the career dynamics of Snipes, a true king of cool. Wesley, you spoke of making your character of Caz more obviously a somewhat rehabilitated man. What about Caz’s journey do you directly relate to, and were you channeling elements of your own life into Caz?

Wesley Snipes: As an actor you can’t avoid that. I’ve matured in the years and I’ve grown. I’ve learned how to conserve my energy and not waste it as much, which is what I think the earlier Caz would have done. I’ve grown to have a larger perspective on what the game of life is all about. It’s about finding peace and not being part of the ‘sheeple’ and it’s okay to go your own way and be cool with that, and be cool with your relationship with the most high.

There is a reward for doing things that are constructive and healing. I also have a sense of the impact of what I do in film can have and has had on people. So it makes it easy to sympathize where Caz is at, and some of the dialogue I had with Don Cheadle’s character, about the game and his new perspective on the game, it being like hamsters spinning in a wheel. I can identify with that.

HC: Antoine, the mythos of police officers is one of the most popular themes in media fiction. Why do cops continually fascinate the American audience? What do you think it is about our inherent human nature that relates or attaches ourselves to the stories of police officers?

Snipes: [Interjecting] Because we grew up with them when they were bums. [laughs]

Antoine Fuqua: Very true, you were the biggest gangsta on the block! [laughs] They are as human as everybody else, and our first line of defense. We count on them daily to protect us, and they live the most dramatic lives day in and day out, outside of a solider in war. And some of them do it for years. Police officers have all kind of stories, from horrific to heroic. They are fascinating human beings when you go into their lives a little deeper.

HC: Tango [Don Cheadle] and Caz’s past is alluded to in Brooklyn’s Finest but never completely spelled out. Wesley, did you and Don Cheadle talk about the type of relationship that the two men had and do you think it was expressed in the performances?

Snipes: Interestingly enough, we didn’t get too heavy into it. We kind of played it as though it was a true return, and the surprise that happens when two people don’t see each other after a long time. In real life, I hadn’t seen Don in many years, so our first scenes together…as a matter of fact I hadn’t seen him before we shot the scene.

Fuqua: Which was intentional.

Snipes: So all the gathering and emotional expressions were all true to form. So we didn’t discuss it beforehand, most of us who come from certain environments know what it’s like to be a cat locked up and then save another cat’s life, and what that means.

Fuqua: It’s insane in a way, that we don’t have to have that dialogue, that is deep.

Finest Kind: Antoine Fuqua, Patrick McDonald and Wesley Snipes in Chicago, February 23, 2009
Finest Kind: Antoine Fuqua, Patrick McDonald and Wesley Snipes in Chicago, February 23, 2009
Photo Credit: Patrick McDonald for

HC: Antoine, how did you come across Michael C. Martin’s script? Was it automatically tagged towards you because of ‘Training Day’ or did you find it on your own? And what attracted you most to the script?

Fuqua: It was tagged to me via Thunder Road Productions and Basil Iwanyk, and Mary Viola read it. She’s from Brooklyn, and read it from a pile of scripts, and one said Brooklyn’s Finest so she pulled it out and read it, then said we have to get it Antoine, because of Training Day. Basil was one of the executives over at Warner Brothers when I did Training Day, and we were looking for something to do. They all knew I didn’t want to do another cop movie, but when I read it I didn’t see it as a cop movie. I saw it as a human tale about men under pressure and the choices they make. Plus, it had moments for great opportunities for actors like Wesley, Don Cheadle, Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke. If I could get a cast like that…[smiles].

HC: Wesley, you grew up in the South Bronx and most likely observed or experienced a lot of the conditions of poverty that fuels the crimes in Brooklyn’s Finest. What aspect of Caz’s character do you sympathize with the most based on your life background?

Snipes: He always likes to look good, I can relate to that. [laughs] There you go.

HC: Antoine, the police is often called the “thin blue line” the point between order and anarchy. With the pressures presented in Brooklyn’s Finest, do you predict a breakdown of that line, especially as poverty escalates with the the recession?

Fuqua: I would say so, if we don’t do something about it. If we don’t have conversations like this, about it. If we don’t explore deeper, people becoming more desperate, which leads to desperate decisions, it can only get worse. I believe it could be a horrible breakdown. It’s not going to be a black and white issue, I think it’s going to be across the board. It’s about power, desperation and fear. Everyone is afraid. If we don’t talk together and communicate and express that, it can be explosive.

Antoine Fuqua and Wesley Snipes on the Set
Antoine Fuqua and Wesley Snipes on the Set
Photo credit: Phillip V. Caruso for © Brooklyn’s Finest Productions

HC: Wesley, what have you learned about your own human nature through the study of martial arts?

Snipes: Not to sound too [makes ethereal sound] but human beings are really magnificent creatures, we are divine creatures having this human experience. And the human body is a magical machine. The things it can do, the range of potential and possibilities is unlimited. Attention to it can actually bring you to heaven, you can experience heaven here on earth. If you really get into it. And not just martial arts, but inside the understanding what it’s like to conscious inside this machine, this body. Heavenly.

HC: Antoine, you spoke of being a film buff. What images in films when you were growing up did you enjoy the most, and what was your first impression of African Americans in film, and did you relate to them?

Fuqua: The images that had the most impact on me were movies like ‘Shane.’ I remember seeing them, with the idea of a guy putting his guns up and then having to use them again for the right reasons. It was powerful to see that. The first time I saw ‘Apocalypse Now,’ the images were just so breathtaking, I just thought how do you capture all that? When I saw ‘The Godfather,’ about family, I related to that growing up in a ghetto was all about family, I understood that.

But the images that really hit me were the Westerns. ‘The Wild Bunch,’ ‘The Magnificent Seven,’ I loved all that stuff. That blew my mind. When I was a kid, when I was supposed to be asleep, I’d be up in the middle of the night watching movies. And I’d go to the movies, have enough to see one, and sneak into all the other ones. It kept me off the streets.

HC: Wesley, you are an internationalist, having traveled and lived all over the world. What do you generally tell people in the USA who haven’t traveled as much as you have about the nature of the rest of the world versus the nature here?

Snipes: I tell people here that we’re not at the forefront, we just have a great marketing campaign. America does. But there are people in the world that know more than us, care more than us and have a better quality of life. For example, I saw on the news that an afternoon snooze increases your work production and your health. But other world cultures have been doing that for years, it’s called a siesta! We’ve got great commercials here, but when you actually see the rest of the world, there is more out there. And there may be a place for you out there as well. You might discover a place where you fit in.

HC: You called ‘Training Day’ a West Coast Heart of Darkness. What elements from the Joseph Conrad novel best define those comparisons you were making in that film?

Fuqua: The car was the boat, the journey in the film and Ethan was the character that had to face his demons. Everything is about a seduction, with him saying ‘it’s time,’ that’s the first words he says in the film. And then like Joseph Conrad asserted, all men have are vulnerable and we’re all sinners with weaknesses. Hawke also says, “did you see those guys houses, maybe I’ll get one someday,” so that is ambition.

The devil now knows what he wants, and along comes Denzel. Offering Ethan everything until he couldn’t take it, and then Denzel was just going to kill him. It’s all about facing your demons and it’s all about ‘can you get home with your morals intact?’ That’s why the last scene is Ethan walking into his house. He made it home with his morals intact. That day. That one day.

Snipes: [To Antoine] The richer the ingredients going in, my brother, the sweeter the pie coming out. You do your thing.

HC: Which of your films so far do you think has had the most impact and afterlife with audiences, based on the feedback you get in your travels?

Snipes: I can’t limit it to one. Passenger 57 does a lot for those in the police sciences, they love that film. White Men Can’t Jump is the interracial calling card. [laughs] For all the sports guys out there, that’s the one. Blade, of course, and then New Jack City. Not bad.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” opens everywhere March 5th and features Wesley Snipes, Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Lili Taylor and Ellen Barkin, directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald,

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