Wesley Snipes: How He Built A Career As An Actor, Entrepreneur And Novelist

Dan Schawbel
Written by Dan Schawbel

Wesley Snipes
Wesley Snipes/Forbes

 

 

 

I spoke to Wesley Snipes, a movie star, entrepreneur and the co-author of “Talon of God“, about his inspiration for the book, how he’s stayed relevant in the entertainment business, how his acting career helped him be a better entrepreneur, Spike Lee’s influence on his career and his best advice.

With over 70 films to his acting credit and 18 as a producer, Dr. Snipes has a unique diversity that has made him one of the most beloved and sought-out talents for the past 30 years. In addition to his presence in Hollywood, he is also an entrepreneur, including the creation of the innovative “Project Action Star,” a social media and television project which is forthcoming. A skilled practitioner of numerous martial arts disciplines, he has taken the physical expertise he honed choreographing fights scenes in movies like Blade and his vivid imagination to write his new action-packed novel.

Dan Schawbel: How did your famous Blade movies inspire you to write Talon of God? What messages are you trying to convey in the book?

Wesley Snipes: I truly enjoyed playing the character of Blade as I felt he was a complicated, passion-driven and deeply introspective individual caught between two worlds – one light, the other dark – who was on a mission for good, yet was consumed with finding the meaning of his own existence in a world fraught with danger, intrigue and uncertainty. In that sense, with respect to the passionate quest to find one’s purpose and destiny in life, I share a lot in common with the character Blade. As I embraced the character, I realized that I too often pondered the questions of “Why me?”, “What path should I follow in life?”, and “Do I have a higher calling?”

My introspection and search for an answer to those questions was pivotal in my development of the novel Talon of God. I felt that the tremendous success of the Marvel Studios franchise Blade was indicative of the audience truly connecting with the complicated title character and his adventures, and as such, I felt very encouraged and motivated to develop my own warrior-hero character in the person of Talon Hunter, who is one of the lead characters in my novel.

Blade is known for living the warrior’s code of conduct – bushido, if you will – and applying his superior martial arts and fighting skills in the epic battle of good versus evil; human versus vampire. In a similar sense, the character of Talon in my novel also follows the warrior’s code of conduct in his battles against demonic and satanic forces seeking to create hell on Earth.

In terms of messages that I wanted to convey in the book, I think that one of the most important messages is that through faith and determination not to give up, all things are possible. Even though Talon, and his partner Lauryn Jefferson, the other hero in the Talon of God story, face seemingly impossible odds – fighting the very forces of hell themselves – they never lose faith in their own abilities, nor lose faith in the Most High’s divine protection of them through the greatest of challenges.

We often face difficulties and obstacles in life that may seem insurmountable. I would like for people to read Talon of God and come away with the feeling of the warrior within, and know without a shadow of a doubt, that they can overcome whatever challenges they are facing and emerge victorious.

Schawbel: How have you stayed relevant in the entertainment industry over the past three decades? What were some of your early struggles breaking into the business as an actor and what are your recommendations for aspiring actors?

Snipes: Well, to tell you the truth, I consider it a real honor to still be considered relevant in the entertainment industry after having had a career that spans over three decades. I appreciate having loyal fans that span a couple of generations, and I think that I have managed to stay relevant because of my versatility; by keeping my head to the ground and watching the work and trends of other artists. I read, I watch, I listen and then I get off my butt and “do”. I readily embrace the unglamorous, unappreciated, and unappealing work that needs to be done when quality matters. I dig deep to always seek to give my best performance, just like the repertory players I was raised with who were masters of versatility, had tremendous swag and knew that was the name of the game.

With respect to some of the early struggles I had breaking into the business there were no known film actors in my neighborhood or anywhere in my community. Dancers YES!! Stage and film actors… none that I knew. Why would I ever think I could be or would be an exception? Faith is a powerful substance and I had plenty of it. Even against seemingly impossible odds. I was very fortunate to get the early roles I did, and they didn’t come easily. But as the old saying goes, with faith, “It be done work in ya favor widoutcha’ be knowin’ it.”

My advice to aspiring actors is to constantly work on your craft. Expose yourself to as many different types of roles and characters as you can. Become an actor with a universal range and appeal. Select roles and characters that you are proud to represent and participate in projects that you consider honorable as well as entertaining.

Schawbel: What have you learned as an actor that helped you become a better entrepreneur and what did you learn as an entrepreneur that made you a better actor? Are there synergies between both?

Snipes: Synergies? Yes. To be an exceptional actor one has to be well studied, emotionally flexible and steadfast. To be a successful entrepreneur, you must have imagination, courage, and a database of talents along with skilled individuals you can tap into. You need a ‘toolkit’ comprising the right assortment of tools suited for the occasion.

To be a successful actor and entrepreneur requires imagination and courage; the absence of the fear of being different. To quote the gifted axiom, “To whom much is given, much more than you thought is required!”

Schawbel: What influence did Spike Lee have on your film career and what lessons did you learn from him as you were moving up the ranks in the industry?

Snipes: Working with Spike introduced me to the concept of entrepreneurship. That the possibilities of aspiring to and becoming a “gifted artist” are not limited simply to the “art form” itself. They include business development and economic empowerment initiatives that actually contribute to more than just one’s ego. One should embrace charity and be a valuable contribution to humanity. Seek to enlighten as well as entertain. Entrepreneurship can actually save lives and inspire change.

Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?

Snipes: Actually, I have five pieces of career advice to offer:

1. The journey is a marathon not a sprint.

2. Liberate yourself from of the shackles of fear.

3. There is a “tick” for every “tock”, and so be on time when the Light hits your “spot”. Be prepared. Your time is coming.

4. Apprentice under masters of the craft. Roll with the winners. Pray with the pastors and hang with the “heavy hitters”. Let them feed you education and inspiration. These are the lifevest you’ll need to get through rough waters.

5. Trust your “god-gut”, but verify it’s not filled with a bunch of bull-crap.

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