Wesley Snipes: ‘They made it very seductive to do action movies’

The original Black superhero talks to Ed Cumming about playing comedy opposite Eddie Murphy in Coming 2 America, overcoming trials in his life, and showing the new generation that ‘the old wolves aren’t off the field’

Wesley Snipes appears on Zoom in front of a large banner that reads DAYWALKER CLIQUE. His Zoom handle is “OG Daywalker”. I get the impression he is not one of those actors labouring to distance himself from his most famous role. It’s like interviewing Roger Moore in front of a large sign saying Martini Club.

The Daywalker, for any readers who were not 11-year-old boys in 1998, was Blade, the half-vampire, half-human vampire hunter that Snipes played in three blockbuster films in the late Nineties and early 2000s. Blade sliced, staked and silver-bulleted his way through assorted nocturnal miscreants, all the while wearing shades, black vests and an air of rugged insouciance. Blade, not to put too fine a point on it, was cool, especially if you were an 11-year-old boy in 1998. Snipes, as far as can be deduced over the internet, looks basically the same as he did 23 years ago, fit and strong and not remotely like a man who will be 59 in July. 

“I’m doing what I can to keep my mind sane and my body tight,” he says, grinning. “With all these young boys out there, I have to show that the old wolves aren’t off the field, you know what I mean?”

He is promoting Coming 2 America, the long-awaited sequel to Coming to America, Eddie Murphy’s 1988 romcom about an African prince who moves to New York to find a queen. But it seems negligent not to get the banner out of the way first. 

“The Daywalker Clique is our global community of hyphenated skill masters,” Snipes explains. “People who are capable of doing more than one thing extremely well. Our mission is to bring light to the world in darkness. We focus on technology, art, science. Some of our members are the leading experts and wizards in everything from nuclear fusion to renewable plastics.” I see, I say. How many Daywalkers are there? Can I join?

“There are about 4,000 worldwide, and that depends,” he says, which seems reasonable. It wouldn’t be much of a clique otherwise. “You have to be multitalented. You could be a journalist by day and a jazz musician by night.” Sadly, I don’t think I qualify. What kind of projects are they working on? 

“For example, our partnership with Amazon to promote Coming 2 America,” he says. “We want to promote African excellence, and present images contrary to the stereotypical images we’re accustomed to seeing about people of colour and Africa as a whole. We want to promote intellectual excellence, physical excellence, love-making excellence…”

He often refers to “we”, which may be the Daywalkers or a regal first person. It’s hard to tell how serious Snipes is being with the Daywalker stuff. There doesn’t seem to be a website, and the impression I get is that it’s a loose informal grouping of fans. Equally that may just be what the Daywalkers want me to think. There’s obviously a valid point to be made about black representation. Coming to America received mixed reviews on its initial release, but its reputation has steadily grown in the intervening decades. 

Murphy played Prince Akeem, who set out from his fictional African nation of Zamunda, to Queens, New York, with his sidekick Semmi (Arsenio Hall), in the hope of finding a bride. They take jobs at McDowell’s, a McDonalds rip-off, where Akeem falls for the owner’s daughter, Lisa (Shari Headley). As a romcom with an all-black cast, Coming to America was a rarity. “Before Wakanda, there was Zamunda,” declared aWashington Post article to mark the film’s 30th anniversary in 2018, in reference to the fictitious African nation in Black Panther. “[Coming to America] provided an alternative representation of blackness and created a space for actors of colour that was anything but standard.”