Capone talks to BROOKLYN'S FINEST's star Wesley Snipes and director Antoine Fuqua about Kurosawa, Blacula, and relevancy!!!
Published at: March 1, 2010, 9:23 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of hosting a Q&A screening of Antoine Fuqua's superb cop drama BROOKLYN'S FINEST, staring Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke (who also stared in Fuqua's TRAINING DAY), and Don Cheadle. The movie is made up of three stories about cops at turning points in their lives, each one on the verge of doing something ill advised in the hopes of bettering their respective lives. One of the most exciting elements of BROOKLYN'S FINEST is the return to form on the big screen of Wesley Snipes, who plays a drug kingpin recently released from jail and trying to reconcile what he was before and what he is today, which is, believe it or not, a partially rehabilitated man. It's a stellar performance, and a big part of me wishes that Snipes and Cheadle had been given their own movie to really explore these themes. But leaving us wanting more isn't always a bad thing.
While Snipes was the announced guest for the evening, Antoine Fuqua was a surprise bonus guest that I only found out was coming in a couple days before the events. And the pair gave one of the most enlightening Q&As I've ever been a part of. Snipes was playful with the crowd, even pulling out his classic line "I hate vampires" in his deep, gravely Blade voice. Now if only I could have gotten him to say "Always bet on black." I've been a massive admirer of Snipes since I first saw him in the Michael Jackson video for "Bad." The dude flat out scared me. In addition to dozens of action roles in the BLADE films (which he is interested in still continuing), PASSENGER 57, RISING SUN, BOILING POINT, MURDER AT 1600, DEMOLITION MAN, U.S. MARSHALLS, and many more, he's also a gifted comic actor (check him out in MAJOR LEAGUE and still one of the funniest movies of the '90s, WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP) and a dramatic powerhouse (NEW JACK CITY, KING OF NEW YORK, SUGAR HILL, THE WATERDANCE, ONE NIGHT STAND, and WAITING TO EXHALE. And the list goes on and on.
Fuqua's trademark is intensity, even in films that got away from him (or were taken away). With TEARS OF THE SUN, KING ARTHUR, and SHOOTER coming between TRAINING DAY and BROOKLYN'S FINEST, the man has learned what he needs to succeed and how to avoid those that will make him fail. I had a chance to interview Fuqua two years ago while he was wrapping up post-production on SHOOTER, and it was one of the most confessional experiences I've ever had. He was naming names and didn't care who could hear him. When I got to meet him last week for the first time face to face and I reminded him of our talk, he remembered it and laughed and muttered something about "being in a mood" that day.
Enough intro. This sit-down interview took place the morning after the Q&A screening. Please enjoy the great Wesley Snipes and Antoine Fuqua…
Capone: Good morning, everyone.
Wesley Snipes: Hey, there he is. Good morning.
Antoine Fuqua: Hey, I was getting deja vu for a minute.
Capone: Antoine, you mentioned last night just as you did a couple of years ago when we spoke that you are a big fan of Kurosawa, and how a lot of your films deal with that chipping away at honor and a code.
WS: I like Kurosawa, too, from another perspective.
Capone: Sure. Those were like action films that had so much drama and character development. It’s really a rare thing these days to get that level of character development in action film. Can you talk a little bit about how you view your films through that filter, and Wesley please chime in on that, too, because I know that you are a fan.
Antone Fuqua: Kurosawa is a master. The thing with Kurosawa that’s most interesting, or one of the things that is most interesting, obviously he comes from a samurai family which is really interesting about him. And it was all about honor and integrity, and the one thing that I learned from Kurosawa is he would always take his heroes and drag them through mud. He would literally do that. And I believe that you have to almost break a man down to all fours and drag him through the mud and then see how he comes out on the other side. If he can still stand up…
Capone: If he comes out on the other side.
AF: That’s right, “If” he comes out, which is really all about choices, which is what SEVEN SAMURAI is about, choices and then WILD BUNCH did it, which was about choices, and the choices you make for others, a selfless choice. He explored that a lot, and I didn’t know it as a kid that that’s what was happening, I just felt that sort of honor, and so I grew up on a code that I pulled from that, which was friendship and integrity and your word is your word, yet sometimes you have to take action for someone you might not even know. I love films about that, and his films are also about men under pressure. RAN and THRONE OF BLOOD, it’s about men under pressure with these great warriors who are under great pressure. Obviously, he studied Shakespeare, and that’s where a lot of that came from as well. So it just moves me when I see men under pressure having to make life decisions, and it can be life-threatening decisions. And when they make the right decision, something inside me lights up, you know?
Capone: It’s just as interesting when they make the wrong decision, too.
AF: Yeah, because you see the consequence, but ultimately at the end of it someone is making the right choice. Take TRAINING DAY, Ethan Hawke made the right choice. In this one, Richard Gere made the right choice. Even Wesley’s character made the right choice, but because of the ugly world he was living in, he couldn’t escape it and get out. That’s how Kurosawa has… And then there are all sorts of visual ways I can go nuts with, so yeah.
Capone: [To Snipes] What is your perspective on his films?
WS: The scope. The epic character of it, but he also had, for me, dynamic actors who were also physical. They had deep emotional expressions or could express themselves emotionally… deep personalities, but at the same time they were very physical, and that’s right up my alley.
Capone: I can see that.
AF: That makes perfect sense.
WS: Because there are very few actors, I’ve grown to realize, that have that mix and that balance of being able to be deeply emotional, but at the same time be consistent with that emotion and character and be physical at the same time, you know, not come out of character when it comes time for the action sequence. That’s kind of what I find interesting. I guess that would be the model that I tailored my early training around. Mostly, all of the scenes I ever did in school ultimately had some physicality involved with it, you know. I like that.
Capone: So Toshiro Mifune has a very special place in your world?
WS: Absolutely! That and you take William Marshall from BLACULA; you know what I’m saying? This guy, he was a Shakespearian actor and he brought to BLACULA a tone and a dignity and a depth of performance that was unusual for what we would consider a blaxploitation vampire flick. But for me as the actor, I’m looking at the technique that he’s using, his tone and choices, and I can make that from Toshiro Mifune and I tried to bring a lot of that to BLADE and even to this character, that realism, that true expression of the emotion, but also being physical at the same time.
Capone: Excellent. So let’s back it up a little bit and just talk about bringing the two of you together. What made you think of Wesley for that part and then what made you want to play Caz?
AF: When I read the script, it just jumped out at me. It jumped out at me as a guy that was a strong man who wanted a new life, but couldn’t get one, didn’t want his old life, but was a tough guy, and you believe lived on these streets. And I kept thinking, “Who are the actors that could play that role, that could deliver that and you still have sympathy for them? That could deliver all of that and could scare you at the same time?" I could only think of Wesley. I couldn’t think of anybody else. Trust me, I had a lot of reasons not to think of him, and people were saying “Wesley might not be available” and this, that, and the other, and I was like “He’s got to be available. I don’t care what he’s doing.”
WS: “He’s not relevant.”
AF: I had someone tell me he wasn’t relevant and…
Capone: I want that person dead! I want his family dead!
WS: “I don't think he's relevant anymore.” I love that.
AF: Pretty much, and I honest to God don’t think I would have made the movie if I couldn’t get him. There was nobody else I could put in that role, for me.
Capone: So what did you like about that character?
WS: One that he wasn’t Nino [his drug kingpin character for NEW JACK CITY]. I liked the fact that he expressed a maturity, and he could comment on something, not from the pulpit or from the rostrum; he could comment on it based on his personal visceral experience. Guys like that impress me and guys like that who have been through it and not just talk about it, the doers touch me. I thought, “Well if I can play this character and bring some of that, then maybe we can touch a couple of guys out there who are in this world, and maybe they will want to switch the game, switch their life, and at least he wont be another Nino.
Capone: Both Don Cheadle and you have this interesting thing where you have to play guys that everyone is fearful of, and yet I don’t think we really see you do anything that awful, and yet we are still scared of you. We know that that potential is in you, because of the way you are acting and talking and your physical presence.
WS: That’s part of the subtext that I’m running through in my mind with each scene. I’m always playing “I don’t trust this guy. If I’m going to stick him, where am I going to stick him? If I’ve got to pop him, I’m going to pop him right now, so how am I going to get out of here?” That’s the character, but that’s also true to the life of cats who come out of the joint. They try to trust, but they are always suspicious of everybody, even the closest cat to them. One night they might wake up, and the cat that was in the bunk above him now is next to him and it’s like “Yo, you’re mine.”
AF: With a shank in your back.
WS: Or for a pillow party!
AF: [laughs] That's an ugly thought, man.
WS: There you go. Again, that goes to… I’ve honestly got to give credit to going to performing arts and going to professional training school, because that’s where they taught me how to think about those things, that subtext and inner dialogue that’s going on. “What am I trying to get out of it?” “What do I need out of this?” “Do I trust this person?” If you can hear all of those things while you are acting the role, then your body will reflect that with little subtleties. You might move a certain way or that kind of thing.
AF: That’s the fun for me, to watch them do their magic.
Capone: When we talked about SHOOTER, we got into a brief conversation about some '70s films that you liked, and you were kind of modeling certain parts of SHOOTER after them. To me, this feels like your most '70s movie. At the beginning, you’ve got all of this overlapping dialogue and lots of long shots. It feels like if you would have made this movie in the '70s or set it in the '70s, you wouldn’t need to change a thing. It goes all the way down to Ethan’s long leather jacket.
AF: Absolutely. It fits right in. You know, just being a young man growing up watching those movies man. It was a sense of in the '70s there was a sense of directors just making their movie. It was like they had a freedom and took some chances. Some things worked and some things didn’t. It had a rawness to it. It was on the streets and you knew it was on the streets, you could feel it. I was really going more for that than trying to emulate the exact '70s.
I think what happened was because I was influenced by those movies, it just comes out of you, you know? I just did a commentary for MEAN STREETS for the DGA, so I got to sit and watch it again and I’m telling you man, wow I’m so influenced by so many things and how Scorsese did that movie and how had to pay the people to go to the film festival and how he shot in real places. I just remember seeing those movies, like TAXI DRIVER and stuff like that, and just wanting to make a movie that really showed real life that way, so when I got the script, and even TRAINING DAY, I wanted to be on the streets and that’s where the '70s kind of thing came from. It was just so raw. It just felt raw in the '70s.
WS: Do you think that… sorry…
AF: Go right ahead.
WS: Do you think a lot of directors of that day came from that environment, and that’s why they had the sensitivity to it?
AF: I think that there was a sense of rebellion. There was a rebellious quality to those guys, like Scorsese. Or William Friedkin with TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA and…
Capone: THE FRENCH CONNECTION…
AF: Yeah. There was a sense of directors taking their art form and controlling it at that era. Coppola and those guys were really trying to flex their muscles and make movies the way they wanted to make them, and I think that’s what was happening. The black movement was happening, Vietnam was ending, people were trying to have substance and say something. When Oliver Stone did SALVADOR-- they were trying to say something. Because we had come out of that era where the studios were losing control of the directors, because they were doing their own thing. I think the '70s was that era and then got lost in the '80s, and it started to go more back into the studio system, and it obviously started to obviously become what it is now. It’s that sense of freedom. I’m just one of these guys that’s going through that right now.
Capone: Yeah, before they shut me down, let me just talk real quick about what you guys might have coming up. I’ve seen a trailer for GAME OF DEATH. It just popped up like a week ago I noticed. I saw it online.
WS: That’s an action flick. I don’t know how good it’s going to be though.
Capone: Zoe Bell is in it. That’s not bad. I like her.
WS: You might want a poster.
Capone: Is the James Brown thing not happening now?
WS: What’s on the slate is GALLOWWALKER, the zombie western, and there might be some trailers on YouTube or places like that, and then MASTER DADDY will be the next project I’m working on, a martial arts family comedy. The other one, I don’t know what’s going to happen…
WS: They don’t have the same kind of appreciation for the craft like this man here.
Capone: Antoine I keep reading about PRISONERS and I just saw that Leonardo DiCaprio is now expressing some interest. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that, but is that probably the next thing that’s going to happen with you?
AF: I don’t think so. I met with DiCaprio and we both want to do it, but I had to move off of the project, because I’m trying to find out what I want to do next.
AF: Fifty-fifty, because I was waiting for DiCaprio to decide what he wanted to do on his end, but I wanted to keep moving. I think he’s going to do another movie in between anyway, and I got offered CONSENT TO KILL, the Vince Flynn book, from CBS Films. So I’m circling that and talking to them and seeing who that person would be to play that role. I just don’t want to make another movie without the great actors. I’m spoiled; I don’t want to do it without somebody who’s just going to give me their guts on the table, and I can actually make something worthwhile. It takes too long.
Capone: You mentioned the Pablo Escobar film last night, which I know has been something you have been trying to get done for a while.
AF: I want to do it right, just like everything else. It’s been my passion project, and I’ll sit down with the writer when I get back to LA and see how the script is looking. But yeah I’d rather do it right or not at all. It’s a big story.
Capone: Sure and based on our conversation before, it probably be a better movie if they would just let you do what you want to do, with the right people, because otherwise you might turn on them.
AF: It gets ugly. We’ve had this conversation… [Laughs]
Capone: Alright, thank you both so much.
AF: It was good to see you. And I appreciate last night as well.
Capone: It was good to finally get to meet you in person. Thanks, it was a lot of fun.
WS: All right buddy, thanks.
Capone: Take care.
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