We spoke to Wesley Snipes, ’90s action icon—co-starring with Eddie Murphy in the sequel Coming 2 America—about aging with grace, the value of money, and what he learned from two years behind bars.
Men’s Journal: Who were your heroes growing up?
Wesley Snipes: The cats that influenced me were guys like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, James Brown, Michael Jackson—all of these performers who could dance. Gene Kelly was the man, him and Douglas Fairbanks. I remember growing up in the Bronx, watching them whenever there was a chance. I would jump around the house, trying to be a swashbuckler.
How should a man handle getting older?
You have to realize that things are going to slow down; that even if your mind is fast, the body, the machine, will rust. And as the machine begins to rust, the ability for it to generate kinetic power begins to diminish. So the trick is to be aging gracefully and healthfully, and keep the rust out of the body. If you can keep the rust out of the body, then getting old is not a problem at all.
What human quality do you most admire?
The ability to survive.
And what trait do you most deplore?
Squandering your talent. It’s irresponsible.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
Women have been a very strong influence in my life. Most of my greater accomplishments have come at the advice and care and patience of females—from my grandmother, to my mom, to my teachers in high school, who really helped propel me toward the arts and, you know, expanded my consciousness.
What role should vanity play in a man’s life?
How you look and how you style yourself and how you smell is a reflection, as we say on the streets, of the quality of your temple. If your temple is polished and gleaming, people are gonna come, people gonna worship. But if your temple is raggedy…no, no, no, no, no.
What living person do you most admire?
Not a person—a personality. I admire people who have gone through the fire and come out on the other side, in some cases rising back like the phoenix and soaring from that point forward. Those people, I dig 1,000 percent.
You spent a couple of years in jail for tax problems. What did you learn most from that?
The value of time. I was gone for two years and some months, and the most amazing thing was to return back to what they call the world—interesting term—and find that there were people who were doing the exact same thing, in the exact same situation. It’s almost like time stood still for two years. Now who was in jail? Who is still in jail?
What’s one thing that every man should understand about money?
Money is the icing on the cake, the trophy for hard work done. But the money is not really what it’s all about. It’s the knowledge of how to create the value that creates the money.
What adventure most changed your life?
Going to SUNY Purchase for art school. Completely foreign territory. I was one of maybe four Black guys in the whole department. That was the most life-altering experience for me.
They hit me with something. They said, “You don’t know who you are. You don’t know your style. You haven’t learned enough.” Now, that was offensive, especially coming from white folks who had never experienced the world that I lived in. But they were right.
— Wesley Snipes interview by Larry Kanter