Wesley Snipes pokes fun at his three-year jail time

Wesley Snipes (above) on his jail sentence for tax fraud. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Wesley Snipes (above) on his jail sentence for tax fraud. -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Wesley Snipes appears in the new movie The Expendables 3 and would have been in the first one in the franchise too, except that he was a little busy at the time - serving a three-year jail sentence for tax fraud.

The movie is the first the 52-year-old action star has done since his release from a Pennsylvania correctional facility last year. And he has been totally at ease discussing his jail time as he promotes the flick. The star of the popular Blade vampire trilogy (1998-2004) is more than happy to poke fun at it off screen, too, as Life! and other reporters discover at a press event in Beverly Hills last week.

Radiating a relaxed confidence, the actor confirms The Expendables creator Sylvester Stallone wanted him to be part of the star-studded cast of the first film in 2010.

"Sly's been talking to me about doing something for a while, but we didn't find the right thing," he says of Stallone, whom he appeared with in the 1993 science-fiction action comedy Demolition Man. "Then this came along but schedules didn't align, events in personal life put a damper on things. Who knew the stars would line up again (on The Expendables 3)?"

In a tongue-in-cheek reference to Snipes' run-in with the law, the actor plays a character that Stallone's team of expert guns-for-hire busts out of prison - where, he quips, he was sent for "tax evasion".

It is one of several self-deprecating touches in the film, which also takes digs at the fact that Stallone and co-stars Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham are getting a bit long in the tooth.

"You're kind of laughing at the wins and the losses, the bumps and the bruises," says Snipes, who was convicted of wilfully failing to file tax returns for a decade and owing the United States government millions in unpaid taxes.

"That makes it fun, though. It's like the champion always talking about the fight that he lost - it's not as funny when it's happening but, afterwards... we can throw back a lot of beers on that one."

Asked what jail was like for him, he first cracks a joke - "Look, I wouldn't advise anybody to go through it, it wouldn't be my first suggestion" - before growing philosophical. It was no picnic, he admits, but says "greater men than me have been through worse".

An accomplished martial artist, he says prison also gave him more time to study yoga "and its influence on modern-day martial arts". This and his study of "ayurvedic principles and healing" have helped keep him in shape, he claims. "And it's keeping me looking younger than these guys."

The last comment is clearly a joke. Although the actor can easily pass for a man decades younger, Snipes does, in fact, think the younger generation of Hollywood actors could learn a thing or two from older performers such as himself.

"There are not as many guys trained on the mat of being physical and acting at the same time. Having a lot of other skills - circus skills, gymnastic skills - is customary among theatre performers. I think maybe the generation now are less aware of the value of being multifaceted, coupled with the discipline that comes along with it.

"I would encourage any young actors that if they are interested in doing action, they should really watch some of the old films and performances."

He himself is raring to go, with a slate of new projects lined up for himself as both an actor and a producer, including rumoured collaborations with big-name directors Antoine Fuqua and Spike Lee.

He says: "I'm focusing a lot on the production side and looking at some interesting things, from animation to drama to a martial-arts action comedy that I'm producing. I'll be surprising people with a non-fiction book that's going to come out this year too."

Moreover, he believes he may still have some fans out there who will support him through it all.

"I found out I have a huge following in Kazakhstan - I was very surprised about that," he tells Life! "And all over the Caribbean and the African diaspora," says the actor, who also spends a lot of time in South Korea with his Korean-born second wife, painter Nikki Park, and their four children, aged seven to 12.

"Germany is still pretty cool," he continues. "But Japan's hot and cold - sometimes they're with me and sometimes they're not sure," he says, looking askance at a Japanese reporter at the table.

When the latter assures him that moviegoers there will love The Expendables 3, Snipes perks up. "All right," he bellows. "We're back in again. See, never give up. That's the name of the game, we never give up."