If you’re coming back, come back big. That’s what Wesley Snipes has done with NBC’s The Player, which is his first television series regular role in more than two decades. As Mr. Johnson, the enigmatic “pit boss” whose job is to make sure the game is played fairly, he’s every bit as kick-ass as you’d expect – but also a whole lot more. LA Fan Cultures Examiner spoke with Wesley at the Television Critics Association Press Tour to see what we could learn about Mr. Johnson and Mr. Snipes.
“I love the idea of it being a mystery that’s constantly unfolding,” he said of The Player, which sees Johnson trying to ride herd on former FBI agent Alex Kane (Philip Winchester) while his constitutents gamble on Alex’s ability to stop crimes. “The idea of it being a show where there’s a lot of plot twists, there’s always a undercurrent and a undertone of danger. The stakes are always high, and then you throw the action on top of it as icing.”
“Look forward to the conspiracy, look forward to the mystery,” Wesley continued. “The unpredictable, untelegraphed plot twist. Look for a heck of a lot of action. We’re going to do some things that are really going to surprise you.”
If that’s coming from him, that’s setting the bar pretty high. Wesley will always be linked to action thanks to his roles in a number of action films, most notably Marvel’s Blade franchise. But casual fans may not know that’s not just acting – the actor has earned two black belts and trained in a number of martial arts disciplines. When Mr. Johnson puts Alex down in The Player‘s pilot, that’s something he didn’t need a stunt double for. He’s a certified tough guy all on his own.
With that in mind, how would he evaluate the action sequences that we’re about to see? He told us it’s film quality work. “Movies never lack action and that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to do the stuff that you would normally see or you could see on a high concept action feature,” he said. “And not the same old thing; stuff that’s going to have an emotional impact to it and be visually engaging.”
For Wesley, the real challenge has been transitioning back into the much faster-paced – and hopefully much longer – world of working on a television series.
“It’s an adjustment period so far, because I’ve never done a series that would run this long with this many episodes,” he explained. “It’s a little weird, the idea of working with the same people for a year, or being on the same project for over six months, very weird, but I’m up for the challenge.”
He’s already embraced his new colleagues. “I’m having a ball,” he told us. “You know what’s engaging is their enthusiasm. Philip is like the happiest guy on the planet, so that rubs off.
“And even when I think, man, this is kinda crazy, I can’t believe they’re doing it this way, this is a recipe for mediocrity, I’ll look at Philip and he’ll go, ‘Isn’t this great? I love this scene,’ and I’ll be like yeah, alright. I like having that guy with me.”
The relationship between their characters, though, is much more icy. Johnson is the representative of the not-so-nice aspects of The Game – the guy who reminds Alex and the audience that this is serious, that there are rules, and that people can and will die. That’s a very important role in the story, and so it’s easy to see why Wesley came to mind: he brings that gravity to the table, as well as an ability to take part in everything The Player wants to throw at him.
Then there’s that small part of you that always wants to like him, even though you know Johnson could put a bullet in your head as soon as you turn around. After all, we first meet him standing over the body of Alex’s predecessor.
Though Mr. Johnson is the man who seemingly has all the answers about The Game and the House, Mr. Snipes is quick to tell us that he knows nowhere near as much as his alter ego. He does, however, possess a few tantalizing facts about the Pit Boss that will already put audiences on the edge of their seats.
“One of the things that we do know is that Johnson was a Player,” he explained. “He was trained by others to be a Player, or he was chosen as a Player – and he is one of the only ones, the only Players who ever took out his Pit Boss.”
But Johnson isn’t all about putting the hammer down. As audiences will soon discover, he’s a man with a remarkable ability to move in any circle and adopt any persona he requires, and who even displays a surprising sense of humor. It’s his job to be the enforcer, but that is only one facet of his personality, and Wesley wouldn’t mind exploring his character’s softer side.
“It’d be interesting to have a love, romance and to see the inner turmoil of the character,” he theorized. “That he doesn’t always have it all together even though it appears he has it that way. And those times and moments where he really is vulnerable. I think that’s a richer performance and a richer character than just a guy who’s always on top of everything.”
“I’m hoping people will be excited by the process, excited by what we bring to the table and the balance of high drama and great performances,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to working with a lot of talented artists. I hope they are attracted to our show and would want to come and play with us. If for no other reason that I get a chance to meet them because they’re a lot of talented people in this business that I’ve never met. Strangely enough.”
It’s not hard to imagine that Mr. Johnson will soon be climbing his way up the ranks of favorite Wesley Snipes roles. It is, however, hard to pick the favorite. “The cool thing is that different people like different things,” Wesley reflected.
“Some people love the baseball movie [Major League], some people love the basketball movie [White Men Can’t Jump], some people love Passenger 57 and hate Blade. Some people love Blade and have never seen Passenger 57. And certain people like Noxeema Jackson from To Wong Foo.”
He knows that his loyal fan base will be following him to The Player, and he’s already thinking of them. “My goal is to create a character that for all of the Comic-Cons and all the cosplayers,” he teased, “that they’ll say okay, I’m Mr. Johnson, and it’s very distinguishable.”
That won’t be hard, considering how much Wesley already stands out.
The Player premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. For more with Wesley, follow him on Twitter (@WesleyTSnipes) and use the hashtag #ThePlayer to join in on the social media conversation.