Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Wesley Snipes stands out in a supporting role, supplying gravitas, charm, and/or energy, causing people to remember that this dude is one of the true movie stars of the last 30 years with a run of classics across comedy, action, and drama that’s hard to best. That’s been the narrative surrounding Snipes’ performances in Dolemite Is My Name and Coming 2 America, and so it shall be in True Story, a tense slow-burn tale about family, fame, lies, and what we’re capable of when we feel like someone is trying to take everything from us.
In the seven-episode Netflix series from former Narcos showrunner Eric Newman, Wesley Snipes plays Carlton, a prideful drain on his famous comedian brother’s bank account and an impediment to him getting some distance from his bad habits. Kevin Hart is the star of the show as The Kid, and he’s never been better as his character is pushed deeper and deeper in a hole with the aid of Carlton. But Hart feeds off of Snipes’ layered and wildly compelling portrait of a conman trying to work the angles no matter the heaving danger in front of him or the evidence against him, navigating these moments with a mix of bluster, charm, and pitty.
We spoke with Snipes and Newman about building this character, how Snipes set the tone and Hart had something to prove, comeback kid labels, how True Story definitely isn’t Curb Your Enthusiasm, and more.
How did this story come to be?
Eric Newman: Kevin [Hart] called me sometime during, I think, the fifth season of Narcos. Kevin called me out of the blue, and he said he wanted to kill someone. He said he wanted to do something dark and different and get his hands dirty. And I thought about it a bit and came up with a version of it that worked for me. I kept coming back to this character of his brother, the betrayer. In all great stories and perhaps in even not great stories, each person is a victim or hero in their own story. And in Kid’s brother Carlton, we needed a little bit of both. And for this whole exercise to work, that part became essential.
I remember having a conversation. I’ve been a fan of Wesley’s forever. And I tried to put him into Narcos at one point. We met, and that didn’t work out. But I said to Kevin, “The guy that should be your brother is Wesley.” And we got on the phone with Wesley, and he either thought we were insane or that we were going to fail spectacularly. And he wanted a front-row seat to that. Or perhaps more likely, he saw that we were serious, and he joined us. And I think he tied the whole thing together.
Wesley, is that your memory of it? Were you just trying to get a front-row seat?
Wesley Snipes: That’s not the memory I have of it at all! [Laughs] Actually, I thought it was going to be like Curb Your Enthusiasm. And if you remember, Eric, I said that on our first Zoom meeting, and the whole conference call went silent. Everybody went quiet. Not Curb Your Enthusiasm. I don’t know. Like some other comedy? They were like, “No, no, this is serious. Very serious.”
Maybe on the next season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, they make a hard turn. Larry kills somebody. You never know.
Snipes: I gotta get Eric a commission off of that.
Wesley, did I hear a little Charlie Murphy in the voice that you use for Carlton? Is that just me?
Snipes: Very good! Very good. I did draw a little bit from Charlie Murphy. And me and Charlie knew each other. Rest in peace, my brother. Oh, man. Yeah. We knew each other very well. We used to go to the same places to get our hair trimmed, our lines and stuff. And I always thought Charlie’s way of talking was very unique. You know? Trying to look at how the Philly guys talk and what that tone is like and how they use their fingers and then use their hands and talk with their hands and all of this kind of stuff. I said, “Okay, let me try to bring a little bit of this into it, to give it some authenticity.” My training is to go and find those pieces of personality that people recognize or are familiar with and try to make it organic and authentic. And yeah, I looked at a lot of tapes and listened to a lot of Roots music. You know who The Roots are?
Yes, I do.
Neo-soul, and how these cats talk and try to bring some of that to it.
This is really a different look for Kevin Hart in a lot of ways. Did he just completely blow away your expectations?
Snipes: Definitely. He did more than I expected. He was much more committed than I anticipated. And he recognized that to be someone else and to create a narrative that’s not you, you got to go in deep, you got to be focused. You got to be emotionally committed to it. And he went there. Yeah. I was most pleased with it. But for me, the best thing is the process. While we’re doing it, I’m enjoying it… I’m like a pig in slop, baby. I am enjoying myself. You know what I’m saying? The magic that emerges from one of those moments where the fire is really there and it really connects, I get off on that. I love it.
Eric, same question to you about Kevin’s performance.
Newman: I credit Kevin’s determination and ambition, but I think Wesley raised the bar for everybody. You don’t show up to set if you’re in a scene with Wesley Snipes where you are not prepared, and you’re not willing to rise to the challenge. And I think it set a great bar. To be honest, some of the most complicated stuff we did in the first five days of shooting, Kevin and Wesley together, Kevin’s big scene with Billy Zane, all of these scenes were… You try to set a tone. And the hope is you have a schedule that allows you to kind of get into it a bit and everyone to get comfortable. We didn’t have that, but we had Wesley. And when Wesley walked on set, you felt it, you felt it for the whole crew. I have so much respect for what actors do. Great actors. And so, we didn’t cast this show because of the way anyone looked, though, they all look great. It was, who’s the best person for this part who understands the part, and who can deliver? And truthfully, and Kevin will admit this, Kevin was the one that had to grow into this. Kevin was the one with something to prove. And I think that this cast came through for him, and he came through for it. And as I said, and Wesley knows this, because I’ve said it to him a million times, I’m so grateful to have Wesley in this show. And part of me still can’t believe that I have Wesley in this show.
Wesley, I can see the future and see what the reviews are going to be. And it’s kind of along what Eric was saying. So often in your most recent projects you stand out and everyone calls it a comeback. You’ve been doing this for a long time, and you’ve been amazing for a long time. How do you take that praise?
Snipes: Yeah. I take it with a grain of salt, you know? For us, it’s about learning to master the craft, similar to a martial artist or a boxer, an athlete, learning to really be a master of the craft and being able to demonstrate your proficiency in any circumstances, regardless of what it is. The show must go on. So, COVID protocols, no COVID protocols, 12 weeks, 30 weeks to film? The goal is to be ready for all of it and still push the envelope of your talent and your skills and make it believable and hopefully entertaining it at the same time.
Last question, and it’s a silly one, but it’s on my mind. Demolition Man era, the hair. When you see Dennis Rodman with the same hair back in the ’90s, does that make you feel good? Or are you like, “This man’s ripping off my look?”
Snipes: [in mock anger] Hell no, I’m mad! You owe me money! All of them cats, man. Black guy with blonde hair. [Laughs]
Should have trademarked it. Should’ve trademarked that and that three seashells thing.
Yeah. Next time. Next time. I got new hairdos I’m coming up with, so I’ll get another shot at it.
‘True Story’ will be available to stream on Netflix starting November 24