Best known as human-vampire hybrid Blade in the movie trilogy, and for flicks like Demolition Man, New Jack City and White Men Can’t Jump, Wesley Snipes hasn’t done much television in his three-decade career, save for a few guest spots and the short-lived emergency responders series H.E.L.P. 25 years ago.

That’s all changing this season with The Player, a Las Vegas-set action drama premiering Sept 24 on NBC (10/9C).

Snipes plays Mr. Johnson, a pit boss for a high-stakes game in which power players place bets on whether reluctantly enlisted ex-military operative Alex Kane (Phillip Winchester of Strike Back) can stop crimes before they happen. It’s Snipes’ return to action in more ways than one—he spent 28 months in federal prison for tax evasion in 2010-2013. He told us about dealing with that adversity, making his return to action and why he envies Stanley Tucci.

“I think a gentleman is someone that loves and appreciates women and loves Mom.”

What brought you to TV?
I had some friends who had done really great work on television and said it was a wonderful experience that they really enjoyed, and got a lot out of it. I’ve been sent a lot of action show scripts and concepts and this was one of the better ones. It had good story, plot twists and dynamic action merged into one. I’m a fan of The Blacklist and some of the writers and producing team are from that show. I thought, There’s a real opportunity to do some fun work here and good action that I can bring to the table. The premise itself is intriguing, but the idea of playing a character that’s somewhat ambiguous, somewhat mysterious. That is manna from heaven for an actor, and also gives me an opportunity to explore some other type of character development, languages. The biggest concern was how much time I would still have to focus on feature films. And thankfully, they were able to work it out in a way where I can do some movie-star stuff every now and then.

Do you like the idea of playing a character over time?
Yes, I’ve done it in repertory theater, so that’s very familiar to me and was part of the attraction of doing the show.

How do you find the pace compared to movies?
Very, very intense. You don’t have the prep time that you normally do on a feature film. Everybody is trying to find their way, but the cool thing is on our show we have a lot of senior talent in front of and behind the camera, department heads that can walk us through it. A lot of the guys on the action side of it I’ve worked with before, for many years, going back to my Blade days. We know what we want to do in terms of action and we can prepare ahead of time.

It’s been over a decade since Blade: Trinity. Do you need to train harder to prepare for action scenes?
If you stay in shape you don’t have to get in shape. I’m in pretty good shape, but the more you do the more in shape you have to be, and it takes a little bit longer the older you get.

What kind of training do you do?
I’m a calisthenics type of guy, and we do martial arts every day, yoga and some weights here and there. I’m not a big, heavy weight guy.

Do you do your own stunts?
Of course. I’ve gotta do something, otherwise there’s no authenticity, and other people get to have all the fun.

What are you proudest of so far?
The longevity, the diversity of the work. I travel around and meet people and people mention different films. But Blade, I had no idea that it would have that effect when I was doing it.

What’s on your to-do list?
I haven’t done horror films. I promised myself I would do every genre, at least once. I’ve done voiceovers, I’ve done commercials, all kinds of theater—Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, bus and truck, improv, mime, circus, troubadour, dinner theater where people are sitting five feet away from you eating sandwiches. I gotta do a horror film at some point.

Anyone you’d like to work with?
So many! I’m a little jealous of my ex-college classmate Stanley Tucci. He’s gotten to work with Meryl Streep, several times. He has a career that many of us envy because of the diversity of characters he’s played. Being the leading guy is great but it’s fleeting. There’s a lot more longevity if you can play diverse characters. It’s richer and more rewarding in some ways, but they may not pay you as well.

You went through a tough time a few years ago. How did it change you for the better?
Each day we strive to be better than the day before, so the trick for me is to reduce the stress in my life and realize that things pass. Greater men and women than me have been through worse. It has passed, and it’s opened the door for bigger and greater opportunities, with less stress. That’s the trick: less stress.

What’s your definition of the perfect gentleman?
If I knew that, I’d be that guy! I’m a sculpture that still needs to be sculpted. For a start, I think it’s someone that loves and appreciates women and loves Mom.

What one thing can a gentleman to do up his style game?
Take a shower—that’s a good start.

Photo: Jeff Riedel/NBC

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