Last Thursday actor Wesley Snipes (U.S. Marshals, Undisputed) was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty in February of three misdemeanor counts for willfully failing to file his tax returns from 1999 to 2001. Snipes and his lawyers had hoped he could avoid prison time, even if he ends up doing that time at a minimum-security “Club Fed”-style prison camp, and went so far as to present three checks totaling $5 million to Judge William Terrell Hodges at the sentencing hearing.
Judge Hodges said he didn’t have the authority to accept the money, and the prosecution wouldn’t accept it either. Was anyone in the courtroom bold enough to cash Blade’s checks? Just in the nick of time, a kindly IRS employee stepped up and said he’d give them a good home at the Treasury Department. Crisis averted.
Snipes’s legal team also presented the court with letters from his family and friends, including former costars Woody Harrelson (White Men Can’t Jump) and Denzel Washington (Mo’ Better Blues), in the hopes that their defense of Snipes’s character would influence Judge Hodges’s decision. Thanks to a friend of mine who works for Homeland Security and owes me a favor, I’ve obtained a transcript of the wiretapped conversation between Snipes and Washington that led to the writing of the two-time Oscar winner’s letter.
DENZEL: (picks up phone) Hello?
WESLEY: Denzel? Hey, this is Wesley.
DENZEL: (pause) Clark?
WESLEY: No. Snipes. Wesley Snipes.
DENZEL: Oh! Wes! Sorry, the reception was bad for a second there, so you sounded like a former military hero who made a failed run at the White House four years ago.
WESLEY: Yeah, I get that a lot. Listen, Denzel, the reason I’m calling is because I’d like to ask you for a favor.
DENZEL: Sure, what do you need? Bruckheimer’s home number? Lemme see … Yep, here it is. You got a pen? It’s—
WESLEY: Thanks, but I actually need a bigger favor than that.
DENZEL: Alright. Name it.
WESLEY: Well, as you know, the jury found me guilty of not filing my taxes for a few years.
DENZEL: You call six years “a few”?
WESLEY: Dude, I know, okay? Geeez! Seriously, don’t start.
DENZEL: Hey, I hate ’em too, but you’ve gotta pay your taxes.
WESLEY: I know, but these accountants I hired said I didn’t have to because I’m rich.
DENZEL: You’re rich, but you ain’t white.
WESLEY: Thank you for pointing that out.
DENZEL: You know you messed up.
WESLEY: I know.
DENZEL: You know you messed up.
WESLEY: I know! Look, I called because they’re saying I could get three years for this.
DENZEL: You serious?
WESLEY: The prosecution wants to make an example of me.
DENZEL: But if it was somebody like Steven Seagal, all his problems would be behind him by now.
WESLEY: That’s exactly what I’ve been— wait, why Seagal?
DENZEL: I’m just saying, if this was some white actor—
WESLEY: But why’d you say Seagal?
DENZEL: I don’t know. His name was the first one that popped into my head.
WESLEY: It had nothing to do with the fact that he used to be a major movie star who now does straight-to-DVD action movies that nobody in this country ever sees except late at night on cable, right?
DENZEL: (sighs) I’m terribly sorry. When I said “Steven Seagal,” what I meant was Sir Peter O’Toole, okay? I get those two confused sometimes.
WESLEY: Never mind. Let’s just drop it.
DENZEL: Seagal was never on the same level as you. All he’s ever done is action movies ’cause that’s all anyone will hire him for. You, on the other hand, are an actor who can nail any role you’re given.
WESLEY: Oh, stop it. You’re just saying that.
DENZEL: Back in 89, when we were shooting Mo’ Better, I turned to Spike after one of our scenes and I said, ”We’re all gonna be workin’ for Wes one day. Mark my words.”
WESLEY: You did?
DENZEL: I did.
WESLEY: Denzel Washington, you are the sweetest thing!
DENZEL: Spike even bet me $20 it wouldn’t happen. And it didn’t happen, so I guess you owe me $20. Don’t say you don’t have it, ’cause we all know that ain’t true.
WESLEY: Actually, I’m planning to write a check for $5 million that I can present to the court.
DENZEL: Well, you don’t have to write me a check for that 20. I’ll take cash.
WESLEY: Denzelll! Stop kidding around!
DENZEL: (laughs) I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to go to jail, man. You messed up, but Spike told me he wants to do that James Brown movie with you, and I wanna see that happen. Maybe I can do a cameo as Maceo Parker. Say, did you realize ”cameo” and ”Maceo” have the same exact letters, with only the C and the M switching places? Isn’t the English language fascinating?
WESLEY: Yeah, it’s great. Look, here’s the favor I need from you — I need you to write a letter to the court telling them I’m a reputable person of good, upstanding character and … you know, whatever.
DENZEL: A chance to write a letter? You just said the magic words!
WESLEY: Are you being sarcastic?
DENZEL: No. I just said I find the English language to be fascinating, so I am dead serious when I tell you I’m a man of letters — love letters, letters to the editor, letters of recommendation, letters to the kids I sponsor through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Did I ever tell you that after I helped one of those boys get into Harvard he sent me a text message from his cell phone that said ”Thanks,” but he only used the letters T, H, and X? Can you believe that? That ain’t a proper thank-you note. What happened to etiquette and penmanship, my brother? Where’d it go?
WESLEY: It’s positively ghastly.
DENZEL: But you know what isn’t ghastly? “Ave Maria.” Shall we?
(Denzel and Wesley spent the next four minutes singing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” to each other in perfect harmony. When they finished, they lightly applauded each other’s performance.)
DENZEL: But you know what is ghastly? That movie you did called The Marksman.
WESLEY: I’m blushing. And not in the good way. Where did you see that?
DENZEL: Netflix sent it to me by accident. I was supposed to get The Remains of the Day. I almost wrote them a strongly worded letter informing them of my displeasure, but then I thought, Who’s gonna read it? Everything’s automated these days. So I sat down and watched your movie, because I hadn’t seen you in anything in a while and I figured why not. You never know when a movie will surprise you.
WESLEY: What’d you think?
DENZEL: It didn’t surprise me. It was terrible.
WESLEY: (sighs) I know.
DENZEL: Wes, you’re better than that crap.
WESLEY: You’re just being nice.
DENZEL: No, I’m not. I’m disappointed in you, but I still believe in you.
WESLEY: So you’ll write that letter for me?
DENZEL: Damn right I will.
WESLEY: Thank you. I appreciate it.
DENZEL: But don’t let me catch you starrin’ in anything like The Marksman again, you hear?
DENZEL: And don’t try to pay me that 20 bucks over PayPal either. You know I don’t understand how that stuff works.