UB Interview: RZA Talks “Man With The Iron Fists”

Robert Diggs, aka The RZA , is a man of many aliases and even more talents. He is the heart, soul and brains behind rap’s only true multiplatinum supergroup, the Wu-Tang Clan. RZA is a man who appreciates the creation of music and the success he has had within the music industry, and he thrives on the process of creation, which he has carried over into his acting and scoring career. For as long as he can remember, RZA has wanted to be a part of the moviemaking process; he was inspired while watching one of his favorite kung fu flicks.

In 1999, RZA got the first taste of living his dream. Director Jim Jarmusch asked RZA to score Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, a modern samurai film, and offered him a cameo in the film, which helped bring him to where he is today. As an actor, RZA has shown real range, from his hilarious stints on television’s Chappelle’s Show to his appearance in the Jarmusch film Coffee and Cigarettes. RZA next starred in the drama Derailed, alongside Clive Owen, and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, for which the cast garnered a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Recently RZA sat down with J.Dot from UrbanBridgez.com to speak about his new film “The Man With The Iron Fists,” working with Quentin Tarantino and the rest of the cast, why people should go out and see this film and much more!

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UrbanBridgez.com: Talk to us about how “The Man w/ The Iron Fists” came to existence?
RZA: The idea for the story has been in my head for years. I finally wrote it down with a guy named Stephon Belafonte. He saw me in a video called “Tragedy.” He was like “yo, you should do a movie like that.” I said well yeah, I have a lot of ideas and he told me to write it down. And so I thought about writing it and then I got told my Quentin Tarantino (aka Bobby), that you have to write your ideas down. So I went and wrote it into a short screenplay, and then my buddy Eli Roth liked the story and helped me take it from 90 pages to 130 pages and flushed out all the flaws, etc. He helped complete my knowledge of the “writing screenplays” technique.

UrbanBridgez.com: Tell us about the involvement of Mr. Quentin Tarantino.
RZA: Well Quentin came on with this film really as one of the last guys to come on board. We were already in motion, and the studio was cool with us and gave us a “yes” with the producers all on board. We had already had tickets to China (laughing). But Quentin is my mentor, and he mentored me for about six years. When it came time for this film to be done, somebody made a statement saying “how can we separate our film in the international market?” Tarantino has a unique style and “Kill Bill” was a unique martial arts film that resonated all around the world. So the idea was that if he was to come and godfather this for us, it would help separate us. So I went and talked to him about it and he said it would be his honor to present his student and his good friend for this film. And thus we have, Quentin Tarantino presents…. I met Eli Roth and Lucy Lui through Quentin, so he’s definitely the godfather of this entire situation.

UrbanBridgez.com: Talk to us about your love for kung-fu since being a child.
RZA: Well kung-fu movies have been inspiring me from the tender age of nine years old. I continue to watch kung-fu movies. I watched one last night called “Kung-fu Punch of Death.” It’s been something that’s always resonated with me; the brother-hood from the martial arts movies and the loyalty, all of that remained a great part of my life.

UrbanBridgez.com: You are apart of such a great cast. How did you prepare for the role?
RZA: Well preparing for the role was difficult in one sense because when I act I strive to be taken seriously and loose myself. I’ll probably end up being a “method actor.” The good thing about playing the character was that I knew the lines (laughing). So that helped me but it was difficult because some days we would be on the set and in the beginning of the day for the first three hours I would be shooting someone else. Then after lunch, I would have to come back and do my scenes. That means I have to go get into costume and makeup and come back in with a different mind-set. So that was a little difficult. But fortunately as a director I was able to give myself time. Sometimes you work on a film and you have to keep it moving. But I was able to give myself a few moments to get it together. It wasn’t an easy job doing both but I completed the task. If I was ever able to do this again, I would allow separation of time. So if I’m acting and directing, I know now how to schedule it. You might have to put 20 days for you to act and then set separate time for the other scenes. It’s not easy to ping-pong back and forth from actor to director.

UrbanBridgez.com: Speaking of the cast, how was it working with Lucy Lui, Russell Crowe and others?
RZA: It was really a cool experience working with such great talent. Russell Crowe is one of the few men that have received an Academy Award for “Best Actor.” He’s probably one of the greatest actors alive. Having him on the set really elevated everybody’s game. It elevated me as an actor even. As a director, I made sure I kept total control, calmness and total focus. Lucy Lui is a very strong-willed, dedicated actress who knows what she wants and knows how to portray things. They both were great to work with. There’s one scene in the movie where I needed both of them to have their chemistry together and I remember going separately to talk to each of them in their individual trailers. I had to play match-maker. So I would ask Russell, “will you kiss her?” and then run back and ask Lucy the same thing. And then when it came time for them to display their on-screen action, they were amazing. They delivered every time!

UrbanBridgez.com: Were you apart of the casting process when figuring out who would be perfect for each role in the film?
RZA: Yeah, the director… it’s up to him. The director can be considered to be captain Kirk. You have many people helping fly the Enterprise ship. You have your Mr. Spock, your Solo, but Captain Kirk has to make all the decisions. He can take the logic from Mr. Spock, but sometimes he won’t. So casting and choosing definitely comes down to the director. Even down to choosing a table cloth. They asked me do I want off-white, egg-white or white table cloth. The final result always falls back on you. I’m gonna share a little something with you. I never told anybody this. After casting this movie, I feel a little more intimidated going on sets and trying to get roles. Because, we film you and then we watch it back with a room full of us and maybe after lunch we might be in geeky mood and then start laughing at your ass. So now I gotta think about all the times I went and tried out for a role and what they thought about me. So it’s kinda made me subconscious about not wanting to go try out for roles any more because the director has such a power over what you are doing. It’s such a humbling experience. You really have to humble yourself to be an actor. I’m really glad for the actors, who all tried out for this movie, who read these lines for the camera; I’m glad they took the chance to do that for me. I think out of this, we found some new talent too. There’s a guy named Byron Man who played a character named “Silver Lion.” I looked at the movie with a few buddies of mine and they said Byron may be a new star because he did such a good job. There’s another actress named Jamie Chung who was also amazing. She has a certain look about her.

UrbanBridgez.com: What was the best part for you about shooting this film?
RZA: One of the best and most exciting parts was the first day of filming. We shot in the mountains on the first day. The only way to get to the top of this mountain was in a cable car. So I had to get my whole crew up this mountain on these slow ass cable cars. And then the equipment wouldn’t fit in some of the cable cars. So we had to hire these mules to go up the side of the mountain. And it was cold as shit. And yet, on the first day of shooting with my adrenaline rushing, the moment of accomplishment I felt was like the first time having sex. To see my actors in their costumes and become these characters that I wrote, it was a very magical moment for me. In the film, you will see it and it definitely looks magical.

UrbanBridgez.com: You didn’t want to score the movie originally but then ended up doing so anyway. Talk to us about that process.
RZA: I wrote the film to music. I learned that from Quentin. So I just wrote to various types of music and I had a playlist that I would write to called “The Man w/ The Iron Fists.” That’s something for the young people to learn. Quentin always told me to write to music because it helps motivate you. I would have been lucky if I could afford to put some of these songs into the film or incorporate some of the songs. I didn’t plan to score this film but it was suggested that I did. I did plan on incorporating some of the stacks of music. I wasn’t going to do it but I was going to have someone do it. I even asked Quentin if he would do it (laughing). But at the end of the day, everyone told me “RZA, you are a musician; you are apart of the Wu-Tang clan. The fans are going to expect you to score this.” So I said okay, ya’ll are right. So after some persuading I took on that job which took a whole other 8 months to complete. I had a buddy named Howard Drawson join me (who’s a smart composer and trained musician), and we just wrote our asses off. In this movie, we have over 70 different music cues. That’s a lot for one film. You think about the movie Jaws only having one music cue. We have cues for each character, and a very well blended mix of orchestration, soul and Hip-Hop.

UrbanBridgez.com: Tell people why they should go out and see this movie.
RZA: There are a few reasons why I suggest that this movie should be seen. One is, it’s one of those movies that fit the big screen. From the action, to the cinematography that’s beautiful. The special effects are cool. The bigger the screen, the better the movie for this particular film. Your eyes and ears are being stimulated. The sound is ridiculous. We have Oscar winning makeup & special effects guys working on this film. The DP is award winning. Just for the quality of the film I would say go see it. The second thing is when you go to a movie, a lot of times some people watch a trailer and the trailer is the whole movie. You’ll see all the action in certain movie trailers. The trailer for my movie doesn’t touch upon how much action is in the entire movie. It’s so much action in it; the trailer can’t touch how much action we have. This is one of those films that you get your money’s worth. And I’m not saying that just because I made it. I goto movies every week and this film is a film that is definitely worth your money. The third reason I’d say go see it, is because you are going to walk out of this film thinking about something. We put a few things in here that should open up a few minds.

In Theaters November 2nd!

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