Day & A Dream Presents: A Conversation With RZA
In terms of crossing over into the general public, few have done it better than Robert Diggs. The Staten Island emcee first turned his love of kung-fu flicks into an army sized crew of rappers from all over the New York City borough and gave the world the Wu-Tang Clan, stretching the idea that a crew of rappers could be much more than brothers on the mic. It’s not weird calling the RZA a man of his own dream and design for when you see Bobby Digital enter a room, tall, staunch, he immediately commands attention.
His transition over to television and film from TV’s Californication to action films with Quentin Tarantino have essentially been film school for his most ambitious project to date The Man With The Iron Fists. Taking a day in between touring and promoting his wide released box office flick, he entertained us for an hour while Mother Nature decided to open up everything outside of Warehouse Live. Adorned with promotional pictures and more, the Green Room inside Warehouse was turned into conversationalist theatre. RZA smiled, we paid homage as gigantic fans and then let the tape recorder play middle man to our proceedings.
Day & A Dream: I wanna start with the trailer and I noticed there’s a hint of comedy in it. Did you and Eli Roth did intentionally do that when writing the script?
RZA: Yeah and Eli definitely helped with that zaniness. Eli’s a zany guy to begin with. I know I look more serious but … I’m definitely working on my comedy. [Laughs]. We definitely wanted humor, irony, and outrageous because this is a fictional film based in a non fiction environment but we didn’t want to take it so serious. So we added those comedic elements and I remember one day, there’s this one scene with Russell & Lucy and she goes, “You damage my girls, I damage your boys…” and I figured it out two days before I shot it and I said, “I want you to get your lips and your nose so close to her … and I want you to stick your tongue down her throat.” He responded, “Is she cool with that Bobby?” [Laughs]
D&D: Since this is your directorial debut, what kind of director do you want to be known as?
RZA: I want to be taken as a serious director. A person that can really take a story and put it on the big screen and entertain the audience. There’s plenty of films that come out and cheat us out of our $12. I’m a movie buff and it’s hard to waver from that. Especially my wife. When she doesn’t like something, she takes it really hard. Like, a comedy could be stupid and no disrespect to this movie but Pineapple Express and I love that movie! 95 minutes of the movie and you don’t remember anything about it except you had fun. I want to be the guy who makes movies that are entertaining and fun.
D&D: You talk about telling a story and how you’re used to coming from the music realm and you’re used to getting your point across in four, five minutes. How was the transition between making films and making songs? Like how difficult was that?
RZA: It’s more difficult to expand on thoughts. Because the songs are abstract. You can say something in four lines and the listener can figure it out. Like Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, “The problem is all inside your head/She said to me/The answer is easy if you/Take it logically/I’d like to help you in your struggle/To be free/There must be fifty ways/To leave your lover” And the relationship is over. A screenplay is visual, it’s not about the words sometimes. Something from thirty seconds to three minutes will just hold you there. So, I looked at films from John Woo, Quentin Tarantino & Jim Jarmusch and John Woo. And Jim would leave long shots on the character and you’d learn what the character would be thinking. And John would leave long shots on the character but shit is blowing up everywhere. [Laughs] But it’s all visual and in The Man With The Iron Fists, I think you guys’ll like it.
D&D: You talk about Quentin Tarantino being a sensi of sorts. Can you divulge more on you guys relationship?
RZA: We hung around each other for two years after he gave me the script to Kill Bill and it was incredible. I saw a man who had my same love for certain genres, an encyclopedia of film and I said, “While you’re directing this film, could you mentor me?” He said, “Sure Bobby.” And I flew out to China and sat up in a spot with a composition notebook and began taking notes. That was for thirty days then we went out to Mexico, same thing. When he was shooting Death Proof, I flew down to Austin and did the same thing and I did that many nights at his house. Coolest thing to me was when he came down to Video Village while we were shooting The Man With The Iron Fists and he says, “Bobby, this is full circle. Remember back in China you with that black notebook? Now we’re here – the student has become the master.” And I was like … [Makes amazed and starstuck faces]
D&D: I bet! Now, there’s been a lot of emcees who’ve turned to film like Eminem & Three 6 Mafia. Do you think that’s the next logical step to move the culture forward?
RZA: I think so but I also think that everybody in hip-hop isn’t cut out to be in movies. I’ve been deciphering movies, acting in 12-13 films so I got a chance to learn it. I see myself as a hip-hop brother that’s opening the door but I don’t think everybody can do it. I don’t think you can sell millions of records and instantly think you can do this. That’s why Sam Jackson was so upset and he challenged me to take this seriously. So when I did it, Sam wasn’t gonna look at me like those other guys. When we got to Django [Unchained], he looked at me and said, “Just put the wig on and do Afro Samurai, you’re ready!”
D&D: When working on the soundtrack, did it spark any interest with working with your Wu-Tang brothers to create a new album?
RZA: Nah, no interest was sparked to create a new Wu album but, next year is the 20th anniversary of [Enter The Wu-Tang] 36 Chambers. I’d talk to Ghost, Meth about it at different times and hopefully people will understand what it means about us coming together. Even on Good Morning America. We said Wu-Tang was forever, we wasn’t promoting no bullcrap.
D&D: Any interest in a Wu-Tang movie maybe?
RZA: We’ve talked about it. Some things gotta be worked out but it’s definitely a possibility.
D&D: You’re a producer and like your records much like some of your films like Ghost Dog to feel a certain way. How did you incorporate modern sounds in the film?
RZA: I broke plenty of rules cause I’m a Tarantino student. Like, you’d be watching Inglorious Basterds and you’ll hear David Bowie. In Man With The Iron Fists, you’ll hear a Kanye West beat and he is in the movie by the way and then you’ll have a moment where you get a big fight scene and John Fruschiante on lead guitar and Shavo Odadjian from System of a Down on bass and it just sucks you in. It was all made for the movie. The trick for the movie was that, the Asian brothers make 50-100 of these movies a year. What makes mine different? Well … they don’t got hip-hop. They don’t have the American sensibilities and the Tarantino style direction.
D&D: Any films you watch that inspired you? Aside from the ones that you grew up watching?
RZA: I watched plenty of them, The Raid especially. And that movie is fucking crazy. I love it. But the problem with it? The acting. It doesn’t have the acting. I’d talk to Russell about Man With The Iron Fists and he’d say, “Bobby, I’m not doing no kung-fu.” I’d tell him “Russell, I got Dave Bautista, Cung Li, Rick Yun, Gordon Liu, I got all the kung-fu you need! All I want is that quality acting from you.”
D&D: Alright, lemme get down to bare tacks here. You have Pam Grier in this film. The queen of blaxploitation. How was it using her in this film?
RZA: An honor, a real honor. She’s such a lady, I’m such a fan of hers. When I told my wife about this movie and the casting. And Lord, I may never want to do another screen test. After watching some of these screen tests? [Laughs]. And I told her, “We got Russell. We got Rick. We got Lucy” and my wife was like, yeah that’s cool. And then I said, “We got Pam Grier.” She says, “Pam Grier?! Aww man! This movie is gonna be great.”
D&D: That’s crazy.
RZA: Yeah, I had to tell Pam she was the only one that made my wife smile about being in the movie. I did something funny too. There’s an old Bruce Lee movie, Return Of The Dragon where he fights Chuck Norris and the story is about a white guy to takeover the restaurant. I got that white guy! So there’s movies in the film where filmgoers will be like, “Man he’s really paying homage” or “He has a wide ass imagination.”
D&D: So why do you think kung-fu movies don’t translate to the US audience? Like they’re not as popular here as they are in the States?
RZA: I think that because they’re made from their perspective, the Asian … like I said this earlier to the guy. You’ll see an Asian film from back in the 70s-80s and you’ll see a guy taking a piss in a cup holder or something and the chick’ll be like “Bring me some tea!” And, it’s not funny but its funny to a kid. So I think my film could translate to everybody, moments when it’s kung-fu and when it’s serious. I’ll put it to you like this, there are two holidays – Thanksgiving & Christmas. I got the Thanksgiving ham presented by Quentin Tarantino and he’s gonna come back with the Christmas ham and it’s gonna be the best two R-rated films of the season.
D&D: Sounds like some good eating. [Laughs].
RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists opens nationwide in theaters today.