Robert Fitzgerald Diggs – or RZA (pronounced “rizz-ah” for those unaware) – is a Grammy winning music producer, author, actor and rapper. He’s considered the leader of the popular Wu-Tang Clan and is considered one of the greatest Hip-Hop producers of all-time.
On Friday, November 2nd, RZA will be adding another hat, when his feature-film directorial debut, “The Man with the Iron Fists” hits theaters. Although RZA has appeared in numerous films (such as “Coffee and Cigarettes” and “American Gangster”) and TV shows (Showtime’s “Californication”), his latest effort is his first attempt at directing (he also wrote the screenplay for this film, co-credited with Eli Roth). He also stars in the film.
RZA was recently in Detroit to promote the film, and I had a chance to sit down with him to discuss his new film. As would be expected from the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, it was a spirited, explicit conversation (so WARNING: I’ve blocked it out, but this interview contains some foul language. Discretion advised).
Your new film, “The Man with the Iron Fists” (TMWTIF) is a Kung-Fu style movie. Where did your love of this genre begin?
RZA: Growing up, on Saturday mornings they would have Saturday morning Kung-Fu Theater. Saturdays we would get up, watch Kung-Fu movies, fight Kung-Fu, put on costumes and then at night, we would make demos and rap about the Kung-Fu movies (laughs).
Looking at the poster for your new film, I also like the tagline: “You can’t spell Kung-Fu with F – U.” That seems appropriate.
I’m glad you like that! I was nervous about that tagline, because in China, in Hong Kong, I did a music video with Kung-Fu in it, and it was opposed by some martial artists. You know, they take this stuff very seriously over there. So when I saw that tagline, I was like, I hope nobody wants to come f*** my s*** up after reading that (laughs). I mean, nobody is going to be able to f*** me up that easy (laughs). It’s not easy.
Talk about the idea for this film, you co-wrote it along with Eli Roth?
Yes, it started as an idea in my head. I wrote the story out and showed it to Eli one day. He saw the whole vision. I’m not a screenwriter by trade of course, but I tried my best. I try to be a renaissance man as they call it, but Eli ended up agreeing to come and help me. So we worked on it for about a year together. That was the beginning of this thing. I mean it goes back really to me being a nine year-old kid and watching these Kung-Fu movies and having an imagination, dreaming I was a Kung-Fu fighter and all of these things. As I got to Hollywood and scored films (such as “Kill Bill” with Quentin Tarantino), I just started realizing that there was a chance to bring this passion project to life. When Quentin asked me to score his film, he said, I like the way you produce. I want you to produce my movie score the way you produce your records. During this process, I told him, I love what you do and I would love to become your student in filmmaking. He said it would be my pleasure, Bobby. So he invited me to China when they were shooting “Kill Bill” and I’d sit in the corner and watch what he was doing. I would talk to the crews at night.
Was it always your plan to direct TMWTIF?
Yes, from the start. Quentin too, had told me that I was ready, that I had graduated. Now to act in it, it wasn’t always a solid plan. The producers really said, hey Bobby, you are The Blacksmith. I was like, I can do it, but come on, I’m a little busy I am doing some s*** here (laughs). But that was a challenge to act. When I do something, I do take time to study.
Did the final cut of the movie fulfill your initial vision of the film?
Well, the final cut is Rated R. We didn’t want to do an NC-17 film. But on the DVD now, it will be NC-17. For the DVD, we put back about 15 minutes of the film. A nice portion of that is just some nice gore. The first version of the film was 4 hours, and that was just me as a first-time director loving everything that I did. It’s like your son, he may need to cut his hair but he’s your son, he’s beautiful to you. There are no flaws in him. Fortunately enough for me, I know this was my first big endevour of this kind, and I was not shy to take advice. There were some long shots that came out. I mean, long shots that you could have ate a whole Snickers bar to.
How are you feeling now that your first film is just about to hit theaters?
Well I’m definitely nervous. I was nervous making the film. When people trust you with a large sum of money and expect you to bring back a product, it’s nerve-racking. But it’s not just me, there are people like Russell Crowe, who put his trust in me to do this film. This is not like films he would normally make. Then you got the studio, 400 people, cast and crew. Then you got the Chinese government, I mean, they don’t even green-light movies over there. Even Harvey Weinstein is having a hard time filming “Marco Polo” right now, he just called me recently and was like, how the f*** did you do to get it? I shot there for 60 days with them. So the success of the film is important, not just for me, because I am already achieved the dream. But the success of it commercially is important so that all of these people who invested their time and energy into me can feel the gratitude. So that’s why I say (mockingly) please, please, please, please go see my movie November 2nd!
“The Man with the Iron Fists” will be in theaters, Friday, November 2nd.
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