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RZA Humbled in Pursuit of Life-long Dream

Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 14:11

RZA Knuckles

Universal Pictures

RZA stars in "The Man With the Iron Fists", an action-adventure inspired by kung-fu classics as interpreted by Quentin Tarantino's longtime collaborators RZA and Eli Roth. Making his debut as a big-screen director and leading man, RZA--alongside a stellar international cast led by Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu--tells the epic story of warriors, assassins and a lone outsider hero in nineteenth-century China who must unite to destroy the clan traitor who would destroy them all.

Wu-Tang Clan leader The RZA, aka Bobby Diggs, may have spent the last six years writing, directing, scoring and starring in his first martial arts movie, but even a casual fan of the undisputed best hip-hop group of all time knows a project like this has been decades in the making; album titles, lyrics and the band name are in homage of varying subtlety to classic kung fu films.

Co-written with Eli Roth (“Hostel,” “Cabin Fever”), “The Man With the Iron Fists” hits the big screen Friday with a forceful cast that includes Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe and legend Gordon Liu (“The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”). The movie is presented by Quentin Tarantino — who RZA initially wanted to score the film — and has a bomb soundtrack featuring Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan, Wiz Khalifa, The Black Keys and Corinne Bailey Rae.

After a day of press that had long since passed regular business hours, the only thing between the 43-year-old Diggs and a green drink in a crazy-looking Vegas cup was an interview with College Times.

College Times: You said in an interview with Vanity Fair that one of the things you like about kung fu movies is a sense of brotherhood. Did you sense any of that developing in “The Man With the Iron Fists”?

RZA: Yeah, definitely. When you see the film you’ll notice the brotherhood between a few of the characters…I think it came out well, actually. The long version had a little more of it, but we don’t wanna get mushy now. [laughs]

It was almost a bromantic kung fu movie, then?

There’s definitely bromance in this movie but there’s romance also. There’s a character [played] by Rick Yune, Zen Yi, he actually plays a character who is in love and has left the village to pursue love. You know, he’s running around getting tattoos with his girlfriend. [laughs] You know, holding hands. But this guy is a warrior, so we got that in there, but they say love is the strongest power. And I agree. It’s the strongest power as far as, you know, it’ll make you return. But tragedy will make you leave and walk away from love, especially for a warrior.

Did you always have yourself in mind when you began developing the character of The Blacksmith?

I can’t say that, actually. At one point, he was already just a full-grown man, a full-grown developed character. That was when I was first writing it. It didn’t matter who played him. But then as I started getting better and I was writing and wanting to be different than everybody else, I turned the character into somebody totally different. I turned him into a fish out of water character and when I did that is when I became interested in being him. When I became interested in being him, I started adding more into him that I thought resonated with…things I like from movies I saw, from books I read, and sticking it into this character — the kind of person he would be and then a piece of me and what I thought I would have been…if I was living in this fantasy world. But his personality and everything is totally not me. Before we left to do the film, when we had a budget, I thought of maybe hiring somebody to do the character. I was ready to direct it, I knew the character, and as the director I could just translate myself to somebody else. That’s what a director’s supposed to do. That’s what I did for a lot of the other characters. I knew all the other characters so well I could be like, “Yo, this is how you feel.” […] For The Blacksmith…the producers were convinced, “No, no, no, no, Bobby, this is you. This is your character. This is your role.” And I was like, “All right, I’ll go for it.” The producers had no question that it was me, but I thought about giving it to somebody else.

The same thing kind of happened with the score of the film. Why were you hesitant to score the film?

I was completely satisfied with the work I’d done as a filmmaker. One of my flaws is, and people try to tell me about this, is that I’m shy of my own power. You ever get that? I don’t know…I’ve read in many places that if you’re a Sun you’re supposed to shine, you know what I mean? […] I grew up pretty conceited when I was young and […] then I kind of became very, very humble. That particular type of personality sometimes makes itself known because it’s like, I know I can do things and I can do it no problem, but I won’t do it because I don’t like to show off no more. When I was young I liked to show off. [laughs]. But the people around me are smart and know my capabilities and they see it, so therefore they encourage me to go ahead and do what I can do. If you can dance and the music comes on, go ahead and dance.

Do you think one of the biggest things, stepping into the director’s chair and taking on all these responsibilities, that you had to learn as an artist was how to be humble?

Yeah. [Being humble] is an important thing for an artist. It’s hard when you’re a young billionaire from the ghetto. […] [These artists are] psyched out like they’re the kings of the world. They start saying they’re thinking God chose them personally, you know what I mean? It’s the second coming. I had all those feelings, yo. So if something happens to them that they can’t control they’re gonna have no power over it and they’re gonna fall right back down to Earth. If they survive that, then that caterpillar will go into a cocoon and come out as a butterfly.

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