He wouldn't remember this, but I first met RZA -- Wu-Tang Clan producer, actor and now director of 'Man With The Iron Fists' -- in 2009, when he came into the film company I was working at to pitch a project he'd written and wanted to direct called 'Black Shampoo.'
I knew RZA from Wu-Tang and also from Jim Jarmusch's 1999 flick 'Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai,' for which he created the original music; he also had a cameo.
In the quick but now famous shot that was RZA's intro to filmmaking, he was dressed in head-to-toe camo, eyeglasses, gold cross around his neck and crazy gold rings on his fingers. Ghost Dog (the most Zen mafia hit man you'll ever see, played by Forest Whitaker) and RZA walk in slow-mo towards each other then stop and bow, kind of like modern-day Brooklyn samurai warriors.
RZA's music floats in the background. "Ghost Dog, power and equality," says RZA. Ghost Dog: “Always see everything my brother.” Then the two men go their separate ways. RZA wasn't on screen long but you could tell he belonged there. The guy had presence.
It's been a long road, but now RZA has 'Man With the Iron Fists,' his first big writing/directing debut, coming to a theater near you November 2. He co-wrote the martial arts flick with Eli Roth (director of Cabin Fever and Hostel, the 'Bear Jew' in Inglorious Basterds).
'Man With the Iron Fists' is about a group of assassins, warriors, and a rogue British soldier (Russell Crowe) that invade a feudal Chinese village in search of treasure. RZA plays the town's blacksmith, who has to defend himself against the assassins, one of whom, Madame Blossom, is played by Lucy Liu.
I talked to RZA about his new movie, whether he'd ever run for office, the possibility of a 'Ghost Dog' sequel, and whether he sees a Wu-Tang collaboration in his future.
You're making music, writing and directing films, acting -- do you ever take a day off?
Most people spend eight hours a day working. I'll share with you something that people don't know about me: I'm an insomniac. I can work 12, 14 hours a day and sometimes I'm up for 30 hours. My kids are like that too. I think there's an insomnia gene in us.
Now you have your big directorial debut coming out. How did the idea and story come together?
The idea was in my head for years. A buddy of mine said, “You're the only dude that could do shit like that and get away with it.” I was with Eli (Roth) coming back from Iceland and we talked about the idea. Later he took my 90-page script and worked on it. Sometimes you can pitch a story better than you can write it, and Eli helped.
You're obviously well schooled in martial arts films and culture, but did you watch any films to get ready for 'Man With the Iron Fists?'
I already had an encyclopedia (of martial arts films) in my head. I watched 'The Godfather' and all the Spaghetti Westerns and did a lot of studying and martial arts practice. I had about fourteen weeks of prep. Quentin Tarantino gave us the godfather blessing and taught me a lot about the process (of making films).
How were Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu's martial arts skills?
Lucy's skills were great; she keeps herself in shape. Everybody was prepared. We don't have no bums on set. We shot 90-percent of the movie in China and everybody appreciated their days off in Shanghai.
'Ghost Dog' is such a great film, and you've said that it was the project that gave you the filmmaking bug. Is there any chance of a sequel?
'Ghost Dog' was my first intro into movies and filmmaking. Jim Jarmusch christened me and it gave me a taste of the lifestyle and what it's all about. The process is super duper difficult and fun and challenging. Me and Jim started a treatment for 'Ghost Dog II' a while ago, and now I'm ready to do anything.
When I first met you and heard you talk about your script Black Shampoo I remember thinking, “This guy should run for Mayor.” Have you ever thought about politics?
My spirituality is too pure. There's an old saying that “poly” means many and “tics” means “tics” (a.k.a. blood-sucking parasites). One thing I'm not good at is lying. I told my brother if he goes into politics, I'll be his adviser.
How does making music compare to the process of writing, directing, and acting in film?
Music has a different amount of people involved. If there are 12 people involved in making music, there are 700 people making a film. Producing Wu-Tang has been part of a process and mind power, like training for boxing and punching a bag over and over 1000 times a day. Everything I did until now was like training for this.
Any chance of reuniting with Wu-Tang?
No, this is it. I'm able to express and incorporate myself and express my style perfectly. For a man of my abilities, film is the perfect medium.