I Talked to RZA About Magnetism, Metal, & Mercury, & How to Blend Them to Forge the Greatest Weapon EverBy Benjamin Shapiro
I guess I'm a music journalist, and I'm supposed to keep up an air of quiet nonchalance and cool as I jadedly flick ash in my vinyl-filled apartment, but I'm going to level with you guys: I'm cripplingly, embarrassingly star struck by the RZA. As the prime mover behind the best hip-hop band that's ever blessed this dangerous, dying sphere, RZA has built an empire around his Midas touch; nearly everything this man touches turns to solid, boom-bap gold. So when I finally got him on the phone the week of his directorial debut, I got so nervous on the phone that I accidentally broke my favorite pen.
This week, RZA can add "film director" to his already impressive resume. The martial arts bricolage bloodfest The Man With the Iron Fists comes out today. The film was directed, scored, and written (with a little help from Eli Roth) by Bobby Digital himself. We had a nice chat on the phone about Quentin Tarantino, his burgeoning directing career, and his theories on using various alloys to forge "the greatest weapon ever."
Noisey: So I've seen Quentin Tarantino's name all over this film. How did you meet him, anyway?
RZA: I met him around 2001. He had just bought a film called "I Am Monkey" and he was presenting it to the world. Mirimax hired me to promote it, and I was at a press junket next to Quentin, and we became immediate buddies.
What's he like, anyway?
The guy's a walking encyclopedia of genres. We originally bonded over Kung-Fu films. I think it happened when I was at his house in 2002, when he was working on Kill Bill. It was watching movies that brought us together. We started watching like four movies a night.
Did he ever school you in some filmmaker that you hadn't known much about?
So much shit man. You know Paul Mazursky?
We watched all of his movies. Quentin has them all on 16-millimeter prints, so we'd just watch them on the wall. I'd have my girl over, maybe he'd have a girl over, and we would break day doing that shit.
So what was it like working The Man With the Iron Fists? Making a movie in 2012 seems like it would be difficult, even as a director, to have any sort of control over the final product.
Well, for me it was different. I'm not trying to be egotistical, but the studio told me that they would see me at the premiere, basically. That means that they're not going to interfere at all. This was my vision, and although I did take their advice, they didn't push me left or right. My producers wanted to protect my vision. Like Eli Roth, he knew the vision--he heard it first and saw it in his head the way I saw it in my head. The only thing he didn't know was the way I was going to bring that vision to life.
Were you able to sneak any weird little secret Easter eggs into the film?
Oh, they're in there, you'll see them. One thing I did was try to stick as many Wu-Tang logos as I could in there. That's for my fans. I got one other thing. I've got my own theories and shit. I got this theory about magnetism and metal and mercury and all that shit. It's just a theory, but at least in the movie I'm able to use that theory to forge the greatest weapon ever.
Uh… Can you tell me a little more about that?
You'll see it in the movie. You'll see exactly what he brings and how he tries to mold these metals together that molecularly shouldn't be able to mold… But I think they can. At certain heats. I don't know if anyone out there is doing it, but it's something that's crossed my mind as a kid, so I added some magic to it and now it's in the movie.
What is your style on set?
The best way to describe it is like I'm Captain Kirk. That's the way this movie was done. I've got a good crew, but if Scotty was all "Captain, we're gonna blow! We don't have enough lithium crystals and we can't take it!" and Kirk is like "Warp five," Scotty knows that even against all probability and physics, the ship should blow. But Kirk knows it's either going to blow, or they're gonna make it, and he decides to go for it. And they make it. These are the kinds of decisions I was faced with every day, and the kind of pressure I was under, but I always made the right decisions.
So are you going to keep on making movies?
Yeah, this is where I'm at now. You just gotta see the film. When you sit it, you're gonna call me up and tell me to keep making movies. This feels like 36 Chambers to me--as fresh, as new, and as door-opening as that first album. That record was years of ideas brought together into one album, and that's what this movie has been for me. I've even pulled together a cast that feels like Wu-Tang. There's a really big group of powerful people coming together for one vision. And they all deliver it, they all bring it.
How does it feel to be making this film 20 years after 36 Chambers?
It means that my generation of hip-hop no longer has to go to the club for their culture. To me, my generation, a lot of us have children right now. We can't go out every Friday and Saturday and get drunk, we got our families. But we still have that spirit, and you can get it in the theater. You go to the right movie on a Friday night and you feel like you're having a party.