As a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as an actor ("American Gangster"), author (The Tao of Wu) and prolific producer for everyone from Kanye West and Jay-Z ("New Day") to Shaquille O'Neal ("No Hook"), Bobby Diggs is already well established as one of the entertainment world's most unstoppable overachievers.
So perhaps it's only natural that Diggs -- better known as RZA -- felt compelled to try his hand at the ultimate act of big-budget creativity: directing a movie. Produced by Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth, "The Man With the Iron Fists" promises to be a visceral martial arts movie, replete with fast-paced action sequences (including at least one that results in RZA's enemy losing an eyeball). But it's also likely to come with a healthy dose of RZA's eclectic philosophy, reaped from years of studying Buddhism (which sounds dangerously like "booty-ism" when he says it), Islam and martial arts.
And as if writing, directing and starring alongside Lucy Liu and Russell Crowe in your first feature picture weren't enough, he also produced an all-original score -- and supervised an original soundtrack. The latter features West, the Black Keys (Eyed Peas, too) and the whole Wu-Tang Clan ("even GZA and Method Man," RZA says).
HuffPost Entertainment caught up with RZA to talk about the challenges of making a feature, how he first fell in love with martial arts, the problem with today's rap supergroups and why he's pulling for Barack Obama.
This is something that you wanted to do for a very long time, right?
Definitely. I've wanted to make movies since 2004. I wanted to be a director. I caught the bug back then and I just kept pushing and connecting with the right people. I got some good brothers to believe in my vision and my dream, and I got a good company to support it. And here we are now, one month out from seeing what the world's going to think of this creative endeavor of mine.
You had to cut down this movie by about half. Was that really painful?
Oh, it was definitely a painful experience. I don't want to be the guy that says this, because I think it's the industry slogan, but they say you got to kill your babies. Editing a film and taking out things that took a long time to set up, and angles and things that you think are valuable to your story -- those are always hard for a director to let go.
Fortunately for me, I had good producers. I had a good buddy, Eli Roth, who had been through it before. And he let me know, "Bobby, this is normal. It goes this way." It made it easier. But I will admit to you that at one point I left the editing room for two weeks, because I was just disgusted.
Has working on this changed how you see music at all?
Music for me is second nature. But doing a film at this capacity has increased all my talents. When you get a chance to express this kind of mind power, when you have 400 or 500 people working on your vision, it opens up a whole different reality. Not only was this a great accomplishment for me creatively, but as a man, when I came back from China, I remember my sister looked at me and was like, "Man, you got a different look in your eyes." I think I just grew as a man.
Do you think you're going to go back?
I'll go where the job and creativity takes me. If this movie is successful, I'd love to go back and try another one, you know what I mean? But if not, there are many places around the world that I'd love to put my feet on.
Martial arts have obviously been important to you for a very long time, but can you remember the first time it struck you?
I saw my first martial arts film at 9 years old. I was in New York City, at the Saint George Theater in Staten Island. Later on, we used to go to 42nd Street, which we used to call "The Deuce," in Manhattan, and I'd spend time there on weekends watching kung fu flicks. And when I became a teenager, I would cut school and hang out in the movie theaters all day. Even by the age of 14, one of my first groups was called Imperial Masters, and that came from the imperial edict or masters of China. So I was already influenced by those movies, I was already incorporating their slogans or slang or word play or ideas into my lyrics and into my style.
And into your philosophy.
Yeah, the philosophy part came probably around the age of 15 or 16, or maybe even 14. That's when I really started understanding different things about the world. I'll say this to you: One thing the Asian culture gave me, especially at the age of 13 or 14, was history. History was only taught from a certain side. So I was interested to Greek mythology and stuff like that, but when it came to history of the black man, there was no history that went past slavery that we would learn. And so I had no view of history other than the Western one. I got a chance to see "36 Chambers" and the historical value of it, and seeing what people are going through on the other side of the world and how they fight to overcome their oppression -- that gave me a whole different view of the world and caused me to become a seeker.
A lot of the earlier kung fu movies that I would watch, like some of the Bruce Lee or Jim Kelly [films], these were based in modern times or maybe up to 1900. But none were really based 1,500 years ago, about the Shaolin Temple. When I started seeing those types of movies, those are the ones that really opened my eyes a little further. And also the Buddhism that they were talking about inside the movies sparked a fire within me. As a person who later on went on to read the Buddhist creed and studied Buddhism for years, I've come to learn that he's basically the best psychiatrist.
Going back to the movie, you weren't originally going to produce the soundtrack for this film, right? Then Quentin [Tarantino] suggested it?
Quentin, the other producers and everyone were just saying that it's obvious and a natural fit for me to do the music. And I thought, I already have a few hats on in the film. I had some musical ideas, but I didn't plan to score the film. That wasn't my initial plan when I wrote the film. I had some musical cues, like needle drops, and I thought Quentin could also help with that because he's good at that, but at the end of the day, it was up to me. So I went to get my buddy Howard Drossin, who I have written with before. It took us about eight months to really complete this whole score.
The score was first and the soundtrack came second. After having the score completed, we thought, Yo, we should make a soundtrack. Being that the "Ghost Dog" soundtrack had some critical success, we thought we should make one for "Iron Fists." And that's where we took some of the cues from the movie as well as some of the inspiration for the movie and we went back and got some songs from some great artists, like Wiz Khalifa, the Black Eyed Peas, Kanye and the Wu-Tang Clan. We got the whole Wu-Tang Clan, and I'm proud of that, because we haven't been on one record in a long time like this. Even GZA's on it, Method Man, everybody.
And also Corinne Bailey Rae joined me for the soundtrack, some up-and-coming MC's like Gangsta Gibbs, Pusha-T. It's great to have these guys supporting the music and the film.
I know Kanye's on the soundtrack. Are you working with him on the new album at all?
Not yet. We've been communicating. I'm supposed to send him some drum tracks. He's working on his album in Hawaii, and I think after we finish this campaign I'll go pay him a visit and use it as a vacation.
But when you head down to that studio, you know he's going to have you working.
Actually, Kia, doing music is not work. That's like hanging out, drinking, smoking and having a good time, baby.
Is it true that you bought the rights to a huge catalogue of kung fu movies so that you could use the samples?
I did make this deal in the '90s with a company for a lot of martial arts titles. We did a two-tiered deal where I can use the samples and they can use my likeness and name and branding on their kung fu movies. That's why you see a lot of movies out there with like Wu-Tang collection or something -- that's all footage that we made early on.
What do you make of the recent resurgence of rap supergroups and showcases, like MMG and GOOD Music and Odd Future? Do you see any of the mentality that you had with Wu-Tang in these groups?
In an entrepreneurial way, I see it. But in a social consciousness way, I don't. And that's the part that we're missing. I'm really happy that a lot of young people -- if you look at someone like Odd Future, they actually started younger than us. You got someone like Earl Sweatshirt, and he's only 18 and he's already got a record contract and he's worth a million dollars. So I'm glad that the youth is getting their recognition earlier and is able to escape their poverty or whatever they're going through, but the social consciousness is important. And they're not getting that, and they're going to need it, or they're going to be broke in ten years.
As a parting thought, any comments on the election?
I don't want to be too political, but I want to see Barack Obama hold it down one more time for us. He makes a better image for our country. I'm an international traveler and I was traveling when Bush was president and people were like, "I hate Americans!" And I felt that pain. But when [Obama] was president, I got better treatment in restaurants. I wouldn't mind keeping that train going for another four years.
Other Movies Out This Fall:
The Trailer For "The Man With The Iron Fist":