(BY ALI NADERZAD) Wu-Tang don dada RZA speaks earnestly about his recent forays into film, both as actor and composer. The athletic, zen-living rapper and actor has composed film scores for directors like Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino, made appearances as himself in films like Ghost Dog and Coffee and Cigarettes and most recently played detective Moses Jones in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. And even though a career in the film industry could likely be made a reality, RZA reaffirms his commitment to Wu-Tang, the multi-artist band he helped found over ten years ago. Still, RZA’s work on films like Kill Bill or Ghostdog have helped cinch what is a salient contribution to the medium of film score composition. He will appear in Life is Hot in Cracktown and Gospel Hill, both films to be released in 2008. He will also be scoring several of the songs that are part of the soundtrack for Repossession Mambo, also slated for release this year. SCREENCOMMENT.COM recently caught up with him via telephone.
Scoring music for a film—can you break it down for me? I like to think of the word empathy. As a composer, you’ve got to be able to watch a movie and try and feel what the director is trying to get across, or what the characters are feeling. It might take you a minute or it might take you a year. The key is empathy. Being able to feel what someone else is feeling. What was your first score composition? My first score was for a movie called Ghostdog, by Jim Jarmusch. He reached out to me, through some friends, and he told he wanted me to be the composer of his film. I got my first movie, and that led on. How did you get the part of Moses Jones for American Gangster? I went out and I tried for the movie like the other people. I went up for one role and didn’t get it. And then I tried for another role, and I got it. And it was the bigger role of the two! Working on that set must have been so much fun. It was a really good experience, and an honor, a privilege, not only to work with Ridley Scott, but also Denzel Washington, etc. And it was shot in
Moses Jones and the RZA are almost like identical twins. Would you say you often play yourself in movies? Nah, I think you’ve got it all wrong, I don’t think I play myself in movies. In American Gangster, I played a cop, I’ve never been a cop in my life. I’ve played a dope fiend, and I’ve never been on dope in my life. I was a messenger growing up, so I was never that kind of quirky guy as I was in Derailed. That wasn’t my personality. And I changed the dialogue a little. And even when I’m playing the RZA, I’m a little different, like I’m acting everytime. Derailed was your first major role in a film, right? Yes. Harvey Weinstein, when he was still at Miramax at the time, gave me my first big shot in Derailed. He thought I was a natural. Most movies I played in, like Ghost Dog, I got a cameo in as the RZA. But Weinstein gave me a chance to be this guy Winston, and the director gave me a shot. So I try to use that for my confidence. I’m taking it serious. As an actor I’m proud of all these films, Ghost Dog, Kill Bill and American Gangster.
I remember when the Bobby Digital album came out a few years ago, the album jacket looked like a blaxploitation film poster; the whole project visually had lots of cinematic flair. Will there ever be a Bobby Digital the movie? Yes, actually, we shot a couple of short films with me in it as that character, but it wasn’t released. I did about three independent films that have never been released. I have been talking to Koch records this summer about releasing them.
You’re tight with Quentin Tarantino. How did the friendship begin? I’m a big fan of Tarantino’s films, and he’s a big fan of Wu-Tang. We also have something big in common: we’re both big fans of Kung-fu movies? He brought a movie called “Iron Monkey,” (1993) it’s really testosterone-filled, etc. We kept bringing more movies and we would sit and go, have you seen this one? Have you seen this one? It was like this boys thing. Miramax would give us their screening-room and we would watch movies up there. We started watching a lot of movies together and when he did Kill Bill I did the soundtrack for it.
You’ve had successes in the film industry. Which comes first now, music or film? 8 Diagrams was really close to my heart. I spent close to a year working on that. Wu-Tang is real dear to my heart. My most ambition is with that. There might be a Bobby Digital album coming out next year. I’m having so much fun with movies, but I forgot about being a hip-hop producer, a hip-hop artist. I miss it a little bit, and I realized that economically, hopefully, you know, I’m doing well, but I just got make sure I satisfy my creative side, my personal ambition. I love making music, and I love making movies, but I also love making hip-hop songs, like Bobby Digital I can laugh, I can bullshit, I can just smoke my fucking weed out. Time is money, if you do something it takes time, if it takes time, you’ve got get paid. I did a few movies already that’s gonna come out next year. We got nominated for a Grammy. This year I’ve sacrificed a lot. Next year should be the rewards and benefits, hopefully.