RZA’s bucket list must be down to a paltry few uncrossed items. Where does one begin when interviewing someone like RZA? Supreme Clientele, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Tical… The guy helmed some of the dustiest, grittiest, most timeless rap classics ever banged out on a drum machine. He’s acted in Judd Apatow and Ridley Scott films and scored the Kill Bill movies for Quentin Tarantino. He’s written books and now he can add “feature film director” to his lengthy resume of impressive accomplishments with the release of Man With The Iron Fists starring Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu.
Ever the visionary that his mother named him after, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs also scored and starred in his official directorial debut. That would be a death sentence of frazzled nerves and 22 hour work days for any man but Mr. Bobby Steeles. After working with nine knotty headed ninjas scoring, producing, acting and directing is light work. We caught up with the man who’s putting the F-U in Kung Fu at his show last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg.
– The RZA You Didn’t Know Existed
– Quentin Tarantino: The Inglorious Basterds Interview
– Here Is A Supercut Of Every Time Wu Tang Clan Shouts Itself Out On Its Album
How did you study to become a director?
I studied with Tarantino as my film mentor for about five or six years, I would say. As well as any set that I worked on as an actor or even as a composer, I always paid attention and did the knowledge because I had caught the passion and the energy for what I wanted to do. See, I have a Kung Fu sifu and his name is Shi Yang Ming, but I also have a film sifu who taught me the idea of film, and his name is Quentin Tarantino.
How did that relationship come about?
Well first we were friends. We used to watch Kung Fu flicks together, that was like our buddy thing. One night I was leaving his crib and he was like “Oh, Bobby I got something for you.” He gave me the script to Kill Bill. I read it, I dug it. I told him any help he needs in any capacity to let me know. I told him I really dug what he had. I felt like he had a masterpiece. I mean the script was 220 pages with sound effects written in. I was impressed with that. It was that impression, that made me [want to study film]. Of course I was willing to help out in any capacity, but by the time he got the green light to go and everything was moving I was like “I wanna learn how to make movies too.” So I went to the Kill Bill set in China and I sat there with a notebook and took mad notes.
Let me give you a little side story about that actually. When I flew to China it was on my own dime, my own time. I just looked at it like I’m going to hang out with my buddy for a month and study. So I just told my girl “Mmwwaa see you later.” My buddy Kinetic came with me and we just flew over there and got our own rooms, got our own everything. Posted up. Showed up on set and told Quentin, “Hey, I’m here.” He was like, “You said you were gonna be here and you’re here. Okay, Bobby make yourself at home.” I found my seat and everyday I would come and show up.
So that was basically your film school.
That was like my film school. Then they went to Mexico to film, and guess what? I was there again. The flip end to that is Quentin came to China for my movie he did the same thing. Not in the sense of studying, but he flew his own self out. He wouldn’t take money from the budget. He came there and he sat there in Video Village and he looked over at me and was like “Hey Bobby remember this all started with you on the set in China taking notes. Now look we’re back in China together and the student has become a master.
So this isn’t your official directorial debut, right? I remember during the Bobby Digital era reading that you had filmed a scriptless movie based on Bobby Digital’s adventures.
Yeah I did some independent filming with no script. I did Bobby Digital without no script. I did Wu Tang Versus The Golden Phoenix starring me and Sifu, with no script. I would tell Sifu his lines for the day.
Why were you so anti-script? Why just wing it?
I just had a passion and I wanted to do it. I had the money so I basically spent my money on what i wanted to do. Some people go by expensive cars and jewelry but (looks over at Sifu) we spent about $400,000 when we were making our movie, right? But at the same time yo, it’s a passion. You have to go after your passion. And those are amateur films that maybe one I’ll put them out, maybe I won’t, but they laid the groundwork to give me an understanding of what I was trying to do. Then when I met a master of the craft he completed my studies and helped me become the director I am today.
So the soundtrack is murderous. You seem to be working with Kanye a lot. He’s cited you as a major, major influence lots of times. How does it feel when one of your students becomes a master?
Kanye West is a beautiful kid. I say kid because I’m like his older brother. I think he’s real wise and real talented. I had a scene in the movie where I thought it would be great for him to give me a song. So I called him and told him I wanted him to come down to editing. It’s funny because when he came down to editing there’s a long ass fucking hallway to get to editing ba–I’m talking about a Maxwell Smart long ass hall way. When he finally walks in he sat down and he’s like “Man that was a long hallway. As I was walking down it I was just thinking ‘What does Rza think aboout when he’s making this long walk to the editing room where he’s fulfilling his dream?’ I appreciated him trying to gain to my perspective of it. And when I showed him the scene when Lucy comes around the corner in this gown he took the music and–bong bong–came back with “White Dress.”
I heard your executive producing Tony’s next album. Looking forward to that. Is anything like Supreme Clientele?
Oh, shit is ridiculous but I’m not pressing the boards on this one. Adrian Young is a smart dude. He’s been in my studio and been in my house multiple times now. His plan, which I agree with, is we are casting Ghostface in the role of this album. It’s… (whistles).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 4, 2012