A lot of people talk about directing a movie one day. Few actually do it. In a 2005 EW profile, the RZA — Wu-Tang Clan mastermind, author, actor, film composer — spoke earnestly about his methodical steps to prepare himself for the director’s mantle. Seven years later, his debut feature The Man With the Iron Fists, a martial arts epic set in 19th century China starring Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, and the RZA himself, is now set to hit theaters on Nov. 2.
The screenplay, which the RZA wrote alongside his buddy Eli Roth, is inspired by his lifelong devotion to all things kung fu. “I’m an encyclopedia of those kinds of films,” he says. “So I knew that my imagination and my dream was up to the task, but I studied and prepared myself too. If I say making a movie is a fight, then I trained in the gym for a long time and I was ready to get in the ring.”
To successfully train, the RZA attached himself to mentors like Jim Jarmusch, John Woo, and Quentin Tarantino, the latter of whom let him be a shadow on both Kill Bill sets, as well as Death Proof and Django Unchained. “He said I could be a student,” says the 43-year-old. “Every time I would hook with him and I would leave more and more enlightened about this craft.”
By the way, that apprentice-like spirit flows both ways. “Quentin came on tour with me one time with the Wu-Tang Clan. And he doesn’t know hip-hop as anything more than a listener. So in that world he let me guide the ship ever step of the way, even when it came down to going to the club and dancing with the girls. He’ll dance how I dance, you nahmean? He was able to sit back.”
As he prepares for the premiere of his first movie, the RZA is already looking to bust out of the kung fu genre. He’s written a treatment for a horror film called Tasmania. (“That’s a crazy one,” he says.) He’s got an idea for a comedy called Down to the Last Buck. And on his current cross-country bus tour promoting Iron Fists, he dove back into a screenplay he started while working with Crowe on The Next Three Days. “It’s called One Spoon of Chocolate and I’m about 45 pages in,” he says. “It’s actually a romantic tragedy. It’s real provocative. If it gets made it will incorporate consciousness, love and awareness.”
“I love films for more than one reason,” he says. “The first thing about a film, and the reason why I made Iron Fists as my first endeavor, is a film should be entertaining. When I went to see Star Wars as a kid and I really thought about the Force, or I watched these kung fu movies and I believed that Asian guys could jump off roofs, it just played with my imagination. To me, a movie is first entertainment. And the Man With the Iron Fists is a ball of entertainment. It’s a fun, bucket-of-popcorn movie.”
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The Man With the Iron Fists