Robert Fitzgerald Diggs is the head on top of the Voltron that is Wu-Tang Clan, he has delved into Hollywood before, but countless projects later, Bobby Digital has finally taken the helm of his own film, The Man With The Iron Fists, released last week. He wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which follows a blacksmith (RZA) as he creates weapons to protect his village from a deadly traitor. Supporting him are Russell Crowe, who plays British soldier/junkie named Jack Knife, and Lucy Liu, playing Madam Blossom, the owner of a brothel. Diggs recently sat down with a few college newspapers in the area to discuss his love for film, music, culture, and how they all tied into his first directorial debut.
RZA has been heavily influenced with eastern culture throughout his life, watching martial arts movies at a young age. This helped him cope with the world he was living in. Because of the extent of influence these films had on RZA-produced albums such as 36 Chambers, Method Man’s Tical, and ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers, it came as no surprise when he revealed that Iron Fists is heavily influenced as well.
“This movie is inspired by the whole spectrum of martial arts films, obviously. 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. And then, given an American sensibility. Think about the style of Chang Cheh, a great director. Think about Liu Chia-liang, 36 Chambers.”
Although his love for the martial arts genre gave him the sensibilities to create homage, he ran into a few problems during pre-production while developing characters.
“The villain with the white hair always appears out of nowhere, you know what I mean? It’s funny working with producers, they wanted to write the character out — they did not get the character. They were like ‘What the fuck is this guy?’ I said, ‘Listen man, this is part of the genre. There’s always a guy who pops the fuck up.’”
When creating the setting of the mythical world of Jungle Village, RZA took inspiration from another movie which had a lasting impression on anyone who has been born since the late-70s.
“Star Wars is like a real place — when I was a kid I saw that movie, I believed there was a Hammerhead, Greedo and Boba Fett — who only appeared in like, very short segments but I had the toy,” he said. “Those things are in the film, you see the backdrop of reality….That’s what Star Wars did for us. You look at a landspeeder going across the desert, it was shot on Earth, but in our minds it was on Tatooine, you know what I mean? The ice planet Hoth, you know, where they open up Empire Strikes Back, and you’re like, forget the desert, he went to the ice now. That kind of imagination fascinates me as a movie-goer, and I wanted Jungle Village to be that kind of place.”
In the director’s chair, Diggs not only had creative control over the film, but had to manage his cast and crew.
“I will honestly say that working with the Wu-Tang Clan, which is nine personalities of strong-willed people, basically prepared me for this shit, you know what I mean? There was moments when I brought up Wu-Tang stories to help diffuse politics that came on set,” he said. “Everybody became a family. You make a movie, you become a family for a minute, you know what I mean? But everybody don’t like everybody off top.”
In one case, David Batista, a martial artist and bodybuilder, came to disagree with fellow martial artist and actor Rick Yune about training styles.
“These fighters, having this energy, started having this rivalry with each other,” said RZA. “I’m like, you remind me of fuckin’ Meth and Raekwon,’ and I would tell them that.”
Continuing, “I said ‘Listen man, that’s the way some of the Wu Tang brothers felt towards each other,’ and the whole thing is that they actually have the same point of view — they always get to the same point,” he said. “It’s just that it was approached from different angles. They was always trying to arrive at the same thing and I knew that, and I was able to diffuse it.”
Being a fan of film pre-90s means that one has to have a considerable amount of respect for practical effects over CGI. RZA had, early on, found his practical effects team in Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger — part of the powerhouse team that works on The Walking Dead series.
“These guys are top of the line special makeup guys. These guys are great at what they do, so you’ve got a lot of practical stuff, but you also know that I’m a comic-book reader, I love superheroes,” said Diggs. “So in the trailer, you see that guy whose whole body turns into brass and shit, you’re like ‘oh fuck is this some X-Men stuff? And, you’re right, it is some X-Men shit in its own way. I love super heroes, CGI helped me with those types of things.”
RZA found a lot of inspiration for the film within music he was listening to at the time, specifically the last track on Only Built for Cuban Lynx, “North Star,” which he credited at least twenty pages to. “There’s one scene where “North Star,” the Barry White song which we sampled, plays through from beginning to end, and plays again. I’m sitting there loving it, and [the producers] are like “Oh my god…what the fuck..?” Being a first time director, it happens like that — you just love everything you’ve got….but you learn how to make it better,” he said.
But RZA originally didn’t want to score the film. “The studio said, ‘Put your music in the movie please.’ I was like ‘ah.. I wasn’t gonna score this. I wrote it, I directed it, I acted in it — I’m done.’ It’s like — ‘no, no, no, the fans are gonna expect you to score this.’ The president of the studio told me that, and I doubted him,” he said, continuing, “You don’t doubt the president of the studio.”
”But I complained, and I went to Quentin. I’m cooking a steak — I don’t eat meat — but I’m cooking him a steak and I say ‘Yo — they want me to score this man.’ He said, ‘Bobby — who else is gonna score it?’”
And so the RZA added a fourth title under his name. Check out The Man With The Iron Fists in theaters everywhere!