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The RZA is kind of like his own one-man action film: He writes! Directs! Scores! Raps! Drops beats and the bad guys! The Wu-Tang Clan guru pops up next in the Universal thriller Nobody, out Feb. 26, which stars Bob Odenkirk as a seemingly harmless family man named Hutch. Thing is, Hutch is actually a long-retired secret assassin who, after playing it too safe in a home invasion, heads out into the world seeking revenge, fists blazing, and stirs up more trouble than he imagined. RZA plays his mysterious brother, Harry, and when they team up with their father — Christopher Lloyd alert! — well, you'll see what transpires. Check out the action behind the screen, too: Hardcore Henry's Ilya Naishuller directed the film, John Wick's Derek Kolstad wrote the screenplay, and Atomic Blonde's David Leitch is an executive producer. RZA spoke to EW about joining Nobody, the challenges of getting in shape fast, and how he fanboyed out in front of Lloyd. Always value-adding, he also offers up an update on his long-awaited solo album, The Cure, as well as some inspirational words for 2021.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, you hear that Bob Odenkirk is throwing another career curveball, this time starring in a full-blown action movie, and you're offered a chance to play a badass alongside him. What were your first thoughts when they approached you?
RZA: First of all, Bob is a funny guy, and I was a big fan of Hardcore Henry. I liked the way that my character entered the film. I thought it was just hilarious to play Hutch's brother, to be Harry and Hutch. They're brothers, yet it's an unlikely brotherhood. So I thought that would be funny and cool, all in one.
Bob is a funny guy. What surprised you most about working with him?
Well, it's hard to say "surprised," but I just say what I noticed is his dedication to the character. He did a lot of training for this film and you're watching him do his own stunts — of course, nothing too crazy — but you're watching him physically be prepared and in shape to deliver this character, and that's inspiring. You get over a certain number, man, you know what I mean? People gotta force you to that gym or force you to that training when you get to a certain age. But then when you see someone who's dedicated as an actor, and willing to go through that fire to come out as gold, that inspired me. I didn't live up to my word, but I told the guys at [87eleven Action Design, which oversaw the stunts], "When I get back to L.A., I want to come and join and do some training with you guys and get back in shape!" Because I wasn't in my best shape. But I spent a few weeks preparing myself when I knew I was going to fly over. Bob was in great shape, and it was really inspiring.
Bob told me that he trained for two years. What kind of training did you do in those few weeks?
I did a little hung ga, because I learned it years ago doing The Man with the Iron Fists. [RZA co-wrote, directed, and starred in the 2012 martial arts film.] At least it gives me some type of physical coordination, a few stances of that nature — just something that when I got on set, when the stunt team showed me the things I had to do, they felt confident in, "Okay, wow. We didn't expect that you'd be able to work this out so quickly. So we appreciate that." I'm not in great shape, but I'm not out of shape, you know what I mean?
Bob pulls off some great moves, but you show some nasty stuff of your own, including killing a bad guy from behind your back with a shotgun. And you get to utter the line "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, prepare for takeoff" before sending a villain off on the ride of his life, which was the end of his life. What was your favorite sequence to pull off during the movie's climactic fight?
I'm not going to speak on myself on the action. So forgive me. I just wanted to say I had a lot of fun being there with the guys, and then I was happy in some shape to go there and to do what was necessary. And let's say this: I've been working out. [Laughs] I would never be caught off [guard again]. I'm going to be better even next time I do something like that. But I will say for me — and I don't want to make any spoiler alerts — [there's] a big thing on the bus and Hutch gets thrown off the bus. When he gets back on that bus? The price of the popcorn is paid, a'ight? When Bob gets back on that bus? You got everything you came from, because that s--- is crazy.
We need to talk for a second about the fact that Doc Brown is your dad.
I know. Amazing. I'm a big fan of Christopher Lloyd. And that was also an attracting thing to me. Sometimes I get the privilege of either directing a film or scoring. I'm a hyphenate, right? But when they say, "Yo, Christopher Lloyd! Ilya is directing, Bob Odenkirk is leading — it's a party. We want to invite you to this party." Christopher Lloyd might've been the thing that I was like, "Okay!" Because not only am I a fan of his from the days when my grandma used to have Taxi on the TV as a kid, but my son, we introduced him to the Back to the Future series within the last four years, and he loves them. That was another cool thing, when I got the screener and he was watching it, he was like, "Oh, wow! Doc." And then when he saw me pop up, "Oh! Daddy, you're working with Doc!" As a talent, you always want to work with heroes and legends, it definitely inspires you. It's almost like attaining a dream, right? Because you watch this guy as a kid, you're a fan of him.
I got a chance to talk to him about my favorite scene. So we're sitting waiting for our next scene — we're sitting in our chairs in the tent, it was freezing out there, FYI. They got the heat lamps on and s---. And I look over and I said, "Christopher, do you mind? I wanted to say one thing to you. I'm a big fan of yours, but the thing that won me over was your character in Taxi. I'll never forget the day I was watching with my grandmother and your character was always kind of crazy, offbeat. And it was this thing where you were at a big party and all these sophisticated people were there, and there was a piano, and you sat by the piano and it was like, 'What is he going to do to that thing?' And you first started off with [imitates bad piano playing]. And everybody was like, 'Oh, what is he going to do?' But then you played this incredible f---ing Mozart piece!"
I never forgot that scene. Because it was so unexpected, so well-written, and showed me that the character is not as crazy as [you'd think] — I said, "I think your character is the foundation to Kramer if you watch Seinfeld!" [Laughs] So we laughed about that.
There's a photo of you three at the top of this story. How would you describe the collective energies of your three characters in the climax of this film?
Wow. Let me see if I can give you a quick sentence of that. I'll say, a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream. [Laughs] That's it right there. A couple of hot chocolate with whipped cream. With a can of whip-ass on top.
You've directed another action movie, Cut Throat City. What did you want to do differently in the genre with this film?
This is showing [that] my storytelling ability increased. It's not just a run-of-the-mill action film. it actually is an action film with a backdrop of aspirations turning into desperations, and people trying to figure out the situation.
How is progress coming along on The Cure [RZA's first solo album since 2008]? You recently mentioned that you found some old books of lyrics and used them for inspiration. What struck you about those lyrics when you revisited them?
You know, that's kinda going right back to our world right now. We are definitely at a very unique time. So when I'm reading through these lyrics, it's almost like some of the things I was writing early in the '90s, it's still relevant. But there was something that I read in one of my lyrics that said something about "The cure to life is maybe just for us to combine all minds into one and sound like the sun." Because the sunlight doesn't discriminate who it penetrates. Whether it's that polar bear who comes out on that ice to go hunting for a fish, whether it's the traveler going through the Amazon jungle, or whether it's me and my family hanging out on a beach in Malibu, it penetrates and it gives to all because there's a unity in it.
And as humans, I just pray that we can find that common denominator — lemme say that. As humans, of course. As Americans, I pray for it more, because we are a total minority in this world. All of us. There's only 350 million to 8 billion, okay? Let's not subdivide ourselves. And if science is right, our little blue planet once again is one in multi-billions. It's like, we've got to take a look at that and appreciate this thing. But it was good to read that I was evolving into that then. And maybe people need to hear it now.
How close are you to being finished? You said the pandemic has given you some time to delve back into that.
I know — it's… it's like, I don't know. One moment I'm feeling like okay…
It'll be ready when it's ready.
That's the line. Ready when it's ready.
You act, you direct, you write, you rap, you produce, you score films. What are you just terrible at?
They said I've got some bad dad jokes. My daughter went on record in a Rolling Stone interview and said, "Dad got bad dad jokes." And you know? I'm working on it! I'm working on them. I'm going to have a few good ones, sooner or later.
Among all your projects you have going on is the meditation EP Guided Explorations. Any parting words of wisdom for these horrific and unsettling times? We're turning to you for a little guidance and exploration.
I would just say that the power lies in the truth, right? And they always say the truth sets you free. But what do they mean by being free? And I say to be free from the falsehood, all the misconceptions that we have about each other, all the misconceptions that we have about our country, all the falsehoods — if we could put all that down.
But if you could go somewhere and if you heard something about it, you have a prejudgment of what it is, and therefore you don't get a chance to experience what it really is. If you go back to George Floyd, he wasn't a big dude, but he was humble. But you won't know that for face value because you've been told so many times that whether from watching movies or from hearing the danger of a Black man. The best example — if you look at George Foreman, he was the scariest dude in the world at one point. But he's just a nice guy with a beautiful family, right? But then you go back to the same thing when we think about how Blacks look at law enforcement or look at whites, it's the same thing. We put everybody into a stereotypical mindset, and therefore it's not based in truth. And this is the year. We came from 2020. Let's hope this first year of this new decade is the foundation of truth being the power and people not being afraid to express their power by expressing the truth — in word and action.