The third and final season of Wu-Tang Clan: An American Saga is currently underway and has continued to tell the rags to riches story of one of the nation’s greatest musical acts. Created by Wu-Tang Clan founder the RZA, the hit Hulu series has become a massive success, garnering high ratings and critical acclaim while chronicling the trials and triumphs of the Wu and bringing viewers into their orbit.
With An American Saga capturing the television and music worlds’ attention, when we discovered that the 53-year-old would be traveling to Austin, Texas for a Featured Session at this year’s SXSW Conference and Festivals, there was no question that it would be on our list of moments to catch. Dubbed “36 Chambers of The RZA,” the sit-down took place on Tuesday (March 14) at the Austin Convention Center and was moderated by writer, journalist, and video game narrative designer Evan Narcisse.
The discussion largely centered around the show, but delved into RZA’s core influences, forays into film and other mediums, as well as accounts from past travels. Touching on what keeps him balanced in the present and hopeful for the future, the New York native wowed the intimate audience with introspective moments and pockets of hilarity, making for a measured, yet invigorating conversation.
Below are several key insights from the “36 Chambers of The RZA” chat that brought us into the mind of The Abbot.
The Brilliance Of Ashton Sanders And Shameik Moore
“Their story all means something. You look at Ashton [Sanders], who chose art. He was shy and not trying to be on the scene with all of the foolery that was going on in his hood. He was a guy that was like, ‘I’m going to take art serious.’ Look at Shameik [Moore], who is really a chameleon of an actor, he absorbs it. This kid never held a gun before growing up. He grew up with his mother and father, but he took art so seriously that he can transform himself into whatever task you give him.”
Erika Alexander's Motherly Presence
“She was a blessing to us, even the weight of her as an actress. And I told her, I wasn’t shy to share with her [that] I used to watch her on TV with my mother. And her playing someone who passed away, she wanted to give it homage, grace and respect and she sat down with my sisters and got all these stories. And I think her weight, not only as the mother of the show, but even for the cast. All of these young men are still young. They’re still kinda Wu-Tang-ish. Party on Tuesday night, they might wanna go to it and come to work on Wednesday, but she was a lot of gravity. She sharpened a lot of their swords.”
The Most Memorable Moment Of His Career
“I think that first run with Wu-Tang Clan and all my brothers stuffed in a van. Falling asleep on each others shoulders, not knowing where we’re going, I’ll never forget that feeling. The coldness sometimes of those long road trips. We actually thought that Best Westerns and Super 8 Hotels were [fly]. I’m just telling you, boy, it’s such a crazy thing just to live that journey.”
Finding Knowledge And Beauty In Spirituality
“I’m never shy to turn to our great spiritual sages from all walks denominations so there’s something beautiful that Jesus is gonna say, something beautiful that Abraham’s gonna say, something beautiful that Krishna’s gonna say. To me, men of the past, in their writing, have challenged life a lot. So I find myself really constantly reading how they dealt with it.
Even if you’re atheist or polytheistic or whatever you are, you still can’t deny the story. How does a man like Abraham deal with the faith of ‘I was told to kill my son and I’m gonna do it’ and have that much faith in something? Or even a man like Job who loses everything, including his wife, but still never turns away from his conviction. Those type of stories, to me, are always amazing.”
Mario Van Peebles' Cinematic Excellence
“Mario was a blessing to us. He came on in season two, he was actually our PD and then on the third season, he had a movie he had to do so there was a chance that he wasn’t gonna come back and I reached out to him, I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this episode that I think nobody can direct but you’ and he had the time to do it. And the beautiful thing about him, you’ve got to check out this episode. It’s episode three of this new episode, it’s called ‘Dirty Dancing.’
And we take the cast back to the ’70s to tell the story of ODB’s album and to have someone like Mario Van Peebles who him and his father are pioneers of what was called the Blaxploitation film and to have him be the guy to direct this episode and to bring in the Soul Train energy and bring his energy that was actually from his father’s legacy, I think it was an incredible blessing for us as show runners. It was super cool. Mario is such a smart [guy]. Well-versed in culture and art, this guy is sharp.”
Being A Student Of Classical Music
“For me right now, I’m just really deep into Beethoven. And I’m finding a new way of language and expression now by studying the classical musicians. A new chamber. So the classical musicians and their stories as artists is fascinating to me.”
Wanting To Be Cast In 'New Jack City'
“When Mario Van Peebles was doing the movie New Jack City, I actually, literally went to the set [and] hung around, hoping to be an extra and hoping to meet him. I didn’t meet him, wasn’t an extra. I seen him, they wouldn’t let me on set. I was at the barricade and I went days. And then to have, years later, him come collaborate with me is a testament of the power of art and the testament of dreams.”
Quentin Tarantino Being His First Boss
“When I worked on Kill Bill with Quentin Tarantino, I was at his service. And I never really had a boss, for all my life. And I remember giving him a piece of music and he was like, ‘No.’ Like, ‘That’s not it.’ And it was like days of that and then I almost gave up. And then, I was just sitting in the music and editing room and I was composing in my head. And I was messing around and messing around.
And when I had this one piece of music that felt good, but I wasn’t sure, he came in the room and was like, ‘That’s it.’ And then I learned, ‘Okay, I’m not here to serve the purpose of the director, but, more importantly, the purpose of the film.’ The collaboration effort, it actually supersedes everything and it’s all for the purpose of the end product. Not even for just the satisfaction of your editor, the actor or the director. It has to serve the film. And that revelation stuck in my head.”