Hulu's 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' actor Johnell Young says playing GZA brought him 'full circle' growing up on Staten Island [Exclusive]
Johnell Young, who plays GZA in 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga', explained he was not just a fan of the Clan but was obsessed with them while growing up, so much so, he is addressed as "Wu baby" on the sets of the Hulu show
Hulu's 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' really hit the casting jackpot when they got Johnell Young, best known for his role in 2017's 'Making Moves', to play hip hop legend GZA. Besides being an excellent actor, Young is a lifelong fan of the Wu-Tang Clan, having grown up in the same part of New York City as the iconic rap group.
"I'm from Staten Island, New York, where they're from," Young said in an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). "I'm from Shaolin. I wouldn't even classify myself as a fan. They call me 'Wu Baby' on set because we were shooting at the places where I vividly remember going in and running around as a kid and stuff so I'm bigger than a fan I used them on my journey to survive in New York City so it's amazing."
It was a dream come true for Young to be cast in the role of The Genius. He describes the casting and his "audition" (which consisted of a single conversation with RZA) as having been a "real manifestation process."
"I was actually on set when I found out they were shooting episode 1 and I got a call like 'Can you make it to set in 15 minutes?'," Young explained. "And I'm like 'I'm in Jersey but yeah, I'll make it there in five minutes.' I didn't know what's going on, I didn't know whether I got the role or not or anything, but I went on set and watched a little bit and waited for RZA to come over and he said a few words and the few words were 'Bong Bong', I hit him with a few 'Ice Cream' lyrics so after that he turned around to the people and said 'Yeah, this is my cousin. This is the guy right here that I want to play GZA.' And everybody just started clapping it up, I turned around and just hugged my mom like 'We did it!'"
"It was a real manifestation process getting this role and I learned a lot," he added. "It was wonderful" Filming the docuseries brought back a lot of memories for Young, who had spent plenty of time in all the locations used for filming when he was younger. Things got really emotional for the young actor when he filmed a scene in the record store where he used to buy his music from, an incident Young felt brought him "full circle."
"The scene in -- I think it was in episode 10 or it might have been episode 9 -- we recorded at this record store where I would buy all my CDs," Young recollected. "I mean I had to take a few minutes before the director said action to really get myself back in the zone because it was getting real emotional. It just felt like, full circle. The same person that was working there was working there while I was filming and it was just like 'Wow, this is crazy! Okay, let me get back. Focus.'"
Episode 4 of 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga', titled 'All That I Got Is You', will be arriving on Hulu September 11 with the remaining six episodes scheduled to air weekly on the streaming platform.