'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' creator the RZA reminisces about going back to his old neighborhood to film the show
The RZA aka Bobby Digital aka Bobby Diggs came together with Alex Tse to make a show for Hulu that would retell the origins of the Wu-Tang Clan and how the rappers came together to make music and the influences that have marked their signature tracks. 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' stars Ashton Sanders as Bobby and centers around him as he finds his identity as the RZA and rises above the streets to do what he loves. The first three episodes premiered on Hulu on September 4 with each subsequent episode airing weekly on Wednesdays.
At the Paley Fest, MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) spoke to some members of the cast and crew of the show about the characters and the making of the show. Speaking of how things together leading to the show that chronicles the story of the Wu-Tang Clan, the RZA noted that going back to his old neighborhood and the home he grew up in and bringing the story to life for a new generation has been the "bong-bong-bonker". The show went to the actual neighborhoods to film the show, especially 88 Lowell Avenue, Staten Island, where the RZA would come home from school every day and start playing with the equipment, with comic books scattered on the floor and records lying everywhere. He also spoke about Ashton Sanders, who plays the young Bobby, discovering things while filming, even learning to use the equipment.
In the first episode of the show, Bobby is seen eyeing the SP-1200 machine, which he finally buys in episode 4. In real life, the RZA had to learn to use the machine without the manual and the RZA spoke fondly of his memories of learning to make music with it. With Sanders learning to play it as well while filming, the RZA says the viewers get a real sense of the same thing he had to go through with the SP-1200.
"No instruction manual and I gotta make a beat with this, I gotta sample a song, truncate it, I gotta loop it, I gotta filter it, I gotta control the pitch, then I gotta quantize it and I gotta choose my time signature and there's no instructions. There's some writing on it (the SP-1200) that gives you some hints but there's no manual and I just stayed up days, days, days and then Raekwon would come over, hear what I'd made, grab the mic. To see us relive that is a beauty."
Alex Tse, co-creator and writer for the show, also spoke to us about writing a biographical script and he revealed that because Wu-Tang Clan means so much to him and to so many people in the world, how important it was for him to not screw up the writing of the story.
MEAWW also caught up with Johnell Young who plays young GZA at the Paley Fest. Being from Staten Island, Young exclaimed how the Wu-Tang Clan runs through his veins. Young told us how he prepared for the role of GZA, who is one of the rappers with the most vocabulary in music. He said, "You become GZA. You turn your phone off, your PS4 off and YouTube is my best friend. Youtube and his number. I was texting him, trying to pick his brain, YouTubing trying to get his cadences, mannerisms, everything down. You don't want to mess up a hip-hop legend like that, not me." Young proudly says how he calls GZA his "unc" now and randomly texts him every now and then as he feels he needs to take advantage of having a man like GZA as a resource and to ask about life.
In the Hulu show, the viewers also get to see some members of the RZA's family: his mother, Divine, his elder brother, another younger brother, and a sister, Shurrie Diggs. Shurrie is an amalgamation of the RZA's three sisters and actress and Zolee Griggs, the actress who portrays the character, spoke with MEAWW about the advantage of getting to base her role on all three of them, "I think, it does give me creative freedom because I can tap into different aspects and characteristics of each sister. I know that one of his sisters is a badass and she would fight a bunch of people and one of his sisters is a softer one and sweet one and I get to pop out as different little pieces here and there, which is really dope".
She also spoke about the importance of her character, how Shurrie represents a lot of women and the weight they have to carry. In the show we see Shurrie taking care of her family, cooking, cleaning, "looking after her little brother, her older brothers, her own mother, herself". In Episode 4, we also see how she goes to Dennis aka Ghostface Killah's house when his mother is in the hospital, to take care of Dennis's two younger brothers suffering from muscular dystrophy. But as Griggs points out, Shurrie handles it all and figures a way to do it. Griggs stresses how impressive this is, considering the character is only 17-years-old. Said Griggs, "Women, we make it work and (Shurrie's) really dope".
'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' consists of ten episodes, with each episode airing on Hulu on Wednesday.