Having such a formidable cast and crew on his first movie proved challenging. When asked about one of the difficulties of the film, RZA candidly admits, “Having that level of talent trust me. I’ve got some of the best of the world representing in this movie. You have to be careful they’re not being made fun of, or being considered a joke.”
One of those is Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, who plays the devious Jack Knife. But RZA was able to help Crowe find an unlikely inspiration. “Russell’s a master actor, there’s no question about that,” he notes. “He did some research for the time period, to find out how the British were, but ODB was the case study of the character. The first time he popped out of that bathtub with those beads in his mouth, that’s an ODB tactic.” RZA was also smart enough to understand what Crowe could add to the story himself. “When he agreed to do the film, there wasn’t a big scene between the Blacksmith and Jack Knife,” he reveals. “Originally they were gonna be enemies, and he said, no, we have to have a scene where these two come together. We found the moment, it was when he becomes the man who gives him the cast for the iron arms. And he’s smart man, he knew that would bring important energy for the film.”
Lucy Liu also notes how much input RZA allowed her to contribute. “Originally there was not as much depth to her, she did not have a fight scene, she was just a cold-blooded character,” she says of Madame Blossom. “And that was understandable, since it was a very male-driven movie. But we Skyped from China, I was in New York and Bobby said, you’re right, let’s talk about it.” In their collaborations, they found a new origin for this character, as Liu explains, “Starting as one of the urchins, and becoming the Black Widow was a way of getting revenge on all these men that have wronged her.”
While the idea originally came from RZA, he shares co-writing duties with fellow Tarantino disciple Eli Roth. “I started with ninety pages, and when Eli and I got together, we got it to one hundred and twenty,” RZA explains. “I’m not shy to say that even on the set we kept writing. A film evolves, it happens all the time, I don’t know if people talk about it all the time. But every film I’ve been on, 80% of the time, page says one thing, but everyone said, yo, we gotta do it this way instead.”
And some of that maneuvering stemmed from getting the special effects right on time. “The one thing I learned about visual effects is that you gotta have it two years in advance because it takes so long,” RZA sighs. “Visual effects actually held the movie up for months. We hired a company out of China called Centro, they did ‘Kill Bill,’ they did ‘Kung Fu Hustle,’ they had talent, but it took so long. But we had a lot of practical stuff, seventy percent practical, thirty percent CGI. We had Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero as our special makeup guys. They did ‘Walking Dead,’ ‘Death Proof.’ So we had some great masters on set.”
Speaking of masters, RZA finally got to fulfill his lifelong dream of working with the legendary Gordon Liu. “He agreed to do the film because of his own philosophy,” he explains. “In the first movie I saw him in, which was ‘36th Chamber,’ he was a young student trying to learn kung fu. And I said, Gordon, I want you to be the guy in the 36th Chamber who pushed you out because you didn’t have the wisdom. And that character inspired me, changed my life as a kid. It’s a blessing.”
“The Man with the Iron Fists” hits theaters this Friday.