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How Russell Crowe Found Inspiration In Ol’ Dirty Bastard For ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’ & More From RZA & Lucy Liu

How Russell Crowe Found Inspiration In Ol' Dirty Bastard For 'The Man With The Iron Fists' & More From RZA & Lucy Liu

As writer, director and star of “The Man with the Iron Fists,“ rapper RZA finally brings his vision, and his career inspirations, to the big screen. The multi-hyphenate, who plays the Blacksmith in this twisty martial arts tale, was thrilled to be at the helm of a $20 million Universal film, but he knew that this project would immediately need to be distinguished from other similar movies. “They make hundreds of these films in China every year,“ RZA said, when he and the cast of the film recently sat down with press. “The idea was to pay homage to the greats that pioneered this genre. But those were made in Asia with an Asian sensibility, so I had to make it with an American sensibility.”

Though he didn’t have to reach far for inspiration, leaning on one of the classics of the genre. “In ’Five Deadly Venoms,‘ there’s a character called the Toad, he supposedly have impenetrable skin,” RZA illustrates. “You don’t see that. You’ve gotta just go with this idea. But in my movie, I have Brass Body. I made it so that his chi energy is so strong that he turns his full body into brass, so it’s not so esoteric, it’s more superhero-ish.”

Several ideas in “The Man With The Iron Fists” came from externalizing thematic concepts featured in old martial arts films. Speaking of the character of X-Blade, written for actor Rick Yune, RZA explained his own innovation. “I had an idea of a porcupine stance,” RZA says. “His final blow is a porcupine attack, when he grabs Brass Body and every knife pops out of him! What I wanted to do was take the concept of chi, similar to ‘Star Wars’ and the Force. “In true martial arts, they say the chi should flow from their body to their weapon. When you see Jet Li do his old wushu contests, they said his chi flew to the tip of his sword. I took that principle and applied it in a mythical way. The chi is able to turn your whole body brass, it’s able to animate an iron fist, a knife.”

Brass Body is one of the highlights of the film. As played by wrestler David Bautista, the character shimmers as pure gold when he’s incensed, crushing everyone in his path. “I saw Dave Bautista on the internet doing kali, knife fighting, with a martial artist named Maurice Crunk. I invited Maurice and Dave to one of my video shoots that I was doing with Method Man, and I wanted to see if Dave could be my Brass Body, but Maurice could be my stunt double, and I could maybe get this great fight scene together with the Brass Body and the Blacksmith,” RZA explains. “And I met Dave, and he’s a fan of the RZA, but he was kinda bugging out, like, why is he sizing me up like he wants to fight me?”

Calling the shots on a major motion picture was a serious challenge for the first-timer, who began to understand some of the struggles of other contemporary filmmakers. “I will not deny it, it’s very exhausting,” he sighs. “They say movies are made three times. First it’s written as a screenplay, then it’s shot, but you can’t shoot everything you write, and the cast has to absorb the character. And then we had to edit it, we had a million feet worth of film! But this is the story I wanted to tell, and on the DVD there will be some extra stuff.” He speaks of finding the inspirations from two ideal mentors, “It was me, Robert [Rodriguez] and Quentin [Tarantino] and Quentin said to us, we are elite and unique, because of what we know and what we can do.“

“A lot of directors nitpick,” says Lucy Liu, who plays Madam Blossom, the mistress of a local brothel. “Every time you have a different take, they give you a different direction. He didn’t do that, he would let you do your thing. He doesn’t keep giving you different cues of green, he says, this is your palette, let me know what you need. A lot of directors feel like they have to come up and tweak you every time, which I find to be an incredible annoyance. And first time directors do that, because they’re so overly concerned you’re not getting it, but he didn’t do that at all.”

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.

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