Hulu is serving up the Wu-Tang Clan origin story with the 10-episode Wu-Tang: An American Saga, and series star Shameik Moore believes the project will not only extend the iconic hip-hop group's reach, but also boost music streaming numbers.
"We killed it in this show," Moore says. "I'm very proud of what we've done."
Moore - best known for his role in 2015's coming of age comedy/drama Dope, and as the voice of Spider-Man in 'Into the Spider-Verse' - admits he had a lot to learn about the Wu when he landed the role of Raekwon, considered a pioneer of gangsta rap.
"I didn't know much about Wu. I started listening to hip-hop music when I was 12. I was born in 1995. Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers came out in 1993. So by the time I was listening to hip-hop, it was a different era of hip-hop," he explains.
"I knew the name Wu-Tang and I knew the slogan Wu-Tang Forever and I also knew that there were hardcore Wu-Tang fans, but I wasn't a part of that following until I got personally involved. There's a lot of people my age and younger who can relate to what I just said. I've been listening to Wu-Tang since this show started and I still listen to it now and that wasn't the scenario before."
Wu-Tang: An American Saga, written and co-created by RZA and screenwriter Alex Tse (Watchmen, 2018's Superfly) and executive produced by Brian Grazier, Method Man and Francie Calfo, is currently available to stream on Hulu.
The series, which wrapped its initial run in October, is based on the true story of the hip-hop group and tracks their formation in early '90s New York at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. It is based on the previously released books "The Wu-Tang Manual and Tao of Wu." The show has been renewed for a second season.
In terms of your process, how do you prepare to occupy the headspace of a young Raekwon? What type of research goes into a role like this?
Raekwon is a person that has his own following within the group. I remember the first scene I did, I was feeling like, 'Damn, I don't know who he is.' Like, I'm playing him, and I've never met him. I made it a point to RZA, 'cause he's like an uncle to me, so I was like, 'I need to meet Rae. You can't have me play him and the only person I know is you. I can't play him from knowing you.'
So he got the word out to Rae and then Raekwon flew out to Canada to meet me, 'cause I was filming Let It Snow and Wu-Tang at the same time.
I was going back and forth from New York to Canada every other day and he flew out to Canada and we chopped it up, and ever since then, before my scene, I would call him just to hear him talk. I would get his version of the story that we're telling, and if there's something that's missing out of the story, I can put some of his emotions and how he felt in the real situation into the scenario.
So when he watches it, it feels like it's him. I was really focused on that. I stopped thinking about what everybody else was going to think, which is how I was originally thinking, and I started thinking about what he was going to think. That was my process of getting into character - really studying him and sponging up his energy and what he was willing to share with me.
For fans who have not seen the series yet, what can they expect to see covered throughout the first 10 episodes?
This is scratching the surface. We're not showing where they are now. We're starting before they become Wu-Tang and this shows how Wu-Tang really started.
What are you hoping viewers are left thinking after watching this series?
That this group of people still reigns supreme because people can still relate to the lyrics and similar scenarios. I know people that can relate to the story of these young men, and how they became icons is legendary. I think the dynamic between Ghostface and Rawkwon is going to impress people. I don't want to spoil it but it's deep and a lot that people don't know about it.
Cameras were like police to these guys when they were coming up, so what the world got from Wu-Tang is what they allowed the world to see. That's not the case with the show. The show gets into what makes RZA tick, what makes Raekwon tick, what makes Ghostface tick and Method Man… what makes them tick? What people are going to take from it is that separately is one thing but together we're stronger.
Separately, there's a lot of violence against each other, as far as the culture, but together we can be iconic.
And on that note… what makes Shameik Moore tick? What inspires you and gets your creative juices flowing?
I'm inspired by art. I'm inspired by life. Watching a squirrel run up a tree, for some reason, I am fascinated with that. The fact that I can't walk up a tree like that - this may be a weird response, but it's the truth. How I express myself artistically is really an expression of what I experience. Acting, dancing, singing… all of it is intimate.
It's like, letting people know more about you. Even though I'm acting, I'm not. I take in inspiration by all things and I spit out my version of it.
As you were digging into Raekwon's backstory, how much of his world could you personally relate to?
Me and Raekwon are polar opposites. I'm a lot more like RZA. I can relate more to his story than I can relate to Raekwon's story for many reasons. I'm a leveled person, and I pay attention to my experience in life. I'm a boxer. I spar professional boxers and train every single day. I'm not a professional boxer, my hands aren't registered, but I'm physically capable.
So any bad boy character that I ever play, there's an underlined fighter within that because that's a part of me that I know well. I'm from Lithonia, Georgia in east Atlanta, and I've never been involved with any criminal activity, but I've known kids since middle school who've made bad decisions.
I understand the decisions that Raekwon made because I know kids like that, and I know them well. I'm from the same environment, so I'm very familiar and that's how I played Raekwon. I met him in 2019, not 1993. Him in 1993 is probably like the young guys that I know right now that's wildin' out.
The story that people don't know about Raekwon and about the other characters is that some of them were mortal enemies and wanted to end each other's lives but ended up being a part of the same rap group and changed the rap game. They're the closest friends now and I think that's something that everybody will be able to take in and learn from.
Is it more challenging to do biopics, being that these characters are based on real people, than it is playing fictional characters?
I can't say that playing Shaolin Fantastic was easier than playing Raekwon. It was just a different task. I would say the most difficult thing for me in anything is finding the reality. If it's real, I can do it. Fictional characters, I must make it real. Every sentence I say, the audience must feel like I'm in the room with them.
I don't want to seem out of touch. I want people to feel like I'm right in front of them. Like they're getting to know me.
As a Black American male navigating this cutthroat industry, and being aware of the limited job opportunities or stereotypical roles for actors of color, did you have any fears or reservations when you first started out in this business?
I wanted to do the acting thing, but my goal was to be a full-rounded entertainer, and I was afraid that acting would takeover in a way where people don't want anything else from me. I was never afraid I wasn't going to make it. Growing up, my mom always told me I can do whatever I put my mind to and when she would say that to me, I recognized it to be true.
If I wanted to play basketball, which I did for a while, I was the best. When I wanted to make straight A's in school, that's exactly what I was doing. I wanted to do gymnastics and learn how to flip and do all of that and that's exactly what I did. When I started dancing, I wanted to do that.
Acting just seems to be written in the stars and I'm thankful and humbled, and I try to always go back to that in my mind, 'I can do anything I put my mind to.' I wasn't fearful because I had great parents. I didn't need to be fearful because I believed it was going to happen.