With stylized action featuring thrilling Parkour stunts, “Brick Mansions” puts an entertaining twist on the action genre. In a dystopian Detroit, abandoned brick mansions left from better times now house only the most dangerous criminals. In this dog-eat-dog society, only the strong survive, and the ruthless, urbane and deadly drug kingpin Tremaine (RZA) is at the top of the food chain. For undercover cop Damien Collier (Paul Walker), who is determined to bring Tremaine to justice, every day is a battle against corruption. For Lino (David Belle), every day is a fight to live an honest life. Opening April 25th, the film is directed by Camille Delamarre from a script by Luc Besson who also produces.
In an exclusive interview, the multi-talented RZA talked about the genesis of the project, what appealed to him about his character, how he prepared for the role, his collaboration with Delamarre on his feature directorial debut, working with Belle and the late Walker and what they brought to the film, his bold line of dialogue, what he learned about himself while making the movie, how Walker inspired him, his role in the upcoming martial arts sequel “The Protector 2” with Tony Jaa directed by Prachya Pinkaew, and his new Fox Network TV series, “Gang Related,” that premieres May 22nd.
Here’s what he had to say:
QUESTION: Can you talk about the genesis of this project?
RZA: Well the project first came together when my agent sent the screenplay to me. It was about a year and a half before they went into production. I read it at that time as I was looking for work to do. Tremaine was a very interesting character for me. K2 was a very interesting character. I didn’t know. I was just reading it. Time went on and then it came back around again and it was very feasible that it was going to be made. I said, “Yeah, I like this guy. He has a nice arc.” I wanted to play a bad guy after doing “The Man with the Iron Fists” where I was a good guy. I look at what I do, and I said, “Well, I haven’t been a bad guy yet.” And so, when it finally did come, I met with Luc Besson, the producer, and I guess he liked me. When they got the green light, they called me and said, “We want you to be Tremaine,” and I showed up.
Q: Was there anything special you did to prepare for the role of Tremaine?
The funny thing is that when I prepared for Tremaine, I developed some of that character in “The Protector 2,” Tony Jaa’s film, just a little bit. Some of the development of LC (his character in “The Protector 2”) was needed towards Tremaine. You’ll notice in the Tony Jaa movie that I have the dark eyebrows. I first tried that in “Californication.” I liked that. It looked black. It looked a little weird but it looked a little sinister. So then, on the Tony Jaa [movie], I did it even more. When he went crazy at the end, I looked pretty crazy. Didn’t I? It really made this guy look kind of savage. (Laughs)
For Tremaine, I didn’t do as much of that, but I felt the right balance of make-up and haircut and everything, because that’s how I think. I look in the mirror and I’m like, “Y’all, this is kind of roundish and we have some points here, but all this is here.” But for Tremaine, it was square and it was all like this, because that’s how the French guy would wear his hair. Those African brothers are different than us American African brothers. They’re actually sometimes a few years behind us. I just look at those types of things and try to develop my characters like that. That came about from the writers and the producer both thinking I’ll be the man for the job.
Q: What was it like collaborating creatively with Camille Delamarre?
RZA: Camille was really cool, y’all. There was a little rumor that this was his first movie and his English was maybe at forty percent. His English was good enough for me because I’ve been to France a lot of times. I can read anybody. He was very, very focused on this movie and he knew what he wanted. I mean, he knew his instructions, which is the script, and he knew what vision he had. I didn’t know it was his first movie. I didn’t know that until I got on set and then I hear the little rumors. (Laughs) And so I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” And then, one of the other ladies, I don’t know if it was make-up, but somebody was like, “Have you seen Camille’s film?” I said, “I thought this was his first movie.” “No, No. He’s done a short.” I said, “No. I didn’t see that one. I would love to see it.” And so they brought it to me and it was great. I was comfortable after that.
Q: How was he as a first-time director?
RZA: Well, first-time commercial director is a better way to call it because he’s been directing part of his whole life swabbing to be. It’s like Luc Besson – editing films, dreaming, mowing, thinking, having ideas, but not having the opportunity. Those guys usually pop out the box great (laughs), because he’s been in the gym for years and now he’s finally in the ring. I think that was the case with him.
Q: Can you talk about working with Paul Walker and David Belle and what they brought to the film?
RZA: They both brought incredible things to the film. Paul is a mega-star and a hero to a lot of people. He brought that Hollywood hero to the screen which is the reason why we go to movies on weekends. And then David brings the authentic. David did the original film, “District B13.” He’s the father of this thing in his own right. Parkour has been played with a little bit in America. You may have seen it in James Bond. You see it a little bit in “Divergent.” You see it a little bit in films. They show you a little bit of it, but never a film where that’s the basis of the action all the way through. He’s the father of this and he brings this to the table.
I haven’t seen this film yet, but I think that it will be better than the original, and I loved the original. Both of them as two buddies and two guys from two opposite sides coming together, they both raise the stakes. I know I felt it when we did the scene when they both came in to confront Tremaine. I was like, “Oh, these two guys.” (Laughs) I really felt like, “Okay, let me be that strong warlord. Let me take power, but I actually have an interesting threat on my hands.” They kept up the intensity. They threw a few lines at me and I threw some back. I didn’t see the final results so I don’t know what’s been edited out, but I hope my banana boat line is in there. That’s the line where he says, “Whaddya do to my girl? It was a bold line for me.
Q: What did you learn about yourself in the process of making this? Were there any surprises?
RZA: There were two beautiful things that happened. One is Paul was the type of guy that he’s already found himself. He’s already settled in his Hollywood stardom and was very into his family and bringing his daughter up to spend time with him. And I, just for psychological reasons, keep my family away when I work. He inspired me to bring my family here, and it was actually very healthy for me, healthier than I thought. I brought them in during the second half because I had a break in between.
During my break though, I had a concert and I went to the concert. I mean, I came from set, flew in and had a concert the next day, but guess who I was. I was Tremaine and I was acting a little crazy backstage and my publicist was like, “Yo Bobby, save it for the set.” So, I’ve learned this and I hear the rumors. The more I work in this business, and the more I learn about the myths, some of them are not that farfetched. Some of them are based in reality. There’s a myth that sometimes you get lost in the character. You become that guy. You can be stuck as that. And there’s another myth that you fall in love with your leading lady. Both of those have proven….. I didn’t fall in love, but when I finished “The Man with the Iron Fists,” I’d been working on it in China for 150 days. I had the girl who was my girlfriend in the movie and we’d go out, and she had another guy one night and I was jealous. It’s like these little psychological things happen because you actually become the person for those moments and especially when you’re spending hours of being that person and you’re being captured as that person. So there’s something to that.
I would just say when I was working on “Brick Mansions,” halfway during production is when I discovered Tremaine and who he was. I was acting like him at first, and then halfway through the production I became him. Right around a few days later is when I had to go and do this concert.
Q: What are some of the cool projects you have coming up that you’re excited for audiences to see?
RZA: I’m excited about “Brick Mansions.” I really am excited about it. Parkour will come to America and I’m helping bring it in. I feel proud of that. Paul is not here to promote this movie. He hasn’t done a lot of movies outside so that means that he was into doing this. That means he wanted to do this. It wasn’t that he needed to. He didn’t need nothing. So I want people to go in and appreciate it and see why he felt that way. Come and enjoy this art that we’re bringing to America’s audiences on a big screen, not on your TV screen or your DVD or your Netflix. This movie will be on a nice 9-foot or bigger screen.
I can also talk about “The Protector 2.” I just want to say it was fun. I went to Thailand to do the movie with Tony Jaa. I got injured by him. He’s a real martial arts master. He put a lock on me that I still feel the pain from. (Laughs) But I had fun. I wanted to fight him. I wanted to get into a martial arts fight with him, and we did get into one, and it was really cool for me.
After doing “The Man with the Iron Fists,” I love doing action, of course. I do my best not to be pigeon-holed into that world. If you notice, I’ve done the good guy in “Iron Fists,” and then I did the bad guy with Tony in “The Protector 2,” and I do the bad guy again in “Brick Mansions.” When the season breaks in May, you’ll see me on TV on Fox Network on “Gang Related.” I hope I’m the good guy. (Laughs) It starts airing May 22nd.