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Raekwon says RZA shot down Leonardo DiCaprio’s biopic offer in favour of TV series

By | Published on Thursday 2 December 2021

Wu-Tang Clan

RZA torpedoed plans for a major Wu-Tang Clan biopic because he was more interested in developing a TV series about the hip hop group, Raekwon claims in his new autobiography ‘From Staircase To Stage’.

In the book, the rapper says that RZA had for some time been keen on the idea of a scripted series about the group, but when NWA biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’ came out in 2015, Raekwon saw a cinematic release as the obvious choice for telling their story – both financially and artistically.

He says that he then convinced RZA to at least approach some contacts in Hollywood to discuss the possibility of film. But when that resulted in a relatively low offer of production funding, RZA again put the focus back on TV options – convinced that a small screen show would have more longevity, particularly if it continued over multiple series.

With Raekwon still pushing the idea that they instead find a producer who would back a big budget movie, RZA told him to go out and see for himself whether any film companies were interested. Taking up the challenge, Raekwon managed to score a meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio.

“[I] met Leo and his then-girlfriend out in Brooklyn at an old mafioso-looking pizza spot near Sunset Park that Leo loves”, writes Raekwon in an extract from his book, published by Rolling Stone. “We had a great time, eating pizza, telling stories, laughing and shit. Then we started talking about the possibility of a Wu-Tang movie and I told Leo I’d love to see him play a role in it, anything he wanted to do”.

“He talked about his production company and all the directors he thought might do a great job – and these were big names and people he’d worked with”, he goes on. “He was super open to the idea, and after that meal, he had his production company executives reach out to me. We took it to the next level with them. They were very interested, so we got the ball rolling, talking real numbers, with the goal of an even bigger release than ‘Straight Outta Compton'”.

He and RZA then met with execs from DiCaprio’s company, Appian Way Productions, with RZA apparently seeming warm to the idea at the start, says Raekwon. But when it came to their next meeting, where he expected that they would close a deal, things changed.

“The minute he got there, RZA’s energy was entirely different”, he says. “He barely said anything and seemed to be going through the motions, nothing more. I could tell he wasn’t going to agree to do it, and my instincts told me why: my guess is that he was already in bed with a production company, deep into developing the scripted series for TV, even though none of us had signed off on it”.

“I kept my cool and didn’t spaz out on him, but in my heart I knew more than ever that his relationships in Hollywood mattered more to him than his relationship with us”, he goes on. “He was burying a dream deal over pride. This bullshit hurt my feelings because it proved to me that he’d already counted me out before I began. He didn’t think I could bring that kind of power to the table, but I’d gotten them there, all ready to rock and roll”.

“They were excited and connected, so with the snap of a finger they could have gotten the ball rolling for real”, he insists. “Not to mention that even if he had signed some preliminary agreement to develop a series, deals get called off and bought out all the time, so if RZA were honest about it and admitted to me that he’d signed something already, it could have been worked out. But the dude wouldn’t cop to that. He just kept insisting the scripted series deal he had found was better than the major motion picture deal I had found. As I left him that day I had tears in my eyes”.

Of course, RZA’s grand plan for a TV drama that ran for multiple series did actually come to fruition. The first series of ‘Wu-Tang: An American Saga’ – produced by Ron Howard’s Imagine Television – premiered in the US in 2019, with a second arriving in September this year. A third and final series has already been approved. But it sounds like Raekwon would still have preferred to follow NWA onto the big screen.

Now, while the first hour of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was pretty good, the remaining seven hours (or however long it ran for, it felt longer) seemed to mainly focus on a load of very tedious contractual disputes. And bear in mind how much we love contractual disputes at CMU. But even we found it all very, very tedious. Nevertheless, that film still did pretty well, didn’t it?

My point is, if Raekwon still wants there to be a Wu Tang Clan film, maybe they could make one about this chapter of his book. Or maybe he could just make do with the Netflix movie that’s in the pipeline telling the story of the outfit’s ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ album.