Gets High with The Wackness
by Brad Balfour
Though Method Man only plays a small role in one crucial scene, his presence in The Wackness, adds a necessary touch of credibility to this indie film paean to New York and its homegrown hip-hop culture. Given that the story is told from a geeky white, Jewish, 18-year-old pot dealer’s perspective (he’s more into weed as a social statement than as a way to financially elevate him out of the ‘hood), having a former Wu-Tang Clan member/founder performing even a small part – as Jamaican drug supplier Percy who has an approving encounter with Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) and his sort-of customer/mentor, semi-partner Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley) – lends the film a further authenticity.
Happening during the summer of 1994 – when the streets of New York are full of a funky, soulful hip hop exemplified by Wu-Tang and the sweet smell of pot – The Wackness darkly celebrates a coming of age for both the 18-year-old Luke, and the middle-aged shrink Squires. Set against the backdrop of newly-inaugurated mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s regime, when the law & order fanatic begins to implement anti-fun initiatives against such vile crimes as noisy portable radio play, graffiti-bombing and public drunkenness, the film celebrates a positive cultural abandon that seems sorely missing in NYC today.
Nominated for Sundance 2008’s Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and winner of the Audience Award, director Jonathan Levine’s touching film takes advantage of Method Man’s expanding acting experience (he’s been in films and TV shows such as Oz, CSI, The Wire, Garden State and Soul Plane) to join the movie’s other fine supporting actors such as Olivia Thirlby and Famke Janssen. From the seminal hip-hop collective he formed with Redman, ODB, and RZA, the former Cliff Smith has established a successful solo artist/producing career. But it was his time with that supergroup Wu Tang Clan – on such albums as Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers and Wu-Tang Forever – that he made a mark in history that spurs on such films as The Wackness.
How was it revisiting this historical moment in hip-hop, 1994, through this film?
Well I didn’t get that until I saw the film. When I did my scene, it didn’t have music. I just had to draw off what I read in the script and the scenes that I shot. when I saw the movie, the music could have gotten a credit t was pushing the story along in certain areas – I had a feeling of euphoria; and I had a feeling of nostalgia when listening to the music in the film. I was like; damn that’s where I was at in
How does it feel being an actor in a hip-hop environment rather than being a hip-hopper affecting the environment?
I’ve come a long way to start off. It’s a little crazy to sit there watch this film and hear a song that I did playing in the background of my scene; it’s silly in a way, for a lack of a better word especially when it’s you are watching it. I don’t know about it for everybody else, but for me it was a little silly.
Do you think director Jonathan Levine picked the right music for the soundtrack? Did you help him? You think you had an influence?
I know I had an influence; he put my music in the film. I had nothing to do with putting the soundtrack together, that was all Jonathan.
This film seems to be a tribute to NYC hip-hop as the roots as opposed to the West Coast.
It’s a tribute to the city actually. As far the west coast goes, we always had a lot of love for the west coast, that’s why I didn’t understand why there’s was no Snoop Dogg songs in there’s when he came out in ’94 they almost played the whole album on the radio.
Were you happy to see this film portray an appreciation of the weed culture?
Absolutely man. There is a culture out there of pot heads; we are growing bigger and bigger every day. People are using it for medicinal purposes now.
Was it interesting looking at pot through your character’s Jamaican experience?
When you are there and you’re seeing how the whole thing works as far this guy goes… I’ve lived most of this shit so, I’ve sat inside “gates,” that’s what we call them and shit; the dread, if he likes you and shit, he’ll talk to you. It ain’t just a hand-over-fist type of thing. You get to talking now and then. That’s the connection between Luke and Percy. Percy trusts Luke. You don’t get a lot of that so you want to keep the people you trust around.
Was there anybody as a reference to get the character and accent down?
Every Jamaican I ran into in my lifetime [was a source]; as far as the dialect goes, I had a good coach.
You must relate to the concept behind the film, for this kid to use hip-hop and pot as critical elements in his growing up?
The music definitely pushes the story forward and Luke as well. The pot definitely bridged gaps between him and his psychiatrist; him and his supplier; and him and his love interest. The coming of age thing, this is a dude trying to find himself. he way the pot plays into it is exactly as I told you… He’s asking questions, trying to find out where he stands with this girl and where he stands with himself. He’s about to be a man and life sucks that’s where the whole concept of the wackness comes in because right now everything looks “Wack” to him.
Did you find it weird being in a film with both Ben Kingsley and Mary Kate Olsen?
With Sir Ben it was bug because he doesn’t leave the set. He chops it up a little. He’s a real, genuine cool dude. It helped when we started shooting the scene because I was so comfortable around him it was like a cake walk. I didn’t meet Mary Kate until Sundance and the first few interviews we did. Running into her so many times you get to chatting and she was real cool and calm, and down to earth. doesn’t get fair shake in tabloids She’s a nice girl sweet girl.
You don’t get it much in the tabloids, do you?
I get a little controversy; it doesn’t escape the urban network [laughs].
How do you approach doing acting versus making music?
It takes a lot more preparation. With music, it’s just a vibe; I get a feeling then I sit down, and I write what I feel. With acting, I go over certain things and do my repetitions to make sure I don’t forget my lines then when I am on set, I see the other actors, and what I am working with. When we are shooting a scene, I see what the other actors are doing and see how I can play off that. In the end, it’s silly too because it’s just a bunch of grownups playing pretend.
Do you freestyle much?
Not a lot.
When you write how does it work?
Sometimes the music will give you the theme, other times you can be watching, like, a TV program and then it hits you, “I want to write about this.” Then you sit down and jot like your first four lines and then you look for the proper beat that can match that and you continue writing the rest but in the midst of doing that you are jotting down little ideas on the side that you can put inside the whole stew once you start to cook it.
What are your roots? Both in pot culture and music culture – hip-hop’s an amalgam…
As for pot, I love my purple haze [laughs]. The roots for me probably musically or culturally… I love anything my moms pops were listening to I had to adopt as my own. It’s an abundance, from rock to hip-hop, pop to alternative, soul, blues, jazz, then everything gospel… It all incorporates into my everyday being or how I do my thing as far as writing or portraying list this Rastafarian on the screen. It’s authentic because I’ve been there, and I draw own experience.
Do you miss Wu Tang? It represented this community in hip-hop.
Yeah, we [were] always a tight-knit group. We still are but it’s a little different now since we got kids. We’ve moved on to other things and other chapters in the entertainment business. It gets hard to stay in contact, but I think the unit as a whole is as strong as ever especially through our children who still scream “Wu Tang.” And I haven’t done a show yet by myself or with the whole crew that people didn’t scream “Wu Tang.”
What about the new generation of hip hoppers; do you see an evolution – or not?
We’re recognized as big business, but we’re still not televised… our category… at the Grammys. We’re expendable now since so many people are doing it. It’s like fast food; they’re shipping it out so fast you cannot grasp onto any artists long enough to even like ’em. By the time you do there’s somebody comes out with the same sound or a similar song or dance mix or ringtone.
When I started out it wasn’t about the jewelry you had on. I’m not saying you didn’t have the yin and yang… You had to have that because Biggie [Smalls] and them was always fresh… They kept their jewelry…. [But] Wu Tang was always grimy with no jewelry; the best part about the whole movement was the lyrics – the lyricism was there. There was no denying that New York cats had that certain edge over everybody else.
Wu Tang also understood that it wasn’t just about rap; it was about the music community in general. Definitely. That’s why Wu Tang could go overseas with [bands like] Rage Against the Machine or do shows with Marilyn Manson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers so perfectly because people can dig that group mentality [whatever the style of music].
How did you make the transition for a musician to an actor, not as a star but as a character actor?
I didn’t go out looking; it was more thrown into my lap. I always thought of myself as a bit of a character anyway [laughs] I’m a Pisces and I’ve always had a bit of an imagination, I’ve always been a bit of a comic book fanatic. I used to watch the shows on TV and emulate what I saw, like what any kid does. If you can keep 30,000 people entertained for 45 minutes on stage, then you can jump on the screen with one camera and do the same thing.
What’s your favorite comics?
Anything X… Yeah, X.
Have you thought about writing one yourself?
Maybe something might happen with this comic book thing; I’m trying to write my own comic book now, a joint called “Throwbacks.”
Are you writing or drawing it?
I used to draw back in grade school but that’s as far as that went. We used to have a dope teacher named Ms. Gold. We had a comic book club after school, so I’ve always been interested in comic books.
What do you think about how comics have evolved since your day?
Well, I think they are prostituting them now. They didn’t start with the movies; it started with the variant covers. When it was a 100-million-dollar business these dudes were raking in the dough. They would come out with seven different covers for one comic book. It devalued a lot of the books. Now it’s like what’s that for?
What else do you have coming up?
I just did an episode of Burn Notice which premieres this month.
How do you balance it all?
I would do it all at the same time if I could but sometimes it’s impossible. So, I have to find out what’s in first position and I make sure that gets done.
How was the thing that affected you the most about this film?
I tell Josh every time I see him. It’s the part when Olivia calls him in the hallway for breaking his heart or whatever and he says “Nah, I want to hold on to this, this is real for me.” Man, that’s my favorite part of the film.
|#1 © 2008 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2008 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.|
|#3 © 2008. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics . All rights reserved.|
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 15, 2008.