Most know Cliff “Method Man” Smith as one of the original members of the legendary rap group, The Wu-Tang Clan, but if you’ve been watching HBO’s “The Deuce,” you also know he’s got some acting talent as well.
Though he’s been acting in movies and TV since the late 1990s, playing pimp Rodney on the latest show from the creators of “The Wire” — which Method Man also starred in — is a high water mark for the rapper/actor. That’s especially true in Sunday’s episode, where he delivers a scene-stealing performance opposite one of its main leads, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Business Insider spoke to Method Man about the generosity Gyllenhaal showed him in preparing for their scene, if we’ll ever see a “How High” sequel, and if the album Martin Shkreli bought is really an official Wu-Tang album.
Jason Guerrasio: This past episode is when Rodney really shines. The character has an intense scene opposite prostitute Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who he’s trying to recruit to his stable. Were you nervous going into shooting that?
Method Man: I’m always nervous before I shoot. Well, I won’t say nervous, I get butterflies, which I think is normal so I think that’s good. The thing that I had working on my side for this scene was Maggie, in all aspects. Not just her acting chops and her carrying us through that scene, but that fact that she took aside a day of work that she had, and rehearsed with me before we even shot the scene, that’s gracious as hell. She did not have to do that. I’m not even a major character on the show.
Guerrasio: Going in you know it’s a big scene for you, were you planning to approach Maggie yourself to see if she wanted to rehearse beforehand?
Method Man: I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to ask, so I was just going in and let nature take its course. She made the call and said, “Can Cliff come in and we can rehearse if he wants to.” And I was like, “What? Yeah!” By the time we got on set we were ready to go. It was balled up energy ready to explode.
Guerrasio: On the shooting day, how many times did you go through that scene?
Method Man: I’d say the meat and potatoes of the scene, where we were moving with steadicam, that was shot about four or five times. But I haven’t seen the episode yet.
Guerrasio: I’m kind of shocked you haven’t seen the episode yet. Is that just your style, you just don’t want to see it?
Method Man: No. They just haven’t given it to me. I don’t have the same kind of access Maggie and James [Franco] have, and I’m fine with that because I want to enjoy the show just like everybody else. But to Maggie’s credit, in that scene, from the rehearsal it was more or less let’s try it like this and if it doesn’t work f— it, we’re in the realm. And I had a hang-up about f—— up on certain words and she was like, “Don’t even worry about it, if you go with something else, use it.” So it was a learning experience as well as knowing the magnitude of the scene, that I was in with someone who is certified. So I knew I did not want to be the ugly person in the picture. You know you have a picture of a bunch of beautiful people posing perfectly, and then one person got the ugly face. Ruins the whole picture.
Guerrasio: You’ve worked with a lot of big names in front of and behind the camera, had you ever gotten that graciousness in the past that Maggie gave you?
Method Man: Yeah. My man Tom McCarthy, who directed “The Cobbler.”
Guerrasio: Who is an actor himself, so he knows what’s needed.
Method Man: Absolutely. I mean, he walked me through things step-by-step, and that’s who reinvigorated my love for acting. It made me really want to get serious about it.
Guerrasio: So that was the experience that got you serious about acting?
Method Man: Yeah. When we did rehearsing I’m in there with Adam Sandler and Ellen Barkin, Dustin Hoffman, so I was very nervous and anxious. But when we got on set Tom didn’t baby step me though it, he was just like, “You got this, you got the job already, get rid of the anxiety, let’s do it!” And he made it fun for me, and I said, “F—, now I get it!” I can’t put in words, it was just like, “Yeah, I can’t wait to do the next role and try this or that.” I took the blue pill and I’m ready.
Guerrasio: How did you get involved with “The Deuce?” Is it a call from show creators George Pelecanos or David Simon? You were on “The Wire,” do you have that clout now?
Method Man: I think there’s a very short list of people who don’t have to audition for a David Simon project. Very short list of people. I have had to always audition. I came in for this, and I was willing to do it, but I wasn’t notified by David or any of his people, it was casting person Alexa Fogel. She was responsible for getting me on “Oz,” “The Wire,” and those are all parts I had to read for. I auditioned first for Reggie Love, the part that Black Thought from The Roots got, and she also sent me C.C.’s part. So basically when I came in to audition for David and a few others I literally auditioned for Reggie Love, got up, walked out, walked right back in and auditioned for C.C.
Method Man: And didn’t get either part, by the way.
Guerrasio: So when did Rodney come around?
Method Man: Rodney came around when they called me and said I got the part. And I was like, “Who is it?” And they were like, “It’s Rodney,” and I’m like smiling the whole time but I’m like, “Who the hell is Rodney?” And I started reading the script and I was like I exactly know who Rodney is, let’s go.
Guerrasio: The look of Rodney is amazing, did you help give birth to his look?
Method Man: Very little. It was really all the wardrobe, hair and makeup departments. They did their thing.
Guerrasio: Which role that you’ve played in your career is most memorable for you? Your favourite.
Method Man: It was on television, an episode of “Difficult People.” That’s my favourite thing that I’ve done of anything right now. Because that whole episode it was just me being me. They didn’t ask me to be some exaggerated version. Even though I did take liberties at certain points because they made me feel that comfortable to do that.
Guerrasio: I’m not familiar with it, but I see that the character name for that episode is Method Man, so is it safe to say that’s the real Meth right there?
Method Man: Yeah, pretty much in a nutshell, yes sir.
Guerrasio: This has always bugged me, why the accent in “Trainwreck?”
Method Man: They wanted him to sound West Indian or Jamaican. I needed a movie part. I love Amy Schumer. I didn’t know the movie would be big or not, I just knew I loved Amy and wanted to work with her. So I came in there with some pseudo-African/Jamaican/bad Trinidad accent. I had way more scenes than that but I guess the accent was so bad Judd Apatow tried to save me from being embarrassed and took it all out.
Guerrasio: It’s funny because you watch that movie and go, “Oh, Method Man is in this movie, cool,” and then you talk and it’s like, “Oh really?”
Method Man: [Laughs.]
Guerrasio: I’m sure you get this a lot, but will we ever see a “How High 2?”
Method Man: I’m not sure. If there is one, hopefully there is, I’ll be all over it if it’s the right subject matter and funny. If it’s not funny I don’t want no part of it.
Guerrasio: But is it just a pipe dream or have you gotten calls that it’s serious?
Method Man: No. There have been attempts, no lie. Script is written. The studio turned it down. And then we weren’t happy with the material. Right now, I don’t know where it is, it’s in limbo. But there are people, from what I’ve heard, are behind the scenes trying to get some kind of “How High” movie done. I guess we’ll see. I don’t want it to be a video-on-demand type thing. I won’t be participating in that.
Guerrasio: “How High” did get a second life, I want you to know that.
Method Man: Really, “How High”?
Guerrasio: Yes. When that’s on a movie channel it’s one of those movies you watch because it’s a fun time. People discovered that movie once it hit cable.
Method Man: I appreciate that. See, that’s how I look at other people’s movies. It’s hard for me to watch that movie and feel that way because I was actually there for the experience. But that’s mad cool. I will never be able to enjoy my accomplishments the same way someone from the outside will. I have to enjoy it from someone else’s eyes.
Guerrasio: Let’s finish with Martin Shkreli. Is there really a “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” album?
Method Man: Yeah, I think there is. I believe that is an actual album. But as far as recording, that’s as far are my reach went, which is why when I was informed how they were approaching selling the album I kind of flipped out because I was misinformed by the person who gave me the information. But it’s hard for me to speak on it because I wasn’t informed, I wasn’t in the loop. It’s just next thing I know this dude had the album and I felt no kind of way about it.
Guerrasio: Is it an official Wu album?
Method Man: I wouldn’t know because I haven’t heard it, I only know the tracks that I spit on. That is it. So for me, especially with music, my personal opinion, I wouldn’t have done it that way. I would have just gave it to the people at the end of the day. But you have people that have families to feed, things of that nature. Maybe without all the glamour and glitz on it it could have been done better because it was lost in translation whatever kind of message they were sending. And then to have someone [buy the album] that is pretty much disliked by a lot of people based off something that had nothing to do with hip-hop, that made it a little bit more worse.
Guerrasio: Is there a Wu album for the people coming soon?
Method Man: October 15 a Wu album will be dropping called “Wu-Tang The Saga Continues.” First video is out right now called “People Say.” I personally don’t like the video. But the song is pretty dope.
Guerrasio: What’s wrong with the video?
Method Man: I always have problems with editors. If an editor can dance, if they can keep a rhythm, then they can edit. That’s just my opinion. Music video director Diane Martel, she’s not an editor but she sits in and she’s responsible for “Bring the Pain” and “All I Need,” “How High,” her cuts always come on beat. So if you can’t keep my interest on beat and your cuts are all over the place you’re going to lose my interest pretty fast. But I’m a trained eye. I don’t know how everyone else will perceive it.
Guerrasio: Did you hear what a prospective juror said at the Shkreli trail? That Shkreli “disrespected the Wu Tang.”
Method Man: Yeah. You’ll be surprised how far that W stretches man.
Guerrasio: Are you still shocked by the power of the Wu?
Method Man: I’m always shocked, brother. I take my blessings as they come and it’s always new to me. That’s how I feel about it. That’s how I want to keep it. I always want the feeling to be new, never want to get used to it.
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