Bobby Diggs, better known as the music artist “RZA,” is leading man to the hop hop music group Wu Tang Clan and had been in search of a biopic that portrays the legendary music group for almost 10 years before Hulu produced the series, Wu Tang Clan: An American Saga.
The Emmy-nominated series follows the music group’s formation and Bobby Diggs’ original vision for Wu Tang Clan as he strove to unite a dozen young, black men torn between music and crime. Wu Tang Clan eventually rose to great heights and became one of the greatest success stories in Hip Hop history. Wu Tang Clan: An American Saga premiered to a sea of great reviews and was recently renewed for a third season.
New York Film Academy Acting for Film 2-Year Conservatory alum Danny Olabi played the role of Poppy in the series’ second season.
Olabi spoke with the NYFA about his work on the set of Wu Tang Clan: An American Saga, his newest projects and his advice on collaboration.
New York Film Academy (NYFA): When did you know you wanted to pursue acting?
Danny Olabi (DO): I have been interested in acting since I was a little boy. I’d watch TV and movies and think to myself, “Wow this is so cool and it looks like they’re having so much fun.” I’d come up with short film ideas and shoot them with my siblings and cousins on my iPad. As a kid I never really dwelled on the idea of actually going for it because it seemed so far-fetched. Around the time of my high school graduation, I started to think about my future. I was watching High School Musical with my mom one day and I just said, “Mom, I think I want to be an actor.” she responded, “well why aren’t you going to acting school?” and the rest is history.
NYFA: What was your first TikTok? What about the TikTok platform do you absolutely love as an actor?
DO: My first TikTok was a repost of an old skit I posted on Instagram. Mostly because I didn’t know how to use TikTok yet and it was a good way to just get some content on there. You know, get myself started. What I love about Tik Tok is that it gave me an opportunity to stay creative when I had nothing else to do. As actors, it can feel like we have to wait to be hired to create. Or if we create our own stuff we need a ton of money. With Tik Tok all I needed was some ideas and my iPhone. Not only did I build an audience, I was able to generate some income and still do till this day.
NYFA: Who is your all-time favorite actor? Why?
DO: My all-time favorite actor is none other than Will Smith. Growing up, I would watch The Fresh Prince with my brothers. And Will was one of the first people outside of my family that I looked up too and could relate to. To see a young black man who’s from the hood out here chasing and achieving his dreams was awesome! He was cool and funny! I wanted to be like him. Because of people like Will I’ll never give up. Because I never know who I’m inspiring. Just like Will inspired me.
NYFA: How was your experience on Wu-Tang:An American Saga?
DO: Working on Wu-Tang: An American Saga was awesome. I got to meet the director the day before we shot my scene and right away I felt welcomed and comfortable. The first question he asked me was how I felt about Poppy and how I saw things unfolding in the scene. Coming into your first big acting gig is nerve racking, however the team’s openness and collaborative spirit was reassuring.
NYFA: What prepares you to get into character on set or in casting calls?
DO: The process is different for every role. I’ve learned that for some roles, to do as little as possible. If the character resonates with me really well, I just learn my lines, soak up the circumstances, and dive in. Everything I learned in school and in the industry has helped a lot. Beats, actions, objectives, etc. But the main thing that I’ve learned on set and being in audition rooms is to craft and then let the work go and live in the moment. That’s easier said than done, but it’s something I continue to practice as much as I practice technique because it’s just as important.
NYFA: So far, which project has been your favorite?
DO: I’ve been a part of some great sets. One that comes to mind is a short film I did called The Remixes. It was a sleep away set and the cast and crew were so fun to be around. Being away with an amazing group of people for 5 days on a beach house doing what we love. It doesn’t get much better than that.
NYFA: What is one of your fondest memories of your time studying at NYFA?
DO: It’s so hard to choose. My time at the academy left me with priceless relationships and memories that I will always cherish. If I had to choose one it would be the moment after my second-year classmates and I finished our final physical theater performance. Preparing for that performance and learning that craft, although it was fun, was one of the hardest things we ever endured as young artists and we leaned on each other for strength and support during that time. We were like our own little family. After the final performance we all huddled together in the dressing room and just had a moment of appreciation for one another. We congratulated each other and just loved one another for just being there. This is vulnerable work and having the right people by your side can make or break you. I’m glad I had them.
NYFA: How did completing your Acting For Film program at NYFA support your dreams?
DO: It gave me a foundation. Although nothing is exactly like learning through actual experience, the NYFA instructors did a really good job of giving us an idea of what real set experiences are like in the classroom. So when I went out there and started auditioning and working, nothing was completely foreign. I remember my first time on a TV set. While they were setting up the shot I asked the DP what my frame was. He was so shocked as if he doesn’t usually hear that from a young actor. But based on what I learned in school I knew that the frame size could affect the way I delivered my lines.
NYFA: What other projects are you working on?
DO: Right now I have two short films set to hit festivals this year. I played a supporting role in a French New Wave film called Wet Seal Cigarettes. I also played the lead role in a Brooklyn Western film called Cowboy Killer. I’ve also written a few of my own things to exercise my creative muscles. Some monologues I plan to shoot on location soon. They are characters I could really see myself playing so I will post them on my Actors Access and social media to show casting directors what I can do. I also have a comedy sketch called Women Bring Out The Real You in post production. It was shot by NYFA’s very own Miguel Garzón Martínez.
Wet Seal Cigarettes draws its inspiration from the French New Wave Movement that swept through France in the late 1950’s. The movement gave us Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows, Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5-7, Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, and many other iconic films.
NYFA: Is there any advice you’d like to share with current NYFA students?
DO: As I have mentioned before, this is vulnerable and challenging work that we do. Trust yourselves, be patient and surround yourself with driven, hardworking, good people. Former AFF chair Peter Allen Stone told me something that has always stuck with me. He said, “Some days things will feel amazing and you’ll feel like the best actor in the world. Other days not so much. You’ll feel stuck and worried about your progress and even question if you’re good enough.” That’s completely normal and every artist goes through it. Just embrace it all and charge it to the game. Positivity is key. Focus on the love for the craft we all have and the amount of work you put into it because at the end of the day that is all we can control.
The New York Film Academy is proud of Danny Olabi’s latest work and wishes him success in his future projects.