Shameik Moore is a talented American actor, artist, and all-around talent who rose to prominence with his breakthrough role in the hit movie Dope in 2015. Since then, he has made his mark in Hollywood with his exceptional acting skills and dynamic range – other acting credits include his critically acclaimed roles in The Get Down, Cut Throat City and, most recently, the Into The Spider-Verse films.
One of his most notable performances to date is his current portrayal of Raekwon in the critically acclaimed television series, Wu-Tang: An American Saga. The series, which first premiered in 2019, is based on the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time. Moore’s performance as Raekwon, one of the founding members of the group, has received widespread praise from both fans and critics alike, rightfully so. Now, the third and final season has finally been released via Hulu, and once again, Moore’s dedication to his craft is evident in his work – his portrayal of Raekwon is layered, nuanced, and captures the essence of the legendary rapper’s spirit and style.
We caught up with the multi-hyphenate and spoke about all things Wu-Tang, his ideal roles, and future projects.
Season 3 of Wu-Tang: An American Saga is out now. What was the whole casting process like, and did you initially go for the role of Raekwon?
I was lucky enough that I worked with the RZA already in this movie called Cut Throat City. We built our rapport and he offered me the role. He asked me who I wanted to play and I didn’t really know. I was raised in the All Boys Military School and the Christian School. I wasn’t raised on hip-hop or secular music at all. And my family is Jamaican. I’m the first one that was born in America. So brothers, sisters, aunties, cousins, mom, dad, and everybody’s Jamaican, you know? Anyway, I asked my friends about it. I was like, “Yo, who should I play? The OG is asking me who I want to play. You know, who should I tell him?” My homey was like, “You got to play Odb (Ol’ Dirty Bastard). Odb is who we know. You can’t play Method Man, you gotta play Odb”. So when I got back to him, it was his son’s birthday party. He invited me. I pulled up, and we went out to some club. And he was like, “Have you thought about that role” I was like, “Yeah, you know, I think I want to play Odb”. He looked at me, and he was like, “Nah, nah, not Odb”. I mean, I would have said, and I’ve never said this out loud, but a part of me was like, “I might as well play you. But I just don’t know if I should play you. But I was just like, you tell me who you want me to play”. I didn’t know enough about it, you know.
In the beginning, it wasn’t even meant to be a series. It was a mini-series, basically an extended movie for Wu-Tang. And the characters were fictional at first. If I’m correct, they didn’t tell me I was playing Raekwon, I was playing someone with a fictional name. So I went to Hulu and I met some of the executives. And I was just naming names. I’m like, “is it Masta Killa? Is it?” No one told me. I don’t even remember how the Rza told me I was playing Raekwon. But eventually, it made sense. And at that point, we understood what was really going on. And it kind of went from there.
What a story! So when you did eventually find out, what did you do to prepare for the role?
What I did to prepare was really just meet the actual factual Raekwon The Chef. I took in what I was able to take in our paths crossing. I’m an actor at the end of the day so I was able to get what I needed. I was able to see the core, I understood why the OG chose for me to play The Chef. At this time, I can see why it mathematically made sense to him. I’m a Taurus, I can be very stubborn in my life. And while I’m quiet and kind of introspective most of the time, there’s a time when it turns on. Like when I’m comfortable, there comes a time when I take up space. And when I do that, it’s in its full entirety. So I think in those moments, those are the parts of myself that I was allowed to embrace more spiritually in order to pull this roll off. I think seeing him, having an idea about him, and seeing how they write his character in the scenes told me enough because I know OG’s highly involved. So it has to make sense to him and off of my own interactions with him and et cetera. And also his music videos, old interviews, and all, it all kind of did its thing. And meeting him in person, you get to see him walk, you get to see him talk, you get to see him eat, you get to see it. When he’s listening to you and how he’s reacting. That’s the sauce I was recording.
That sounds like the best preparation possible! So what was your favorite scene to film in Season 3?
Something that’s coming to mind was probably Episode Six. I was in the car with Siddiq Saunderson who plays Ghostface. During that episode, I’m holding down a lot of emotions and just focusing. And I think I let it out in that scene and I don’t even remember the line. But right now that scene was the first time in the whole season where I was like, yeah, finally, I know I got a point on the board in that scene.
Haha, I did really enjoy Episode 6 as well, it was one of my favorites. So throughout the whole filming process, have you ever improvised as well? Or are you someone who usually sticks to the script 1:1?
I’m playing an improvised game. Even with dance or music, my gift is in a moment, you know, it’s like that moment. I don’t know how to express it differently, but my whole career and my whole everyday life started with me being a dancer. I didn’t find out I was a good dancer until I was in front of 1500 people at this club and battling these other kids, and in that moment, I found out that I was really good and then it just kept going from there. I will study a script and not really get the lines and not get the audition versus I learned the lines 10 minutes before and being the most confident. It’s so strange. It’s like the less prep and the more believing I do the better I perform. It’s very interesting to me.
But as I continue to explore that and become a professional actor instead of just the way I just told you, that’s something I like about working with this group of people because they went to school for it. I got kicked out of acting class, you know what I’m saying? My acting teacher told me I would never be an actor. And somehow it ended up being acting first. It’s just in the stars. Because there are kids that are really studying and very talented actors that don’t get these opportunities.
So anyway, let me get back to what you were saying, improvising. I mean, there’s a script there and it’s not like I’m just improvising. It’s just more like something might happen where I don’t say the word and or if I mess up a line and then I realize I just know what needs to be said. I think the most important thing as an actor is to know your character and know the lines. When you look at a piece of paper with the line – this is paper, right? And then you got the words on it. The words are there for guidance. This is the path, but the white on the paper is you. That’s the personality. That’s the character. You can’t go to the next page without flipping the page. So as long as you know what’s happening, I think everybody’s good.
I love that description, that makes total sense. And there is no fun without a little improvisation!
When I was doing Dope, the movie, they were very on to me about being perfect with the lines. I learned how to be a leading man on that project, but when I did The Get Down, Baz (the producer) was another person like me who’s like, this was great before, but now, let’s do this all over, bring oranges, bring more lights, bring more cars, we need more extras. You know, change this, change that, more, Shameik, more. He’s encouraging freedom. And when that happened, I was just confident. Baz wants me to do it like this, Baz wants me to move like that? Cool. Who can tell me otherwise? And I just took that to every film after that. There’s been plenty of auditions that I don’t get because of this same thing. So it becomes a thing where I’m really only working with people that want to work with me. A lot of times it’s like we have an audition to play a role, and it’s more like you should be honored to play this role. Versus, I’m so happy that you’re here and just do this.
So the new season is obviously the final season. And under your social media posts, I can already see that fans are already demanding more seasons. So if there were any more seasons, what would you want to explore further when it comes to your character?
Honestly speaking, I think I did what I needed to do. I’m ready for it. I’m already onto the next characters and the next things. But with Wu-Tang, we don’t even have to speak in hypotheticals – if there’s a contract that comes across my table, and it’s been assessed, etc. then sure. But we’re not really expecting that. I’ve done The Get Down, Let It Snow, Spider-Verse, etc. I don’t really need to show any other colors from this, I showed my bad boy deep gangster shit. Next.
Fair enough! So what sort of character is on your wish list for future projects?
I actually haven’t played any character that I’ve really set out to play yet, which is interesting. Like me, being an actor was never supposed to happen. That’s what they say. But hey, if you want to make God laugh, tell them your plans. I’m a creative being. But as I continue to find knowledge and seek purpose, I want everything to be intentional and purposeful. So I didn’t expect acting to be the main medium of expression when I was 12 or 15 years old.
I knew I wanted to do movies growing up, but I knew I wanted to do music and perform. I knew I wanted to make clothes. I knew I wanted to have some sort of impact on the community, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know where to begin with that thought or how to do that. But to answer your question, I’ve always wanted to do a detective film. I’ve always wanted to be in a romance movie. Some real deep, sexy, grown love story that’s inspiring love for the entire community. Anyway, that’s why I’ve been building my production company and we’re working on creating these films and projects and we’re in that process now. We’ve been in that process for a little over a year. So that’s where I’m at. I’m going to do an action film. I want to do a superhero film. Obviously, I’m doing Spider-Verse, but playing a live-action Miles Morales would be great. I want to hit every single genre as an actor and then I want to do it over again as a director.
Sounds very exciting, it would be great to see you in more genres. So with your own production company up and running, would you ever consider writing a script as well?
Writing the script, I’ve tried that before. It is very time-consuming but I have come up with quite a few stories. Everything I just told you, I pretty much have solid ideas. I want to collaborate with people I respect that also want to work. And I’ve been building those relationships. Lots of directors have reached out over the past couple of years. Lots of writers for their projects. And I’ve connected with everybody. So, we’re really just happening and coming correct? So, I’m pretty much looking forward to putting my foot on the gas. I’m staying focused and just being the vessel. I was born with it and just letting it flow, just letting that infinite space flow through me, and create. You know, there’s a vision that’s been implanted in me. All I can do is take my steps every day, one foot at a time.
Amazing, it will be great to see the outcome of the ideas you’re having.
I’ve been putting myself in a position to do the things I’m going to be doing this year. So music is on the way. I’m directing a lot of my music videos. I’ll be directing a lot of other things. Just expect gold in every area. I feel like working with OG has been such a blessing because he fed so many people during the coronavirus. I’m just looking at him and really paying attention to those details. I’m not playing him in the movie or anything so I can pay attention in a different way. He has allowed me the time, his time and his space that I know for a fact he doesn’t just allow for people to be around. So I learned and I’m ready for my next steps.
It sounds like you’ve got the right mindset, I’m excited to see where the journey takes you. Thanks so much for your time!
Wu-Tang: An American Saga Season 3 is out now via Hulu.