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Ashton Sanders Talks Viral Clip with Denzel Washington and How Working with the Veteran Actor Helped Him Land the Lead Role as RZA In ‘Wu-Tang’ Series

Ashton Sanders stars as Robert “RZA” Fitzgerald Diggs, the co-founder of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan rap collective, in the Hulu biographical series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.”

The musical drama follows the story of the Staten Island native as he tries to band together with a group of friends, including cousins and co-founders Gary Grice (GZA) and Russell Jones (Ol’ Dirty Bastard), to become one of the most influential acts in hip-hop history, The Wu-Tang Clan.

Ashton Sanders attends the “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” premiere on Sept. 4, 2019, New York City. (Photo: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images for Hulu)

At just 25 years old, the California native is already proving to be a serious contender in the acting industry. After having already put on blazing performances in the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” and the drama “Native Son,” Sanders continues to raise the bar for himself with each role he takes on, and he wants to work with legends. 

The burgeoning actor recently spoke to Atlanta Black Star to talk about his journey in the film industry and manifesting moments like a special moment he shared with veteran Hollywood actor Denzel Washington in the red carpet at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild awards. The “All Day and a Night” star also revealed how working with the “The Little Things” star landed him the lead role of RZA in the television show. 

There’s a video that recently went viral of you telling Denzel Washington on the red carpet that you were going to work with him, which you ultimately did in “The Equalizer 2.” Did you realize you were manifesting that moment? And did you do the same for your role as RZA? 

Manifestation is special, right? I l feel like … that moment has been coming up a lot on social media, OK. It’s crazy looking back on it, that moment. In the moment in, it just felt like that’s what needed to happen.

I don’t know if many people know this, but I did get cast in “Roman J Israel, Esq” [a movie Washington starred in] the year prior to me booking “Equalizer 2.” I couldn’t do that film because I had a scheduling conflict with another movie I was doing at the time. And so, at this time, you know,  it was kind of like, “Yo, I’mma work with you one day, like, it almost happened,” you know what I’m saying. He did the “see you at work.”

I’m definitely somebody who I feel has manifested my career. I think that it’s something that I was raised in, in my household, affirmations, like, manifesting life. So, in regards, sure. I think that manifestation is definitely real — it’s a thing. But yeah, man, I mean, it does feel kind of cosmic, so sure.

A month or two after that, I got the call from Denzel to audition for the role. Got the role. And yeah, I’m flown out to Boston, in a f-cking room with him and Antoine Fuqua [the “Equalizer 2” director] for like two weeks trying to figure out my character. 

RZA and Ashton Sanders speak onstage during the Hulu ’19 Presentation at Hulu Theater at MSG on May 1, 2019, in New York City. (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Hulu)

So was it the same experience for the RZA role?

RZA was different. RZA actually pulled me into his office before he sought after me for the role. I took a meeting with him, and he was basically like, “Yo, saw you in ‘Equalizer 2,’ man.”

I think that’s even more cosmic, I think, that connection to “Equalizer 2.” He was like, “I saw you in ‘Equalizer 2,’ and there was something about this character that I feel like transcends into the creation of Bobby that I am trying to bring about.” And I was like, “Yo, interesting.” At the time, it was flattering. I would’ve never thought that I would be doing like a biographical, especially like with the character still being alive, like, that’s special. 

I felt like RZA, like, he wanted me to play this role, and he’s a very spiritually inclined, wise guy, and so obviously, I’m going to trust that. And that’s how this role came about, that essential meeting with RZA and one of the producers, Alex Tse. And we just had conversations, and he was telling me why he felt like I should play this part, you know. And now we’re here, season 2, baby! 

Season 2 of Hulu’s “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” premieres on Wednesday, Sept. 8, only on that streaming platform. The show stars Sanders, Shameik Moore, Erika Alexander, Siddiq Saunderson, Dave East, and more.

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