December 23, 2021 Interview – Johnell Young & T.J. Atoms Talk Wu-Tang: An American Saga
When you think of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan you think two vastly different Hip Hop legends. You have GZA, called the Genius for obvious reasons, who is perhaps one of the best lyricists of his era. Then there is Ol’ Dirty Bastard, rugged, raw, and the most larger than life personality of the whole clan. Both bring something special to Wu-Tang, and it would be a big challenge to recreate each of them for a biopic.
Well, the talented Actors Johnell Young, portraying GZA, and T.J. Atoms, portraying Ol’ Dirty Bastard, have answered the call in a big way for Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Set to return for a third season, Johnell Young and T.J. Atoms took the time to chat about getting into character and their love for Wu-Tang.
Cryptic Rock – You two have been making your way in film and television over the last decade and been a part of some really cool projects. You are now two seasons into your roles as GZA (Johnell) and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (T.J.) in Wu-Tang: An American Saga. What has the experience been thus far?
T.J. Atoms – It’s been an honor, blessing, and unimaginable for words. I’m just really honored to be part of the legacy that is the Wu-Tang Clan. This is a childhood dream. They impacted the culture so much and to be playing one of the most iconic characters of the group is just a blessing!
Johnell Young – To piggy back off T.J., it is definitely a dream come true. Especially growing up in Staten Island, New York looking up to the Wu-Tang Clan. Having to play and portray GZA, it is just coming full circle.
Cryptic Rock – And you are both doing a really great job bring these characters to life. Ol’ Dirty Bastard is an extremely interesting character. Those who know the history of him and Wu-Tang Clan, would even say he was a bit misunderstood. T.J., what did you put into becoming Ol’ Dirty Bastard?
T.J. Atoms – A put a lot of hours doing my research at home. I also put a lot of extra hours in talking to his family such as his sons and daughters. I also took whatever I learned growing up in North Philadelphia too, embodied it with things I knew, plus the research I put in.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. The second season of Wu-Tang: An American Saga is really fantastic. Let’s talk about the episode where viewers are given a look into the creation of “Protect Ya Neck.”
Johnell Young – It was the energy that created that whole scene. We were anticipating shooting that scene. Everyone was geared up to do their performance and rap. We came in on set that day with that energy; everyone was in their chamber as we say. Energy took that whole thing, we just blew it up, and it was an amazing scene.
Cryptic Rock – It did come out great, it was fun to watch, especially if you are a big fan of the music. You said you are both fans of Wu-Tang Clan. That said, have you learned anything new about Wu-Tang Clan that perhaps you did not know before portraying these characters?
T.J. Atoms – I learned a lot of different things. I didn’t know GZA, RZA, and O.D.B. were cousins. I didn’t know Raekwon and Ghostface were beefing. I didn’t know Ghostface and Shurrie had a baby! I didn’t know a lot of the Wu-Tang Clan story and I think that is was really great about this show; you get to dive in behind the scenes of what was really going on. You learn that the Wu-Tang Clan is not just about the music.
Johnell Young – The part that intricated me most was how they came together. I didn’t know there were a lot of logistics for them to come together in the studio.
Cryptic Rock – Yes. As a viewer you also learn all of these aspects of the group. There are a lot of details that many probably did not know about. Johnell, you said you are from Staten Island. If you are from New York, and understand the 5 boroughs, you respect Staten Island. However, many from outside New York, or even from New York, really do not know much about it. Staten Island in a way is like the ‘lost borough.’ How cool was it for you to see Staten Island put in the spotlight?
Johnell Young – It was great. Growing up hearing that all the time, “The lost borough, the lost borough,” I had to take that. I feel good knowing that I’m on this show and bringing light to Staten Island. Now everyone is like “ohh, oh my god,” and they have done a full 360 circle. To actually see that happen and manifest is really cool. It’s amazing, I now feel like a hometown hero.