Often times, Disney kids can get typecast or stuck in a box–unable to shed their former child star personas to step fully into Hollywood as adults. Wu-Tang: An American Saga actress Zolee Griggs hasn’t had that issue. The Corey in the House alum has been in the industry for the majority of her life–and at age 20, she’s already been seen in everything from HBO’s Ballers opposite Dwayne Johnson to the beloved tru TV series, Adam Ruins Everything.
Now, Griggs is prepared to get even darker. She’s snagged a role in Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga– an epic mini-series following the formation and rise of one of the biggest hip-hop groups–The Wu-Tang Clan. Set in Staten Island in the ’90s, An American Saga is a gritty depiction of the crack-cocaine epidemic in America, poverty and being desperate to find a way out.
On the series, Griggs stars as Shurrie– Booby “The RZA” Diggs’ (Ashton Sanders) sister. Shurrie is an optimist who can see the light at the end of the tunnel when many in her position cannot. Ahead of Wu-Tang: An American Saga’s debut, STYLECASTER sat down with Griggs to talk, The Wu, becoming Shurrie and this new era of her career.
“I think I was really drawn to this role because Wu-Tang is one of the most iconic rap groups of all time,” Griggs explained. “Besides that, I feel like… I’m a ’90s baby myself, and so I feel like I’m drawn to the ’80s and the ’90s. I don’t know what it is about that time, but the music was so dope. The style was so dope. People, in general, were just unifying and uniting, and it was such a beautiful time. I felt like it was the perfect opportunity for me to do this job just because I love hip hop. I love music. I love that era. So, it’s such an honor to be able to go back and kind of relive that through the lens of a dope rap group.”
Though she was thrilled to get the part–because she was bringing the experiences of real people to life, Griggs knew she had to nail it. “There’s definitely some pressure just because you want to honor these people,” she expressed. “It’s their lives and their stories, and you want to do right by them, but I also think that casting did an amazing job and that they wouldn’t have chosen people who they didn’t have confidence in. Everybody embodies the characters really well. We had a bunch of opportunities to actually hang with the people we’re portraying and meet them and have conversations. So, it was intimidating at first, but as the show progresses, I think we definitely got more and more comfortable and felt more confident in being these people.”
Though RZA did have a sister named Shurrie, Griggs’ character is a composite of several of his sisters. “RZA has, I believe, eleven brothers and sisters total,” Griggs revealed. “I think he has three sisters. So, I was able to speak to Sophia which is one of his sisters. She’s really amazing, and she just let me know about the family dynamic and what it was like with him growing up. Shurrie’s like the badass, who would always stand up for her family and get into fights and not play any games. Of course, she was very sweet and loving and maternal and all those kind of things. Also, RZA would constantly call on the phone and we would have break downs and discussions before each episode, especially, with the Shurrie heavy episodes.”
For Griggs– Shurrie marks a new era of her career. “This is my first serious adult role,” she said. “This is my debut as an adult actress. So, it’s nerve-racking hearing the things that I would have to be possibly doing throughout the series and knowing the actors that I would be working with made me a little nervous, but I was still excited. I think Shurrie’s the same way with what she wants to do in life and how she’s going to go after it. It’s just about taking that leap of faith and overcoming your own personal doubts or whatever you might have and just going for it. So, Shurrie and I definitely have that in common.”
Working with Moonlight actor Ashton Sanders who portrays RZA on the series was also an eye-opening experience for Griggs. “I love Aston,” she laughed. “I feel like he’s my brother in real life too, and it’s really dope because we’re both from L.A., and we have the same friends. We didn’t know each other before the project– but we had a bunch of mutual friends. We grew up sort of in the same area. Being from L.A., it’s a rarity now to meet other people from L.A. when you’re in L.A. and other things like that. So, we have a really close bond, and we really understand each other, and our relationship dynamic is really cool. He is just a great actor. So, it’s always amazing and inspiring to work with people who are inspiring to you. So, it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Coming from Los Angeles and experience New York City in the midst of a blistering winter was also quite the whirlwind for Griggs. “I moved to New York in the dead of winter in February, and I just had to take it all in,” she explained. “Luckily, I have some friends that live there. So, they were able to help me out, show me around, and I was somewhat familiar with New York. I had been a couple times, but I think definitely just moving there was an amazing way to experience the true New York. Being able to work there and being in the neighborhood where [Wu-Tang] grew up and things like that–I just did what normal New Yorkers do. I would walk, and I would take the train, and I would go to the bodegas.”
In addition to immersing herself into the rhythm of NYC–Griggs also took a deep dive into Wu-Tang’s music. “I was just listening to Wu-Tang,” she revealed. “36 Chambers… listening to Wu-Tang in my trailer–just listening to any ’80s or ’90s hip hop, but I listen to that in general. So, it’s constantly in my mind. I definitely have a playlist.”
Wu-Tang: An American Saga is currently streaming on Hulu.