THE MAN MEANS BUSINESS
THIRTY YEARS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY, METHOD MAN WANTS NOTHING MORE THAN TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
Method Man begins our phone call with a dry “Whud up?” I wonder if he will continue to be similarly tight-lipped throughout our interview. Thankfully, he isn’t. Instead, with each passing minute, his engagement in our conversation deepens as the talent often affectionately referred to as simply “Meth” graciously opens up about the various ways he’s had to prove his worth to the doubters in his life—including himself.
“Understand, I was a Black boy living in some of the worst areas in New York,” says the now 51 year-old rapper turned actor, who was raised in the Clifton neighborhood of Staten Island. “I’ve always felt like I wasn’t enough. I’ve been told that from the gate, ‘You don’t belong here.’ Sometimes even without words.” But as damaging as those messages were, such experiences also strengthened Method Man’s ability to persevere as he fought to be taken seriously in Hollywood.
Born Clifford Smith Jr., he started out in 1992 with the hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan. He was the first member of the group to debut his own solo project, 1994’s Tical, which reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. He went on to release additional group and solo albums, but by the early 2000s, the landscape had shifted. “There was a changing of the guard in hip-hop,” Method Man explains. “I was cool with that. I had to evolve with the business and if that meant acting, so be it. I was going to throw all my eggs in one basket.”
I’ve always felt like I wasn’t enough. I’ve been told that from the gate, ‘You don’t belong here.’ Sometimes even without words.”
I had to evolve with the business and if that meant acting, so be it. I was going to throw all my eggs in one basket.”
After drawing acclaim in the 1998 crime drama Belly, Method Man appeared in the HBO series Oz in 2000 and was cast in subsequent roles in Scary Movie 3, Soul Plane and 2012’s Red Tails. By 2015, he was ready to make acting his primary focus, but studio executives didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms.
“The higher-ups, the so-called gatekeepers didn’t have much use for a 44-year-old rapper,” he says. “I guess my background turned some people off. Some people aren’t willing to give you a chance, especially when you’ve already had one and you kind of squandered it.”
The wasted opportunity he’s referring to is Method & Red, the short-lived Fox sitcom he starred in with fellow rapper Redman in 2004. “We had our own show,” he recalls. “We had our own movie”—2001’s How High—“but our hearts weren’t in it. We had one foot in and one foot out. You can’t do that in this business. You have to be ten toes down or not at all.”
Working with director Tom McCarthy on The Cobbler in 2014 gave Meth the clarity he needed to dedicate himself to the business in a new way. After that project, he moved to Los Angeles and slept on his manager’s couch, deciding to “really rough it out” as an actor. “I went on auditions, took classes, started working out and things worked out really well for me, if I do say so myself,” he states.
Even if Meth doesn’t say so, his credits, which in recent years have included recurring roles on Blue Bloods, The Deuce and The Last O.G., speak for themselves. So do the accolades. In 2021, Method Man won an NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Davis Maclean on the Starz spin-off Power Book II: Ghost. He also has a recurring guest starring role in the Epix series Godfather of Harlem.
“I went from being in the hot-ass desert with James Franco for three weeks, working for nothing in the 2018 film Future World, to being in cold-ass weather doing a scene with Forest Whitaker for Godfather of Harlem,” he says. “That’s a hell of a transition right there.”
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Method Man now has his sights set on an action film for his next part, though he says the powers that be aren’t sure he’s ready. “I’ve done the training; I’ve done the fitness; give me my Michael B. Jordan in Creed moment,” he says. Perhaps they haven’t seen his name consistently trend on Twitter as fans today lust after him with the same fervor they did when he hit the scene 30 years ago.
“I don’t understand that sh--,” Meth admits. “I go to the gym for my own peace of mind. I don’t do it to become someone’s sex symbol or a pinup on someone’s wall. I do it for me.”
Still, he finds the adoration flattering. “People like attention,” he says. “I’m the same as everybody else. But at the end of the day, take me seriously, not lightly.”
I go to the gym for my own peace of mind. I don’t do it to become someone’s sex symbol or a pinup on someone’s wall. I do it for me.”