BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The last couple of years have been very good for Wu-Tang Clan.
Last year, the nine-member hip hop group from Staten Island celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” which has been praised by both critics and fans alike as one of the best albums of the genre for its wordplay, music sampling and subject matter that was outside the norm of the scene at the time. This year, a four-part documentary was released on Showtime called “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men,” chronicling the group’s 27-year history.
With their longevity and increased exposure, the group’s popularity has grown and their music has reached new audiences.
At the same time, the last few years have been good for Caleb Castille, something that would cause the Birmingham native’s life to intersect with the group.
Castille, a former football player at the University of Alabama, has a small but notable part in the new Hulu series, “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.” Castille plays Darryl Hill, better known to Wu-Tang fans as “Cappadonna,” who was in prison when the group first began recording their music, but has been involved with the group in some form from the beginning.
The series portrays a fictionalized version of the group as they grow up on the streets. Several actors, such as Shameik Moore from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and Ashton Sanders of “Moonlight,” star on the show as well.
Castille, the son of famed University of Alabama defensive back Jeremiah Castille, grew up in a house obsessed with football. Like his father, both of Castille’s brothers, Tim and Simeon, also played at the University of Alabama and, later, the NFL. And like his brothers, Castille also went on to play at the University of Alabama, walking on to the team in 2010.
However, Castille said he had always had different dreams than his brothers or father: he wanted to be an actor.
“Football was something I had grown up doing,” Castille said. “It was something that was a huge part of my life, but I always had this feeling that there was more to my life and calling than football.”
Jeremiah Castille, who has spent the last 18 years as team chaplain for the Crimson Tide football team, said he was nervous when Caleb first told him he wanted to leave the team, but he related to why he came to that decision.
“He told me ‘Acting is my dream,’ so I could relate to that because when I was a boy, I had a dream to play football,” he said. “I pursued it and, God bless, he made that dream come true.”
By 2013, Castille decided to leave the team and try acting. Going through the process of being a working actor, Castille had done auditions and landed a couple of commercials, but it was 2014 when his first break came, being hired as a stunt double in the film “Woodlawn,” whose climax focuses on the famous 1974 football game between Woodlawn High School and the former Banks High School at Legion Field.
Not soon after getting signed onto the movie, a big change happened: Castille was given one of the lead roles of Tony Nathan, the first black running back at Woodlawn who himself went on to play at the University of Alabama. It was Castille’s first starring role, one his father said is his favorite of his son’s so far.
“The history of that is something I am very close to,” said Jeremiah, who knew Nathan.
In the years since Woodlawn, Castille has gone on to guest star on television shows like “9-1-1” and “The Rookie.” However, the getting onto the Wu-Tang show proved more of a challenge for him than other projects.
For one, Castille was not familiar with the group’s work before signing on. For another, Castille auditioned for several roles before landing on Cappadonna, including renowned members Ghostface Killah, GZA and Inspectah Deck.
“It was a crazy three or four months before we started,” he said.
What made playing Cappadonna even more challenging was the way the rapper fits within the group’s story. Despite having grown up with several people in the group and even mentoring fellow member U-God, Cappadonna was in and out of prison during Wu-Tang’s formative period and missed out on recording “36 Chambers” with the group. However, the rapper has always been connected to the group in some way, collaborating with different members. In the last decade, Cappadonna has worked with the group as a full-fledged member.
In fact, Castille’s main scenes in the film are when Cappadonna and long-time Wu-Tang manager Mitchell “Divine” Diggs were in prison together.
“Knowing his surroundings and setting, he was in jail, so how does a 20-21 year old young guy from ‘Killer Hill’ (the nickname for the Park Hill neighborhood on Staten Island), how does he operate, why does he do these things out here,” Castille said. “For me, it was trying to understand where he’s coming from as an individual, how I can lay down the foundation for his creative process.”
Castille said the group is reaching new generations of fans and has continued to have a storied legacy because of the way it tried to do something different, all while learning about overcoming heartaches and pain.
“They’re not rapping about Bentleys and cars and jewelry,” he said. “When you listen to their music, they’re just talking about the realities of their environment. They were rapping about things that mattered.”
As for Castille, he is looking to establish his own legacy. One source of inspiration for him has been Michael B. Jordan of “Black Panther” and “Creed,” not just because of his acting, but the way he produces many of the films he is a part of.
“I want to be in a position where I can tell the stories I want to tell,” he said.
Until then, Castille is focused on doing the best he can as an actor.
“First and foremost, I want to be a great actor,” he said. “I always want to deliver in my craft whatever projects.”
As for Jeremiah, he wants to see his son use his voice for something good.
“I would like for him to see him to do some powerful faith-based films that can touch the next generation,” he said.
A new episode of “Wu-Tang: American Saga” goes online every Wednesday on Hulu.