As Shurrie Diggs in Wu-Tang: An American Saga, wearing a prosthetic belly helped Zolee Griggs with more than just getting into the physicality of her pregnant character.
“It’s freezing in New York,” she says during a recent phone call. “I’d be wearing a bunch of clothes, a baby belly, a coat, and I’m like, ‘Cool, well at least I’m warm.’”
The Los Angeles native made it through a good portion of an East Coast winter for Season 2 of the Hulu series, which filmed from January to mid-June. On set, COVID-19 safety protocol was in place, but none of it inhibited the cast’s camaraderie.
“It’s not like we were getting to know each other with masks on, which is already kind of weird when you feel like you’re working with people and don’t really know what they look like,” Griggs says. “We would have new crew and I’d be talking to these people for six months and I never saw their face until we wrapped.”
The effort was an overall success. No one got extremely sick, according to Griggs, and the final product brings to television an intriguing coming-of-age arc about one of the most infamous hip hop groups in history.
“Everybody’s coming into their young adulthood,” she says. “It’s do or die at this point and everybody in the show, all the characters are true hustlers. And that’s what’s really going to be fun for everybody to see. Just for them to solidify their names as a group.”
Wu-Tang presents a fictionalized portrayal of the group’s rise to fame. In the new season, Bobby Diggs (Ashton Sanders) works to steer the Clan beyond their disillusionment from living in the projects. Balancing day-to-day troubles at home, they forge ahead and build an in-apartment studio to make the perfect record that’ll help them break onto the airwaves, into record stores and into the offices of industry powerheads.
Meanwhile, Bobby’s sister Shurrie is pregnant with her first child with Dennis Coles (Siddiq Saunderson) (soon to be Ghostface Killah) and learns to balance taking care of her family and prioritizing herself.
“Even though it was unexpected, [having a child was] definitely something that she wanted, considering she loves Dennis so much. She knows that this relationship isn’t going anywhere,” Griggs says. “Shurrie learned a lot. Just about adulthood, maturity, responsibility and putting herself first, which is something that I always try to practice personally as a woman.”
Shurrie marks Griggs’ first major adult role, but she has been working in the industry since she was a kid. She grew up all over Los Angeles— a bit in South Central, some time in Westchester, mostly on the Westside.
Working in television didn’t make her life so different from other kids because school occupied most of her time. Her peers mostly just wondered why she was away from school until she landed a recurring role on Disney Channel’s Cory in the House.
“People were like, ‘Wait, why do you even go to school,” she reminisces. “People thought education should have just gone out the window once they recognized me from TV, which I thought was pretty funny. I’m like, ‘No, I’m still 11 years old and I got to go to class.’”
On the set of Wu-Tang, Griggs absorbed all that she could from the women around her about what it’s like to be pregnant. She spoke to the women close in her life, women on set, her mom. In addition to portraying motherhood, the 24-year-old learned more about her craft from Mario Van Peebles, who directed a few episodes of the new season.
“It’s not just telling a story, but it’s about how are you making people feel when you are telling the story,” she recalls him telling her.
Since the start of the year, Griggs has not stopped working. One week after wrapping Wu-Tang, she flew to Greece to film The Enforcer alongside Antonio Banderas, Kate Bosworth and 2 Chainz. In the action-packed thriller, Griggs plays an Atlanta teen who gets mixed up in unfortunate situations, but finds a father figure in Banderas’ character, Barracuda.
“It was definitely a beautiful experience because that was my first time traveling internationally for a role,” Griggs says. “It was a lot of fun… I’m just sitting back and observing and just watching maybe how Antonio handled the scene or handles criticism or things like that. That’s what I internalized.”
In an Instagram post from July, Griggs opened up about how The Enforcer felt like a fated role. She described putting travel to Greece on her December 2020 vision board.
“I just wanted to reassure anyone who might be at a stand still currently that hard work, manifestation and perseverance work,” she wrote. “I don’t question God or the universe I simply put it out there and do the work and they handle the rest.”
This work ethic began as a young girl; her parents instilled in her that if she wanted anything in life, she would have to work for it. Growing up, she also learned about vision boards from teen magazines and watching Oprah’s talk show. As she got older, she got more into astrology books and the law of attraction and applying the practice of manifestation, which can be done through vision boards, to bigger accomplishments.
“It helped me hone in on some of my wants and made it easier for me to achieve them and easier for me to visualize them. Because that’s the whole purpose is if you can visualize something, you can see it, you can talk about it, you can bring it to fruition.”
Wu-Tang: An American Saga Season 2 begins streaming on Hulu Sept. 8.
Photography by: Devin Blaskovich