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June 2008
WANTED: An Exclusive Interview with Common

An Exclusive Interview with Common
By Wilson Morales

June 23, 2008

From the rap world to the film world, many talented artists have that transition but there are only a few who have instant credibility and respect from their acting peers and Common happens to be the latest to get that honor. After making a blazing entrance in the film world with small but juicy role in ‘Smokin’ Aces’, he’s already racked up a few more films that has had him featured opposite big Oscar winners from Forest Whitaker (Street Kings), Denzel Washington (American Gangster) and now Morgan Freeman.

In his latest film, Common plays a member of a group of assassins who are out to capture the guy who’s trying to kill them all. Based upon Mark Millar's explosive graphic novel series and helmed by the stunning visualist director Timur Bekmambetov--creator of the most successful Russian film franchise in history, the "Night Watch" series--"Wanted" tells the story of one invisible drone's transformation into a dark avenger. In 2008, the world will be introduced to a superhero for a new millennium: Wesley Gibson. ‘Wanted’ also stars Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and James McAvoy.

In speaking with blackfilm.com, Common talks about his latest role, working with guns in films, and his upcoming album.

What was the attraction of doing this film?

Common: To be in a movie with Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, James McAvoy, the script was really good, and with Timor’s work, this is the good elements that you want to be a part of.

Were you familiar with guns before you did this film?

Common: The education I had with guns is from training in previous movies. So Smokin’ Aces to … which I didn’t have to do any training for American Gangster, but I did hold a gun and it really clicked. Then also Street Kings, gun training. To Wanted: gun training. So, I mean, ironically, I’m definitely not a promoter of guns and … who Common is, I mean that’s not me. The films I’ve been taken on all have some guns in them, so, I did go through extensive gun training in this one. It’s really like a gun education in a way because the Gunsmith is the one who’s taking apart the guns, putting them together, cleaning them, putting designs on them, so I needed to learn as much as I could about guns.

So are you pretty good with guns now?

Common: I guess so. I know a little something about it. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty good. I got to say, I’ve been to a gun range where I’ve been shooting and I’m thinking I’m good, but there’s been an older woman that … older older … a better shooter than me. So that’s like she’s there and in that case I’m not the greatest shooter, but it’s a learning process and so what you learn for a film and you feel like … I’m glad I acquired that type of knowledge, but it’s not anything I want to utilize in my regular life.

What kind of atmosphere was it on set? Because this is so intense, and the way it’s edited, of course, it’s very fast, and I don’t know how it was shooting it, but was anybody joking around or was there any fun?

Common: It was great. A lot of jokesters, man. I can definitely say Morgan Freeman is a cool guy. He’d be walking around joking and singing and just dancing. I was like, this dude was like … you just felt the artist in him. You know, artists are free, and I just felt the freedom in him. And even like with Angelina, we were just having a good time, just talked about everything. James is a funny guy, so it was a lot of fun, to be honest. You know, and then when it’s time to shoot, you get into that mode of what the character is and that’s when the intensity comes.

You don’t have a lot of lines in the movie, so how did you approach a totally physical performance.

Common: Yeah, I mean, just really doing my best to really become the character. If the character’s alive, he’s alive. If you really do, you know, as much research as you can to create this who this person is and really know who the character is and know who the Gunsmith would be with or without saying things, then, you know, that energy and that presence is going to be there. And that’s the most important thing I can do, just really know who the core of my character is. At any given time they also would also give you lines or take out a scene so it was like, if you are that character you don’t have a problem when the lines come to you, you do them. In a way, you still are that character, looking at somebody or, you know, putting a gun together.

Were you one of those actors that needs your own backstory? Do you sort of think in you head about where he came from and what he got into? What did you create?

Common: I definitely, because it wasn’t in the script, a backstory, I definitely created something where the Gunsmith eventually, you know, became a person who was like a samurai in a way. He was a master of weaponry and definitely a warrior, but also this calm Buddha-like character. And would take things in, that’s why without words, you could see things going on with him. He was perceptive and his energy was really more about trying to get James to become a good warrior as well as learning these guns and techniques, but it was like teaching him to become a good warrior, so that’s where the backstory of the Gunsmith, for me, came from that place.

Your character seems really serene and focused. How much do you draw on Common to bring that energy to your character?

Common: I must say I try my best to not have any Common qualities in my characters, but if the character has something that’s like me, you may see it come out. But I really don’t like … when I go to the screening or go to see the movie, I get mad if I see anything that has to do with Common, any of my maneuvers that come out … I’m like, ugh, it gets me mad. And I actually asked actors, “Do you see yourself when you’re doing a character?” They say, it’s like the same thing. They get mad when they see themselves on the screen, because you really want to see the character. That’s your job as an actor to create that character. Common is removed from the film set when you step on and you’re doing Gunsmith. Actually, in Chicago, one thing I had to mention that made it kind of difficult was when I was working on being this character, because we were in Chicago, we had a lot more people coming up saying, “Hey, Common, what’s up baby? You’re home, how it feel?” and I’m trying to stay in the zone of the Gunsmith and it’s like, “Yo Common, what’s up? You coming round the house?” and like, “Nah man.” It’s cool, but you do your best just to be that character.

Did you get hurt doing any of the stunts in this?

Common: I wanted more stunts. I wanted more. I would have been glad to be able to tell you, ‘yeah I busted my elbow’. I wanted more stunts. I was like ‘man, when am I getting a good fightin’ scene as the Gunsmith’. But, true to the character, I guess, they didn’t really show that element of him, that aspect of him but I’m looking forward to doing some stunts in whatever film I do, I have to do ‘um in.

What kind of gun training did you have for ‘Terminator: Salvation’?

Common: Actually, not to brag, but when I got to gun training for ‘Terminator’, I went one day and they were like ‘oh, you know all this s**t’ [laughter]. I was like ‘yeah’, I humbly was like ‘yeah. I got this. I can do this’. It was simple. Gun training was like one day and, like I said, they knew. But I’m just starting the filming but there was a motorcycle scene where I wanted to do a stunt but they were like ‘naw. We can’t let you do it on the motorcycle’. It was like I was gettin’ knocked off the motorcycle and they didn’t want me to do that but I was open to it. At a certain point I did think though, ‘well, I do got an album coming out’. [laughter].

What is that set like because now we’re finally into the future war part. Is there metal everywhere?

Common: Man, that set, the way I can describe it, being respectful to the film, is it’s just an incredible set. I went in there, I went to that set and it was like ‘man, we are in this world. This is like Terminator. I’m in ‘The Terminator’, right in this world.’ I would say the set is incredible.

Have you worked with Christian Bale yet?

Common: Not yet but I’m looking forward to it. He definitely is a great actor, man. I can’t wait to work with him.

What’s your role in that?

Common: I’m playing Barnes. I part of the resistance, really like one of John Connor’s right hand men, a freedom fighter.

Had you seen all the other Terminator films?

Common: Yeah. I really dig ‘um too. They’re really good films. I went back and watched the first two and I really was into ‘um. Man, they’re great movies.

You’ve worked with Denzel, Forest, and now Morgan, all great actors, how blessed are you to have worked with them so early in your film career?

Common: I gotta say that it’s been incredible and a blessing. I’m sitting across the table from Denzel Washington and I’m in a scene with him and I can’t believe it. I’m going home to call my mother. Like Morgan Freeman, he’s on the set, and you’re just honored to be amongst the kings. And with Forest Whitaker, I didn’t have a scene with him, but he was one the reasons I wanted to be in the movie.

Is it all surreal for you to have received instant credibility and respect from your acting peers? It doesn’t always happen for every rapper coming into the game.

Common: It is surreal once I get to the set. I must say that the journey is like, I go and audition for these films, and some of us are really fighting to get on these films, and God willing, there will be more films coming in for me but we really pursue a lot of this stuff and it’s surreal when I get to the movies and I see myself up on that screen. The first time I saw myself up on the screen in ‘Smokin’ Aces’ I couldn’t believe it. When you are working and doing it, you don’t think like that because you’re focused on the character.

What do you look for in roles?

Common: I look for first a good script, and within that good script I want to read a great role that I feel would be a challenge for me that I can exercise my acting abilities. Then, two, I look for great directors, and a great cast. I want to surround myself with the right talent to work with. That would enhance what I’m doing and I can grow from there. I look for those things and I look for roles that are showing growth. I’m very happy with the foundation I have set for myself.

On “Wanted”, what was it like being directed by a crazy Russian visualist genius (Timor Bekmambetov)?

Common: Exactly. I felt like I was being directed by a crazy Russian genius [laughs]. He was high-energy, very creative, very spontaneous. I was like ‘man, this dude is a great artist’. He was describing to me…he would say ‘when the bullet curves, this is gonna happen’. You listen to him there but you don’t know it’s gonna look that good or be that incredible. So, his mind, like you said, he’s a visual genius. You listen to him say it but you don’t know it’s gonna look that good or be that incredible. He already saw these things happening and saw how he could do it. I liked the fact that he was open to listening to what we believed our characters would be. He was open to us coming and making changes. He would make changes on the spot. It’s probably not the producers dream to have a director be like ‘oh, I want to do this, do that’. But, eventually, he came out with an incredible product.

Could you se yourself doing an indie film?

Common: Oh man, I can’t wait to do that. I would love to do a good indie.

How are you balancing your film career with your music career? You have a 9th album coming up. How much more can you say that you haven’t explored already?

Common: I think it’s important that as an artist you do what’s real to you, and no matter what level you get to, you should always stay in tune with the people. I come from the South side of Chicago. That’s always going to be a part of me. That doesn’t mean that I have to talk about that all the time. That’s where I was raised and I am in tune with what’s going on in the neighborhoods now and with people. I do need to be able to be that voice but beyond that what’s real to me right now also. On this new album, I’m talking about fun and having a good summer. ‘The Invincible Summer’ is the name of the album. That’s what real to me right now. You just have to put it in a good way that people know it’s authethic and inspiring and creative. Hopefully they dig it. This new album is pushing the envelope. I’m working with the Neptunes, Mr. DJ, who produces OutKast, and there’s some different music that you never heard me do. I’m excited about it because I am being real to who I am.

How long did it take you to put together this album compared to the last one?

Common: It’s been the shortest as it’s taken to do an album. I started the beginning of March and I’m almost done. I’m at the last part and it comes out in August. Usually it takes about a year or more to do an album, so this is the shortest.

What’s more comfortable for you to do now, music or acting?

Common: I’m very comfortable doing acting. I love it. I’m learning more. I’m becoming more confident and I have a passion for it. That provides me the comfortable space. Although I am still new, I have a hunger and a passion for it. Rapping is like second nature compared to when I’m acting and working on projects. Me creating a song, I can do that easily. Even if I had to go back and rewrite, it’s still something I can do well. I’ve been doing it for so many years.

Was there any actor/ rapper who gave you advice as you entered the film world?

Common: I didn’t speak to anyone but the person that I like that made the transition is Will Smith. He came from the music world and now is the biggest movie star in the world. That’s what it needs to be. I love the fact that the more I do music the more I’m doing it for the love of it. As I become a bigger actor, that’s going to sustain my financial income and I can do music just for the love.

Are you still going to form a group with Q-Tip called ‘The Standard’?

Common: We both have been concentrating on our solo projects so ‘The Standard’ will come about at some point in time. It’s like two jazz musicians getting together whenever. When the time is right, we will do it.

I also see that you are doing various commercials like the Lincoln Navigator?

Common: It’s great when companies approach you because the good brands want to associate themselves with you. That’s a great thing. I honored to get those opportunities when it’s the right brand. Of, course, I’m going to endorse Barack (Obama).

While the fate of ‘JLA’ is still a toss-up, if you were approached to do a headline a Green Lantern film, would you want to do it?

Common: Yeah. When I was approached for the JLA role, I did my research and though I was John Stewart.

Is that your favorite character?

Common: I used to love Aquaman

Do you imagine a signature character you might be known for?

Common: Good question. I feel that me, as an artist, I never want to be pigeon-holed as one thing. Obviously, it would be nice to do a superhero character eventually that becomes timeless but, at the same token, I would want to do the role of a pastor and that becomes timeless and then do the homeless man. So, I don’t think I would want to be pigeon-holed with just one character. I want to show my diversity and make classic movies.

What directors would you like to work with?

Common: I want to work with Quentin Tarantino, or Martin Scorsese.

WANTED opens on June 27th


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