Common: Leaps and Bounds – Hip-Hop to Hollywood and Back

  The acting career of Common poses a very interesting paradox to his job as an MC. Getting Common on your song is an honor, as his verse is usually the most important part of any track he’s featured on. Let’s not get into the stock value of his entire catalog – up to and […]


The acting career of Common poses a very

interesting paradox to his job as an MC. Getting Common on your song is an

honor, as his verse is usually the most important part of any track he’s

featured on. Let’s not get into the stock value of his entire catalog – up to

and including his work in progress, September’s Invincible Summer, a

work that he says despite all rumors is not a follow up to Electric Circus.


Common as an actor is a man with bit parts that are slowly ensuring his status as a bona fide movie star. His roles

in Smoking Aces and American Gangster were small albeit pivotal,

where even in the tiniest moments, Common managed to shine. His role in

the current blockbuster Wanted is equally short in his opinion, but one of

the most enjoyable to the point where he feels akin to the movie’s stars. He

even has Angelina Jolie bumpin’ his music now.


On an arid summer’s day in New Mexico,

Common is on location filming the new school Terminator flick Terminator:

Salvation. He speaks about his acting with the same eager giddiness as he

does his music. After all this time, Common can still approach his career like

it’s his first day on the job. While music holds his heart, movies are coming

in a close second. A man with that much passion can take over Hollywood any

day…and he plans to. We definitely want to

hear about Wanted, but I want to discuss another role first. You know,

there were two parts in Smoking Aces where I was so impressed with your acting

– the scene where Jeremy Piven throws a card at your eye. You really made it

like your eye was out; I thought your eye was out of commission.


Common: [laughs] Yeah. That was a great scene

and then the soliloquy scene when you’re talking to Piven and you realized how

shady he was. You really looked at him like you were ready to rip him apart.

Good acting.

Common: Thank you, thank you. What’s funny is when I

did Smoking Aces, when [Piven] threw the card into my eye…I can’t close

my left eye completely without closing my right. So we had to put even more

blood on my eye for it to look closed, which was funny to me. That’s so

embarrassing I couldn’t do it, ‘cause the director needed me to keep my eye

closed, but I couldn’t do it.


I was like, “Man, why can’t I do this?”

You know it’s just one of those things your body won’t let you do. Like you can

do that probably, but you know how some people are double jointed? I can’t

close my left eye without closing my right, which I don’t understand. Guess

it’s just something in the body makeup! How was it shooting Wanted?


Common: Wanted was one of the

best experiences I had, because I was working with Morgan Freeman and Angelina

Jolie and James McAvoy. I was in Prague, and it was my first time being in

Prague and to be there for a movie…it was like surreal in a way. Like man, I’m

going to do a movie!


I’ve been to a lot of different places

in Europe and I’ve been to Australia, I’ve been to Japan, but I had never been

to Prague and going there doing a film – and then for me to have the

opportunity to go back to Chicago to shoot some film, was like, “Dang I’m at

home shooting a movie.” I would have never known I would be doing this when I

was a kid, so it was a lot of fun.


Then I had days off where I would just

go to these restaurants and hang out and drink a little wine or something, you

know, enjoy peace of mind. It was a good experience for me. And Angelina and

Morgan Freeman and James was just really like…we had a family like connection



Of course Morgan Freeman is the guru,

one of the kings, so we look up to him like one of the greats. And Angelina is

this powerful woman – powerful strong lady, talented, beautiful. She was really

cool, like really making sure everything was straight and throwing me some

lines, ‘cause I ain’t got a lot of lines in the movie to be honest. So when you

see it, don’t be surprised I don’t have a lot of lines. But she would throw me

lines when she could and we were doing improv; it was just a lot of funny

really. Wow, that’s cool. So it kind of built your improv experience

as well then.

Common: It definitely continues to enhance my improv. You know coming from a

Hip-Hop background, I’m used to freestyling and just being able to go

spontaneous with thoughts. Even Smoking Aces we were allowed to do a

little improv. I mean, the dialogue was written somewhere so we didn’t want to

change it too much, but I added a couple of things, which I was really happy

about ‘cause you know when you’re right in the moment you feel a certain thing.

So if you say it, and if the director likes it, that’s a good thing ‘cause that

lets you know that you’re really there, and you ain’t just saying lines. Definitely, and it’s cool they give you that kind of freedom

too, and trusted your ability to get into the role and stuff.

Common: With Wanted I want to say it was spontaneous…well, not so

much…even though we did do some stuff with improv scenes – you know Angelina

and I did some of that. It was more spontaneous with the way we would be

changing. Like we would think we were coming to shoot this one scene, and then

they’d change the process of the scene. They’d change the scene a little bit

right then, and there so it was a lot of spontaneity in that sense of being. Before we saw you in Smoking Aces, American


and Wanted, it would seem that with all of your music

videos there was always a really in-depth story. The one that comes to mind

automatically is the one with Lauryn Hill, “Retrospection for Life,” and of

course your video for “I Want You,” “The Light,” and the Alicia Keys video for

“Like You’ll Never See Me Again.” Everything you’ve done you’ve kind of been

acting without acting.

Common: Yeah. I will say that my first video with Lauryn, my acting was so

terrible. It was just so funny man, like it was like bad. Like it was like Lauryn

was trying to teach me at the time – she was teaching me how to be natural with

the acting, and she was so good at it, and I was sitting there nervous. I just

couldn’t get it to the level, and I always look back at that video and just



I was nervous too, because I was

actually with N’Bushe Wright, who I think is a great actress, and I was just

like, “Man I never done this before.” It was like going into doing something

that you’ve never done before, you think it’s so far away from you, but I’ve

come to realize it’s a part of me and it’s something that I love to do. I feel

I was born to do this also, you know? To be an actor. You know, I can’t honestly say I recognized any bad acting in

that video. That video was really touching.

Common: Well good, I’m glad you did ’cause I can go back and laugh at it. It

was times [Lauryn] was like, “Man you gotta play drunk,” and I was already

bubbly so I should have been able to play it well, but it just didn’t come off

right. You gotta be comfortable with what you’re doing and believe in what

you’re doing no matter what.


I think that was the biggest thing, I

remember Lauryn taking me through a quick course of acting real quick. She

started doing these things, and I was just like man this woman is incredible;

she can really do it. But now I believe I can do it; now I believe in myself

too. You kind of went right for the jugular when it came to

movies. How were you able to just jump right into that next level of acting

without actually starting in that breeding ground [of B-movies] that a lot of

Hip-Hop cult classic actors have come from?

Common: You know, I’ve approached my career, my acting career, definitely as a

new actor. I didn’t look at like, “Man, I’m a Hip-Hop artist, making a

transition.” I realize that for me to have a career in this, I can’t approach

it from a Hip-Hop artist perspective. I gotta approach it like, “Hey I wanna

build a career and I’m a new actor, so what must I do?”


I started really years ago – going to

classes when I could, in between me doing albums and touring. I would go to

classes with students, like just be in there learning, and from that process

just going on auditions. I tried to make sure I took on roles that would be

distant from who Common is, so people could see that I am an actor and this

something that I love to do and want to do and I’m capable of doing.


Movies weren’t taking me on because I

was a rapper. Like Smoking Aces, the director [Joe Carnahan] didn’t want

two artists; he already had Alicia in his movie. He didn’t want his film to be

looked at as one of those movies where you put artists in there. Sometimes it

discredits – at least in their world – they feel that it discredits it, ’cause

they got so many artists ’cause they’re just using artists’ names for



So he wasn’t really keen on me being in

the film, but he did take a meeting with me and from the meeting I guess he

thought I was cool, so he allowed me to audition. From the audition, he could

see the fight that I’m capable of doing this role. So then I got a second

audition, I just went in there with all my heart and soul and just gave it and

he gave me the role.


Ridley Scott [director of] American

Gangster didn’t know who Common was. I definitely know that and the Russian

director, Chiwetel Ejiofor, he didn’t know who Common was either, so it was

definitely based on my audition. That’s what I realize: that man if Common is gonna

help for me to get my foot in the door, cool, but it’s not gonna get me the

roles. I think even now they know that you gotta be able to do the work, and

you gotta have a certain ability for people to respond to your work, regardless

of who you are. Right, that’s like the biggest compliment you could be given

– to be given a role because they didn’t know about Common.

Common: Yeah, exactly. That’s very much a compliment. That was an honor, and I

like it like that. I like earning my role; it just makes me feel more

confident. You know I’m doing a movie right now you know this is the first

movie I been on that I didn’t audition for. I’m definitely grateful for that

method too of getting the role, but I don’t mind auditioning. What movie is that?

Common: I’m doing Terminator:

Salvation. It’s like the new era of Terminator

starring Christian Bale, directed by McG – that’s why I’m out here right now. Oh, wow so you’re on location right now?

Common: Yeah. In Albuquerque, New Mexico. Are you shooting?

Common: I’m not shooting today, I’m just out still out here. I am finishing up

my album as we speak really. I’ve just been riding out yesterday, just writing

just finishing up. The album is pretty much done, but I just wanted to rewrite

some things and just add on to a couple of things. The album is coming out in

September, it’s called,

Invincible Summer. It’s produced by the Neptunes and

Mr. DJ.


There’s a song called “Announcement” and

a song called “Universal Mind Control.” They’re both pretty much like out on

the net – they got out there and we’re about to circulate those songs. We just

looking at doing things in a new way, and just putting out good music.


I feel more free now that I’m doing more

movies and stuff, to just put out music that I love and I believe in and get it

out there. You know you want it to reach the top of the mountain, but you’re

just happy people respond to it and people [are] listening, so it makes me do

Hip-Hop even more for the love now. And there were rumors that you were going to be releasing Electric

Circus 2. Is that true?

Common: No. People probably, I don’t know they came up with that idea because Invincible

Summer had new sounds to it and was different, and it just had that fresh

sound to it and energy. So that might have been the only thing they could

compare it to. I don’t think the music sounds anything like Electric Circus

to be honest. Really?

Common: I owe to myself and I owe it to the music and to the audience to give

the truth wherever I’m at, and I’m at a place where I feel free. I’ve been

going out internationally, and I was international touring with Kanye so I got

to see what that vibe was and that inspired some music too. So it’s like, when

you get a Common album you’re gonna get wherever I am at that time and wherever

I think is really fly.


That’s what it’s gonna be and it’s that

moment, that moment of time that I strive to capture from the most honest place

and the most creative place and innovative place. Then you allow people to dig

it if they dig it and if they don’t there’s still other good music out there

that they can enjoy. You never seem to really let us down though.

Common: Thank you. Shoot, I’m glad to hear that, ’cause you know I love making

music and I’ve been asked, “Man, with you doing all these movies, are you gonna

stop making music?” and I’m like “No, shoot, I love music!” It makes me want to

make music even more, and that’s it. I can do it even more for enjoyment now.

So I just see myself like a jazz artist, like I will go check out jazz artists

in Chicago like maybe 65-years-old playing.


In fact, I seen Max Roach in New York,

the jazz drummer. I think he passed at 81, but I seen him around when he was

about 77 playing, sounding good. So I don’t have any limitations of what I feel

I could be as an artist. I love that our generation is really taking that

mentality and that idea and being like man we can do multiple things. We’re the

era of multi-tasking and capable of doing other things you’re not gonna limit

us type of people you know what I mean?


Meaning, you’ve seen artists who have

expanded as businessmen who’ve expanded in their shows. You see ’em expand in

acting, and you know artists doing different things and they come from a

musical background. But then they go to own a team, or Kanye created a show

that was like theater. Artists, we can’t limit ourselves. Do you feel that with a lot of artists it takes the

occupational pressure off once you get – I don’t want to call it the side

job – but when you take on stuff like a clothing line or other means of making

money like acting, you can have as another career where Hip-Hop can be back to

the love of it?

Common: Yeah. That’s totally what it is. When you’re making music and you’re

like okay this is my job, I love what I’m doing and I always had dreamed of this,

but this is how I pay my bills and take care of my daughter, and this is how

I’m able to pay my car note or whatever it may be. When you’re creating at the

end of the day, you can try to remove everything from your mind that this is

your job, but somewhere in the back of your mind you still know that you gotta

do something that’s viable to the market for you to survive.


Like each album I was praying, “Man God,

please let the people like it so I can continue my career,” you know what I

mean? But then I started just being like I’m here and thanking God, but when

you’re making music and this is the way I gotta support myself, it’s still in

the back of your mind. So you still have to be attentive to what’s going on in

the music world. And with that you try to be an individual and do your best to

be as unique as possible, but still have something to fit in there and I’m not

even saying right now.


I think I’m up on what’s going on in

music to a good extent, but I’m able to just go into my own world and be an individual

even more. I don’t know man, it’s something in your system that be like man

this ain’t my only way to make money so I can have more fun with it, it’s just

what it is.


When money becomes – like it just

happened in Hip-Hop – when money became like one of the biggest purposes for

making music, then you lose some of the desire for the art. You lose some of

the creativity for the art, because money can drive you to do so many crazy

things. It can take away from you being like, “Man, I’m about to do this fly

idea and I’ma reverse the beat back.”


Then there’s somebody on the release of

that song that will say, “I don’t think the masses is gonna feel it.” That idea

might have been creative and was really pure and organic, and may not get out

there because either you don’t believe it can sell or somebody at the label

don’t believe or the radio station don’t believe so it’s harder to break

through those barriers with that, with doing innovative things.


When you do other things [like acting]

you just feel more confident like hey, people ‘gon like, some people ‘gon know

me now from movies than from music. Hopefully I’m providing myself and Common –

the name and the brand – enough notoriety that people that’s knowing me from

movies will get to hear my music and be like, “Dang he’s good on the music



‘Cause you know I definitely have come

across people who didn’t know my music. Like Angelina [Jolie] wasn’t. That’s

what I liked about her; she was real. She was like, “I wasn’t up on your music”

A friend of hers had told her I was like very important to Hip-Hop, which made

me feel good but she wasn’t up on the music and she was able to admit it. But

then you know from her getting introduced to me now, she’s aware of the music,

she’s at least aware of Common as a Hip-Hop artist, you know? So I believe that

the movie world and the music world is working hand-in-hand for me and it’s

good. Do you think you’d ever get into scoring soundtracks like RZA

does for example?

Common: Ahh man, I would love to. That’s like the more I get my foot in this

door, I’ma get into writing, writing some scripts and definitely scoring. I’m

around so many good musicians that it’s like I don’t have no choice but to

score. Sometimes a lot of the movies I work on they always say we want a song

from you or something like that. So you know sometimes they get into that, the

musical supervisor, we want a song from you so you know… You’ve had a few songs that have been part of soundtracks.

The most recent one was from Freedom Writers right? “A Dream.”

Common: Yeah, that was cool to be a part of something that was real positive

that was real uplifting to people. When Will.I.Am and I did that, it was

special for that reason ’cause like you get to say something to the shorties

and speak from their voice. I had watched [Freedom Fighters] and seen

what it was about, and I was like, man, let me tell it from their perspective.

I’m hoping I get to do a song for the Terminator movie ’cause I looked

at the first two and their music was really good, the scores was incredible. It seems the action movies are your thing as of recently.

With your acting do you see yourself playing romantic comedies or something

like that too?

Common: Ohhh man, definitely. I definitely want to do romantic comedies, love

stories, drama. You know I have a big scope and vision for myself as an actor,

and I’ve been blessed to get these roles and good movies right now with roles

that are really perfect for what I’m doing. I’m aware that I need to step on

first and take on a lead role and the whole movie be on my back.


I need to learn more, learn about

filming the movie and what it takes, so I’m real grateful for these roles. I’ve

been doing mostly action movies, but I’m looking forward to doing some comedy

and romantic comedy and just a love story, a drama. I feel like I want my

spectrum and range, ’cause I believe I have the range to act and do all those

genres. I just want my range to be limitless, and all the actors that I respect

you know they can do it, from Denzel to Don Cheadle to Christian Bale to

Leonardo DiCaprio. These cats can do anything, you know? So, if there was any actor you’d kind of like to model your

career after, who do you think it would be?

Common: Will Smith. Yeah, definitely because Will Smith is like the biggest

movie star in the world right now. They consider him, and he’s a Black man.

They don’t consider, “Oh we only gotta give him the Black role,” he gets roles

that’s colorless. He’s just the biggest movie star, but he also does drama, he

does action movies, he’s done comedies, he’s shown great acting abilities. He

goes from Six Degrees of Separation to Hitch to I Am Legend

and just does all different type of things with it. Like I said, the biggest

movie star in the world right now, internationally so that’s what I would like

to be. Wait…if I could mix Will Smith with Denzel that’s what I’d like to be.

[laughs] That’s a really good combination.

Common: That’s the ultimate. I would really want to be the mix between Denzel

and Will Smith’s careers. Those are the two.