**Questions from roundtable discussion, thanks to Black Film (BF) and The Irish Echo (IE)
Photo credit: Spike TV / NY Post
It’s been over two decades since Common’s debut album Can I Borrow a Dollar? debuted, and in 2015 the Chicago native is going stronger than ever with a successful acting career, new television ventures, modeling gigs, books, philanthropy and more. 2014 was a memorable year for Common in many ways, as he celebrated the release of his 10th studio album and his role in the award-winning film Selma. Unfortunately he also mourned the death of his father, who was hugely influential on his life and career.
Counting his blessings every step of the way, Selma garnered Common accolades that seemed to be timely for his life’s work thus far, including an NAACP award for Outstanding Supporting Actor, and a Golden Globe and Academy Award among others for his original theme song “Glory” with John Legend. All good to add to the shelf with his growing collection, including two Grammys and five statues from the BET Awards franchise.
In addition to the award hoopla, Common has been seen on television since January as the host of Spike TV’s Framework, an interior design competition show. We’ll also be potentially looking for him in that final Season 5 of AMC’s Hell on Wheels later this year.
Without missing a beat, Common is full speed ahead in theaters again with the release of mafia action thriller Run All Night, which co-stars Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman and Genesis Rodriguez. Only instead of being the good guy we all know him as, Com is a cold-blooded, unstoppable assassin for hire.
UrbLife was able to sit in on some media round tables with the cast this week, and Common had a lot to say about all of his recent accomplishments… Warning: mild spoilers ahead.
BF: We ran into you at the Selma press junket… how was that experience for you?
Common: Being a part of Selma was a life changing, life enhancing experience. Getting to meet Ambassador Andrew Young, one of the first things he said to us was “What are you willing to die for? Live for that.” That made me go home that night and think about “What am I really living for? What would I die for?” Those are some of the messages and the inspirations we were getting working on Selma.
Doing press conferences, I would hear Oprah talking, Ava [DuVernay] talking, David [Oyelowo] talking, and it was inspiring. The whole experience was inspiring. Working on the project itself, knowing we were extensions of what the people of that time did, and now seeing the impact the movie had… and the song has an impact and younger people know about Selma because of the movie, and they went back and started doing their research. I feel like that movie is an extension of that movement. It’s definitely one of the greatest experiences for me.
BF: And the [Bloody Sunday] anniversary was just this weekend…
Common: Honestly, I didn’t get to see everything but I heard the President had an incredible speech. Just to see the people there celebrating, but at the same token saying, hey we got a way to go. We’re here to commemorate and honor the people who were here 50 years ago, but we have a way to go.
BF: It must be fun to have a character you play and [you’re] about the opposite… where the Irish mafia calls you up.
Common: It’s a lot of fun for me as an actor to do different roles… I get to expand. I get to show different things as an actor and explore too. As soon as I took the role of Price I knew it was going to be a journey to get there, because he’s written as this dark character. In the script he started out in the S&M club, so you knew he was out there. [laughs]For me to get there, I love as an actor getting to play roles that are not…
BF: Who you are.
Common: Right. Which is very exciting. It was work. [Director] Jaume [Collet-Serra] came up with good ideas, and once we came up with the clothes we worked to get there. But I was excited watching the movie.
IE: What drives Price? Is it the job? Just getting it done? Or is it revenge?
Common: It’s a drive of getting it done. He’s a goal-oriented individual, and his goal is to kill. I think he does have some joy in that and inflicting pain on people, but ultimately it was people like the police officers that were coming and he was like “I’m taking you out, I’m taking you out” without thinking twice because he has a goal, he’s determined, he’s relentless about taking out Jimmy and his son.
BF: Also he was pretty fucked up. He has a lot to come back from after his face is destroyed. Talk about making your character feel motivated.
Common: Exactly, that did add on to it! [laughs]You burn off half your face, it’s like no way I’m letting this guy go.
IE: The crowd went nuts [in your scenes].
Common: When I was in the movie and he got outed, they cheered too, and I was really happy that they cheered. But ten percent of me was like “why are they cheering about that?” But it felt good to know that I created a bad guy that they didn’t like that much.
One thing I enjoyed when I watched the film was… I felt the relationships between the people, I felt the stories, it felt authentic. It was like I was watching New York as a character. I was watching Jimmy and his son really have this friction and have to build that relationship back. And seeing Liam Neeson not start on top and being hunted, and not at the top of his game and dealing with alcohol, he’s almost rock bottom… He was this hitman that was really great at his job, but he’s not happy about what he did…
It was great seeing that transition when he calls Sean, Ed Harris’ character, and he’s like “you sure you wanna go through this?” That’s when you see him rise up and he’s the unstoppable Liam Neeson we see sometimes. I love how this movie allows for characters to go through things. For me it felt like a French Connection type movie but with some new things. It gave me a ’70s feel.
UrbLife: What about the physicality and the stunts – was there any kind of special training you had to do? The movie looked intense.
Common: Yeah, the training we did was definitely intense training. It was like real fight training. Liam’s team and the stunt coordinator that we had are the some of the best. I had to be super sharp, but I was looking forward to it, because I was like I get to be in a movie with Liam Neeson I want to go toe to toe with him! It was a lot of fun, it was a lot of work. It was definitely fun. Once we got into that room with the fire, we had to get it done because there was only so many takes we could do.
UrbLife: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Common: The fighting scene with the fire, because we worked on the fight coordination a lot and it turned out well. I felt like when we were doing it, we had this certain energy and I was like “This is good!”
BF: Your music is a big contrast to gangsta rap and shows a positivity, and here’s a movie where you’re playing with gangsters. What lessons would you tell guys playing gangstas as opposed to real gangsters?
Common: In truth, a lot of guys that create music that have been through the life of a gangster knows their life is not going to lead to the best results. A lot of people that I discuss in my music that have dealt with survival… because that’s what this movie’s about, them trying to survive. But when you look at people rapping about those things, some of it’s embodied by the survival and what they see. Some of it obviously can be embellished.
Most people that have lived in those situations know that it’s not the best life to lead, the gangsta life. Most people that have been around have seen somebody die or somebody go to prison. When you look at Run All Night, one or two of the head gangsters, I don’t wanna tell the end of the movie, but it doesn’t end up good for them.
IE: You have such a gift for words, what’s it like building a character with very little language?
Common: It’s funny, I was like until it was mentioned to me… when I watched the movie I didn’t realize he didn’t have a lot of dialogue, which is funny. I mean, his presence is still felt. As an actor, I’ve starred in movies where I only have a couple lines, so it’s like how do you convey who this person is without the words? You just gotta be alive in those scenes, present in those scenes so you create the character and he’s alive and breathing so people know him regardless.
We know who Price is, even if he didn’t have one word of dialogue, we knew who he was. You just have to create those characters. I don’t mind characters without a lot of dialogue, because so much can be said with actions and through the eyes. Sometimes you just feel things coming off of people in a scene.
BF: Was it inevitable that you’d combine your singing and acting? It feels like your acting has improved your music and made certain things possible.
Common: I would say it improved the music, to be honest. Acting… I didn’t know I was going to be an actor. I loved acting when I was a kid. Like I did a play and I didn’t get the best reviews so I left it at home. But music was something that felt very natural for me as a kid and as I grew I loved going to the theater and going to movies. It was one of my favorite things to do and still is.
I just started taking acting classes, and I felt like this is it. Initially I didn’t want to combine the two. Most movies I did I didn’t do that soundtrack because I didn’t want to be viewed as a rapper-actor. This guy is an actor and also a Hip Hop artist. I represent Hip Hop culture, obviously, but the point is I’m also an actor and didn’t want to get bunched in with the rest of the people that pursued it from a rap career. Now I’m like it’s great to do music for movies.
BF: Especially for things like Selma.
Common: For Selma, it’s very inspiring. And it’s great to be able to do films like Run All Night. Maybe my music isn’t in it, but you get to see me as an actor. I didn’t come to Run All Night wanting to do music for it, I wanted to be an actor. So when the two combine organically, it works like in Selma. But sometimes I separate them and they just do what they do.
IE: Do you see yourself as a storyteller?
Common: I think that’s a good way to say it, a storyteller, that’s great. I eventually want to write scripts anyways.
BF: You’re writing in general.
Common: I write anyway. Some of the songs that I write are… they have a visual component to it, a story to it. As an actor you write certain things, you write the person’s story as you tell it.
BF: You have books too, which is pure writing.
Common: I’m working on a new book too.
UrbLife: Catching the second wind. It’s the beginning though.
Common: Yes, the beginning. [smiles]
BF: Do you collaborate as an actor as seamless as you do with John Legend?
Common: I think acting has opened me up… when I write songs I get into the back story of things, I feel more free as an artist. When you’re an actor you gotta let go. You can’t keep cool, you just gotta let go. That transferred into some of what I do as a musician. Why you say it felt seamless is because John Legend and I have worked together before, he’s a friend of mine, and we have the same intention. We want to put out great music and help improve the world in any way we can contribute.
He’s been doing it through educational programs, supporting education and getting education on the right track, and he’s been very adamant about it. I’ve been doing it through my foundation, Common Ground, and helping the youth and get them to reach their dreams. I think it was the perfect voice, I couldn’t choose anybody else to do that song, it was just like God blessing us.
At one moment I just said “let me call John about this song,” because [director]Ava [DuVernay] said to me “why don’t you do a song?” and this was late while she was editing. She mentioned doing a song for the movie. And we just went from there, lets just call John and see what happens.
UrbLife: Back in 1999 I met you at a little club on a rainy night in Seattle, and after the act I went up to you and said that your song “Retrospect For Life” meant everything to girls. I get all emotional… How is it now to have people really recognize your talent, your ability…. people finally recognize this poetry in you that you always had and almost two decades later saying “You’re awesome”…
BF: The word I would use is durability.
Common: That’s a good word. And perseverance. If you really love what you do and believe in what you’re doing, then you continue to do it. Sometimes the spotlight will be on you and sometimes it won’t. Obviously this has been the most recognition we have ever gotten.
I wanted my music and art to touch people like it was ten thousand people paying attention or ten billion people paying attention. I really just honestly want to keep growing and remembering what that purpose is, and growing within that purpose and growing as a human being and growing as an actor, growing as an artist.
The message of “Glory” is similar to things I’ve done before, but everything happens at the right time. If we had the opportunity to do these things before, I don’t think we would have been able to deliver at the level that we were able to.
UrbLife: There’s a maturity.
Common: A maturity and evolution.
BF: And timing.
Common: And timing. Who woulda known when we were making Selma that unfortunately you have situations like Mike Brown and Eric Garner and protests. We were doing press junkets for Selma with protests happening outside. You couldn’t put those things together… and because that happened, it’s moving the meter, bringing up discussion. Younger people who already want to be part of the protest are seeing Dr. King and saying “We wanna do that. We can do that in our own way.” It all happens when it’s supposed to happen.
Learn more about Common Ground Foundation at CommonGroundFoundation.org
Watch the trailer for Run All Night and get more info on the film at RunAllNightMovie.com