Rap artist Common has made a name for himself as an actor since his movie debut in Smokin’ Aces. He’s landed big films like Wanted, Terminator Salvation and The Odd Life of Timothy Green, and a major role on the TV drama “Hell on Wheels.” LUV is a lead role that gives him plenty of material to further his career. He plays Vincent, recently paroled and taking his nephew Woody along what he hopes will be a day of job hunting and life lessons. Being a motion picture drama, things don’t quite turn out according to Vincent’s plan. We got to speak with Common by phone before the holidays to discuss his latest movie role and the ground he’s broken in the industry. The film opens in Los Angeles on January 18.
CraveOnline: Is Luv sort of your Training Day, showing the kid around trying to teach him the right thing?
Common: Yes, when the director, Sheldon Candis, described it to me that was one of the films he referenced and I definitely felt like it was an opportunity for that character to have that type of journey throughout the day. Even though in Training Day, obviously Denzel’s journey went downhill even more. I mean, Denzel didn’t start off with good intentions. At least my character is starting off really wanting to do right so you get to see his journey and things that cause him to do wrong, so I thought that was a great development of the character, what a person goes through.
Do you think the values Vincent is trying to teach are good, like dressing right and carrying yourself right?
I think Vincent had some good lessons that he was teaching him, like being able to speak your truth and don’t lie, and dressing correctly. Even in the office, he was telling him to put his feet down. He had some respectful things but then also teaching him to shoot is not the best thing to teach him. Some of the things that had selfish motivations weren’t good examples of how to handle things. He also let his emotions get the best of him many times and that’s not the best. That’s definitely not what you want to teach.
But would he have had to mention guns if things had not gone as badly as they did?
He wouldn’t have mentioned guns. He would not have mentioned guns.
Do you think Vincent could have gone straight or was he doomed to fall back into this crime life?
I think he could’ve gone straight. After serving prison time and going through things, he’s a good guy. He was a good guy, so it wasn’t like he’s looking to do [wrong]. That’s one thing I wanted to express even through that character and I want people to recognize is that a lot of people that do make those choices, it’s not like they enjoy being shot at and the danger. Some people do like a little danger but no one wants to live a life on the run or worry about police officers. Most people want peace. He was speaking for his dream of being someone who could take care of themselves and take care of his family and set a good example for his nephew, maybe start his life in the right way. I definitely believe his goal was to go clean.
Where do you think he went wrong then?
Where did he go wrong? I believe at a certain point, in all truth, somebody mentioned something that I didn’t even think about. At the beginning of the movie, when he was trying to do right, he still had to do something illegal which is use somebody else’s identity. It’s almost like you don’t even recognize when you come from that life that some of the things that you’re doing are wrong, but I would say one of the biggest things was actually just going to work to move the package. For his character, I think that wasn’t the right move because at that point, you’re just putting yourself back into that situation.
Is this the type of role you’ve been aiming for in your acting career?
Well, I aim for a variety of roles, roles that have depth, roles where you can see the character develop, roles where as an actor I can show the range, be able to express and do things and really just raise everything to a higher level as far as what I want to do with my acting. I definitely feel this is a great step for me but I’m looking for so many roles. I would like to play a Martin Luther King type of character. I like action films, I like drama, I like love stories. I’m open to really, really quality roles and quality films. That’s more about what it’s about for me but this is definitely a great step.
Do you feel like the industry is starting to see you as Common the actor?
Yes, I do believe that I’m starting to establish that with “Hell on Wheels” and the movie Luv once it comes out. Even just it being at Sundance, I think people are starting to understand that I’m an actor, as well as a musician. And it’s tough because when people first know you as one thing, you have to kind of open their minds up to, “Hey, I can do this also.” But it’s up to the actor too to make that happen. I believe that through the work I will do and the work I’m doing, people will see that this is the actor. This is Common. When they look at that screen, they will see that character.
What kind of role do you get to play in Now You See Me? Are you one of the illusionists or one of the cops?
I’m actually the head of the FBI. For the division of FBI, I’m the head. I’m Mark Ruffalo’s character’s boss.
What side of you do you get to show in that movie?
Definitely a leadership side that I like. Also the side, which I’ve never played FBI, which is great, learning about what the FBI agents experience and go through and certain rankings. Just the basics were great to learn but the side I got to tap into was my leadership and also just problem solving, solving problems and putting things together and making things happen as a leader. So that was good to explore that.
Was he based on a real FBI boss?
It wasn’t written to be a real FBI boss but I base my characters on real people all the time. If somebody in this world is that person, with creativity, imagination and truth, I believe that’s how the characters come.
You’ve been playing a post-Emanicpation railroad worker on “Hell on Wheels,” and now Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained came out, and Lincoln the month before. How do you feel about Hollywood taking on that era in our history?
I think it’s so necessary, so great that Hollywood is open to showing those aspects of our history. I mean, there’s so much to learn. With something like Quentin Tarantino, when he does a film like that, not only will you get information and feel something, but you’ll also laugh. You’ll also be in angst. It’s great filmmaking with Quentin Tarantino always, and of course if you have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg, you know you’re going to really get some information and learn some things and at the same token, just see a piece of art that is really distinguished. I feel like it’s great. With “Hell on Wheels,” I feel like we’re able to tell so much of the human experience of people building America. The people that make America, you get to experience that and not just okay, the slaves are free and the slaves came and revolted. Man, you get to see people, human beings, this black person who was a slave for his whole life falling in love with a white woman who was captured by Indians and their relationship, the fears, his fears being expressed through that relationship and then some of the strengths. You get to see people.
What’s coming up for season three of “Hell on Wheels?”
Oh man, it’s going to be incredible. We’ve got a new showrunner by the name of John Wirth that I’m looking forward to working with. I can’t say I know what’s going to happen writing wise, but I’m looking forward to some really stellar material. That’s what our goal is. I feel the show has great potential to grow.
How far along is the railroad by now?
Okay, I think we’re in a certain part of Nebraska. By the next season, we could be getting close to the Rockies.
What did you think of Baltimore when working on Luv? Had you been there before?
I’d been there before but never got to experience it at that level. I really felt a real blue collar sincere people city, like a people city, a town of hard working people just really striving to make it. I definitely love and respect the people of Baltimore and know that they have their own culture and I got to meet everybody from the mayor to some people, former prisoners in Baltimore. So it was great. It was a great experience and the people were really cool. I loved it.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.