Common | Interview

Published September 14, 2010

With the introduction of "I Used to Love H.E.R.," many of us started a long-lasting love affair with Chicago native, Common.  The rapper-turned-actor has proven to be an extraordinary addition to the world of entertainment. This present-day Renaissance man, rightfully deemed the "Gentleman of Hip-Hop," has successfully submersed himself in Hollywood. We had the opportunity to catch up with this leading man to discuss life, love and the release of the “Just Wright” DVD, out today.

“Just Wright” was your first leading-man role. Did you feel any extra pressure?
I felt a lot of pressure! [Laughs] My own expectation as an artist and as an actor is to do great in everything that I do. I had that pressure, but then my mother was calling like, “Hey, this movie can make or break you!” [Laughs] Other people were like, “Man, this is your first leading role, this could be a game changer.”  Then, having that responsibility even on the set -- in my process of being an actor and filming movies, I never had the responsibility of being on the set as much. When you are a leading actor you are working every day.  I love that, but you have to be on every day.  As I continued to work, I was able to develop it and be great at it.

Yes, and you did!  Your mom was wonderful in pushing you toward your greatness. That’s what mamas do.
Yes. That’s very true. Along with my mother saying, “You’ll do great things,” I found within myself a place where I just wanted to be great. I want to be one of the greatest actors of our time, I am working toward that. I do these speaking engagements and that is what I say. We have to achieve greatness, not just being okay, being cool and complacent. Greatness is in us all!  We have to be the greatest at what we do.

There are many women out there who have deemed you “Mr. Right.” What’s your reaction to that?
Well, I love the fact that women do appreciate and give love to me, because I love Black women. I love women. Not saying that in a way that I want a million women -- I just appreciate female energy.  I appreciate it when a woman can give a man support and love and I can do the same. It’s a good feeling. I enjoy it and I will stay respectful. Even when I did “The Light,” I like being able to put energy and art out there that support love and experiences with women.

“Just Wright’s” theme of love coming in all sizes was a refreshing change to Hollywood’s stereotypical standard of beauty. Word on the street is you like thick women. Is this true?
[Laughs]  I love beautiful women and that means they will come in all shapes and sizes. There is no certain type. I am attracted to beautiful women. Throughout my life I have dated Black women; it is beautiful Black women I have been attracted to. Don’t get me wrong, I see beauty in all nationalities of women.  You can see beauty in different types of women. For me, I was able to come to an understanding after I was able to unlearn all of the crazy stuff that we were taught when we were young about what beauty is. I started coming up with my own definition of beauty. I started realizing that it does come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t have to be straight hair or short hair; it could be whatever you like and appeals to you. A lot of it is in the way a woman carries herself.

You are about to star in the AMC drama, “Hell on Wheels,” portraying a half Black, half White freed slave.  This will be one of your first dramatic roles. What attracted you to this project?
The script was incredible and dynamic. The characters had so much diversity. My character is a freed slave of mixed descent; although today he would be considered a Black person. He has so much strength. He is not like the images you have seen or even the idea that you have of a freed slave during that time. Of course we have to follow what happened in history, you have to be honest to that period. We automatically think of slaves and freed slaves to be one thing, but they are people! We are people!  The way this character and these characters were written in this script, you got to see a person. You got to feel what people were about. It’s already exciting for me to play in a period piece. It’s 1865, so that was already cool! But then the fact that it is dealing with issues of today like greed and how we as American people seek out for opportunity, but sometimes those opportunities can end up taking away from other people.  It is a real interesting script, I am excited. Hopefully, God willing, it will be picked up and you’ll see season one coming soon!

What would the Common who released his debut album in 1992 think of the Common today in 2010?
[Laughs] I think that Common would be like, “Man, I can’t believe you are acting! I wouldn’t have known you were going to do that!” [Laughs]  He would also be like, "I didn’t know you would take it that far.”  I think he would also say, “Make sure you do some raw hip-hop man, make sure you do some hardcore hip-hop!”  Hardcore, meaning true to the core of what hip-hop is.

Well, it sounds like the Common that you are today has surprised that 1992 Common.
Yes, it’s a blessing. I can remember when I was in school at Florida A&M and wanting to get my rap contract, still doing well in school and working hard. I was offered a contract. I was blessed to get a contract and my mom was like, “You need to stay in school,” but I had a dream! I had a vision for myself.  I am saying that to say there will be times you are going to be challenged and different people may say different things or your own fears may come upon you.  You have to say, “Man, I’m going to go for it!” You got the opportunity to go for it, it’s up to you!

You are a longtime supporter of President Barack Obama and he’s been getting some heat lately. Which one of your songs would you suggest President Obama listen to before addressing the nation?
The song called “The People.”  That song will get him in the right state of mind.  When I wrote that song I was thinking about my purpose in this. I represent everyday people. I am standing up for the people even through the struggle. The chorus says, “The days will come, now we are one. Just take your time and then you’ll find the people.” Basically, saying we are one and though I am very proud to be a Black person and I thank God that I am a Black man on this earth today, I see oneness in all human beings.  I connect with them and know that we are all children of God. So that song is saying that we are one, but at the same time it is saying that the struggle that is coming, we have to fight through it and it is all about being there for the people. I think that will be a great theme song for Barack right now. When I made it, I was like, “Man, this song is like a song I think Barack can play at his inauguration!” [Laughs] Plus, I shouted him out when I said, “My raps ignite the people like Obama.” So if he listens to that, I think that will be some motivation for him.

Why should people go out and buy “Just Wright” on DVD today?
It has a feel of one of those classic love stories, romantic comedies that you can always look at and feel good and enjoy. You know certain movies come on TV and you are like, “Man!” and you want to watch it. Well, that is one you need to have in your collection. You don’t even need to wait for it to come on TV because it’s a movie where you can sit down with friends or loved ones and just enjoy. It also has DVD special features like behind the scenes, outtakes, gag reel and interviews with the cast. It’s a fun movie man! I think it is part of the collection you put in your classics like your “Coming to America” and “Love Jones.”  You should be able to put “Just Wright” in that collection.

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 J’Nara Corbin is a New York City-based actress and model. She is starring in the film, Finding Me: Truth, which is in theaters later this year.  For more of her work, you can read her commentary on Princess and the Frog and Chris Rock’s Good Hair.

Written by J'Nara Corbin

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