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Common on balancing the fun 'John Wick' with the serious '13th'

"None of us can be serious all the time."
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    Common plays an assassin out to avenge the death of his boss by killing Keanu Reev|Niko Tavernise

On his albums, Common is compassionate, thoughtful, gentle. In “John Wick: Chapter 2” he’s a brutal, fearsome killer. The rapper-actor contains multitudes; just witness his two knock-down, drag-out fight scenes he was with Keanu Reeves. The latter returns as the super-assassin reluctantly lured out of retirement. This time, John Wick is pursued by most of NYC’s killers-for-hire, including Common’s hitman/bodyguard. But it wasn’t all pain making the sequel; Common got to go to Italy, learn a little Italian, as well as shoot in New York, his favorite city in the world — no knock on his hometown of Chicago, he says.

Your two big fights are extremely intense, especially considering they’re the toughest ones you’ve ever done onscreen before.
I’m happy to do it. My first conversation with Chad Stahelski [the director], I said, “I want to be the Muhammad Ali of this. I want to be one of the greats.” I mean, I won’t be the greatest. But when it comes to fighting in films, I want to be high level.

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And they’re mostly done in long takes. You can’t fudge it, fix it in post. You have to look like you’re really doing it.
You not only have to look like you know what you’re doing; you have to know what you’re doing. You could hurt yourself, or hurt somebody else. I’m playing a rival of John Wick, one of the greatest assassins. I have to be able to deliver against him. And Keanu Reeves is one of the greatest fighters we’ve seen onscreen. I had to go in there and say, “Let everything go and be one of these great warriors on screen.”

Among other things, this movie offers a great escape from the world, even if you know you have to return to it.
I was talking to someone who said, “Some days I want to change the world, and some days I want to escape from the world.” I feel that, too. If “John Wick: Chapter 2” will let me escape, and will be fun and of high quality, that’s what I want to see.

Experts are talking about the importance of unplugging now and then, allowing your brain to rest from the news.
Exactly. It’s like anything in life: You don’t want to overload. You can take it in, then you go other places. Some days you need to be outside and enjoy things, and other days you have to go into the office and handle your business. I’m grateful to be a part of “John Wick: Chapter 2,” but I’m also grateful to be a part of “13th.”

That would make a good double feature: go see escapist fun, then go on Netflix and watch a documentary that tells you about history you might not know.

Yeah, man. That’s what helps us become well-rounded individuals. None of us can be serious all the time, or party all the time. I love to take on roles like this because it gives me a chance to show the diaspora of who I am, the depths of who I am as an actor. I’m looking for even greater roles, to show more aspects of myself.

Are there any kinds of roles in particularly you’re looking for?
I’m definitely looking for dynamic characters, powerful characters, that have many sides to them. I’m also open to playing superheroes, though they’d have to have some soul to them, some depth. I’m open to play someone real, like Gil Scott-Heron, who was a musician who was conflicted, or a lawyer who’s dealing with lots of different things. I like to show the range and dynamics of who we are as human beings.

I would love to see a Gil Scott-Heron film.
I’m producing films now, and that’s one I’d love to do.

Would you play him as well?
I would love to play him. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “The Bottle,” “We Almost Lost Detroit” — these are songs that have impacted me. His voice has meant something to me as an artist. He was a beautiful human being who had his own fallacies he was battling. I have my own issues I fight with. Everyone does. When you can tell a story about someone who’s a hero but you still see that he has flaws, that’s an inspiring story in itself.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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