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Common on the love story behind 'Megan Leavey'

The rapper-actor loves to use the word "love."
Common
Common Credit: Getty Images

There aren’t many people as positive as Common. On his records, he speaks truth to power. In person, though, he’s all about love — a word he uses as though it was about to go out of style. In the drama “Megan Leavey,” the rapper-actor, 45, plays another tough character: a sergeant who gives tough love to Kate Mara’s marine. Her character has been tasked with handling a combat dog named Rex, who’s been trained to sniff for IEDs during the Iraq War. The movie winds up being about the bond they form. And that’s what Common loves about it. 

We talked to Common about the way “Megan Leavey” avoids politics, how movies can change hearts and minds and why we need to stay positive in these troubled times.

Most movies about the military are political. This one isn’t at all. It really is just about a girl and her dog.
It’s not a war story; it’s a love story. The overall theme of love makes you not get into the political side of it. You get into the human story about a woman who needs some love. Who doesn’t need that? We can all relate to that, no matter what our political perspective is, or our nationality, or our religion.

These days we need more movies that do that — that bring us together through human stories as we’re being torn apart.
That’s the stuff I want to be a part of — telling real people’s stories. Those stories bust us out of boxes. I’m not saying this movie is “Moonlight,” but “Moonlight” took you out of the aspect of thinking, ‘This is a dude who wears a do-rag. He’s just a gangster and he just sells dope.’ The character Mahershala [Ali] played, he cared for this kid [played by Alex Hibbert]. Even my character here, you think, ‘Oh, he’s a sergeant in the marines, he’s going to be one thing.’ But he’s not. This dude is strong and disciplined, but at the same time he cares. He shows love and tries to give her a different perspective. I love when you add dimension to human beings.

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Roger Ebert famously said that movies are “machines that generate empathy.” Movies like “Moonlight” and “Megan Leavey” allow us to see the world through the eyes of people we may not know at all.
A lot of people in this country don’t get the multicultural experience you may get in New York, or even in certain countries outside the U.S. It’s important that we tell these stories. We tell these stories in a human way that will bring people closer, to make them feel like they’ve walked in someone else’s shoes.

Art brings people together. If I’m at a movie, it’s like we’re all experiencing the same thing. I’m not thinking about if the people behind me are Republicans or Democrats. I’m not thinking about any of that. We’re all experiencing it and we’re all affected by it. If it’s a heartfelt story — well, we all have a heart. It can bring us together and help us see things from different perspectives, without being preachy, without being specifically about one subject matter. You can make a movie about social activism, but films don’t have to do that to bring us closer to each other.

It’s hard to stay positive right now. How pessimistic do you feel these days?
I think it’s getting better. As difficult as it seems on the outside, on the inside people want to see good for human beings. I don’t care if you’re Muslim, Jewish, gay, transgender, Latino, black — we all gotta help each other and get through this thing together. We know we don’t have all the solutions. But we know that the important thing is to make a better world for each other. So how do we do that? The government structure may not think like that, but people do think like that. We work towards a better world. These dark times are going to bring the light, I really believe that.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge