Common, Make You a Believer

Common’s film roles have been as eclectic as his music over the years. With memorable characters under his belt, like the bad-ass enforcer Sir Ivy in Smokin’ Aces, the Blue Magic-selling Turner Lucas in American Gangster, the trigger happy Gunsmith in Wanted and the spiritual resistance soldier Barnes in Terminator Salvation, the 38-year-old Chicago native has earned the right to be referenced as an actor/rapper. Considering he’s currently dating Serena Williams, actor/rapper/lucky muthafucka is another option.

All slashes aside, the double-threat entertainer born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. gets promoted to leading man status with his first starring role as an NBA baller in Just Wright, opposite another actor/rapper, Queen Latifah. XXLMag.com recently caught up with Common after he rocked the mic for thousands of fans during halftime at the Jordan Brand Classic at Madison Square Garden to talk basketball, movies and the return of the boom bap.

XXLMag.com: You play a franchise player for the NJ Nets in your new movie. But can you play in real life?

Common: Oh, yeah, of course. I used to play biddy ball and basketball in high school. Actually my father, Lonnie Lynn [Sr.], played in the ABA for a couple of years, so basketball has been in my blood. I love basketball.

XXLMag.com: Okay, so it wasn’t a stretch for you to play a baller. How did you prepare for the role?

Common: When I started training for this role, it was kinda like just relearning certain things and getting back into my body. The training itself was definitely an everyday thing. It was a basketball training process, which I trained with the assistant coach of the New Jersey Nets, a guy named Jimmy. We would go and shoot shots. He basically took me through the training program that he takes players through that are training with him—whether it’s point guards or whoever he’s training. I would go through that conditioning with shooting drills and defensive drills. Then I would go through physical training as far as getting in shape.

XXLMag.com: Yeah, looks like you took the physical aspects of acting real serious this time around.

Common: Yeah, I took it upon myself to go start swimming to get more in shape. More than anything, I knew not only did I want to look physically in shape, but I also knew it was gonna be take after take after take and I knew I was gonna be playing against D Wade, so I needed to bring it.

XXLMag.com: So your skills are so on point that you’re crossing over Dwayne Wade now?

Common: Nah, if he heard me talking like that, he’d be like, “Yeah, okay.” So it was a lot of training, but I mean, come on, that’s so much fun for me to just play an NBA player. That’s one of the most fun things. That’s the mixture of two dreams: dreaming of being an actor and dreaming of being an NBA player as a kid. So that’s like a dream come true for me.

XXLMag.com: How many of the made shots are yours and how many are made by your body double?

Common: They had a body double there for me but I made sure that he would get not takes. My pride wouldn’t let me. With all due respect, he was a good dude, but I was like, “No, I can do this.” So after rebooting my game, I felt real confident and my shot was actually better than when I was younger because I used to like to drive more and be more fancy with it. But I was able to get to the basics of it and knock down my shots for the role.

XXLMag.com: Word has it that you displayed your newfound game at the celebrity game for the All-Star weekend in Dallas.

Common: Oh, yeah, I was trying to get that MVP trophy and to represent for the movie the right way. But it was all in fun playing against the Harlem Globetrotters and other dudes that big. I really feel that I could have played in the league.

XXLMag.com: How are you able to juggle the acting and music?

Common: I think they both sharpen each other in certain ways because as an artist, sometimes you can get bored with certain things. You need to find new outlets and I think to have another creative outlet is the healthiest thing. For me to do music and then be like “I got this script” and I can go work on this character and it’s fulfilling my creative juices and everything, I love being able to do that. And also, even experiences I go though as an actor allow me to write in different ways and now when I deliver raps, I even feel it in different ways because of going through things as an actor and feeling what acting is about. I’ve learned that being an actor helps me as an artist and being an artist helped me as an actor.

XXLMag.com: The movie comes out this Friday. When are you coming out with another album?

Common: Well the new album is called The Believer and I’m working on it. It’s really just in the beginning stages but I been cooking up with No ID and Kanye West and my man Y-Not, who produced some of my earlier music. It’s really just essential boom bap hip-hop. I think I’m at a place where I wanna do some boom bap, raw sounding hip-hop that’s inspiring. I think that’s what people wanna hear. It’s gonna have some scratches, flows and everything because there aren’t too many rules to hip-hop. You think about what hip-hop brought that was so new was that it wasn’t really any rules to hip-hop. When I listen to Chuck D on “Rebel Without a Pause,” he had like four verses on that song. It wasn’t about, like, “Okay, we gonna do 16 bars with an eight bar chorus.” It was just like this is what I have to say and I’m gonna say it and it came out that way. They let it be natural and be raw and that’s what I want to have happen with my new album. —Maurice Bobb