To music fans, Common will always be the thoughtful hip-hop poet who has been tossing out socially conscious rhymes for two decades.
But since 2007, when he popped up in the Jeremy Piven crime drama “Smokin’ Aces,” the Chicago native who, as the public learned in 2011, has a fan in First Lady Michelle Obama, has been exploring his thespian side.
They’ve been mostly small roles in movies such as the Tina Fey comedy “Date Night” and the family drama “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” which filmed in Atlanta in 2011.
But in “LUV,” out Jan. 18, Common has front and center responsibility as Uncle Vincent, an ex-con struggling not to fall back into familiar patterns, especially while caring for his orphaned nephew, Woody (beguiling newcomer Michael Rainey Jr.). He’s also a producer on the film.
Calling recently from Brooklyn, the amiable musician-actor chatted about the film and also mentioned that he has a new album coming at the end of the summer.
Q. The movie premiered at Sundance in January 2012 and is opening here a year later. Has it been frustrating that this has been such a long rollout process?
A. It’s good to have a movie coming out anytime so I can talk about it. We kept moving the dates, but being able to come out January has given us a little clearer space to be recognized. It’s perfect, really, and it worked out right. Once it’s out, it’s out, it’s cool.
Q. What drew you to the role of Vincent?
A. I come across so many people who have been in similar situations and all of us know about not always making the best choice and going back to what we know instead of going out on a limb. When it comes to survival we usually go to what we know. He had a lot of depth to him and I could show these different sides. People can’t just look at him as a bad guy; you can show the human qualities of him.
Q. What was your involvement as a producer?
A. We have a production company and when I decided to do the film we came on as producers to help get the film made and get the right cast. It was the beginning of my production career. This experience was great to show me what it takes to make a movie. [Director] Sheldon (Candis) was definitely happy with some of the choices we made.
Q. Michael Rainey Jr. (Woody) is quite a presence in the movie. Was casting that role difficult?
A. There’s something about the one. You know the one. You know what your instincts tell you and I knew we didn’t have that one who would be perfect. But then Michael was God-sent. He came through someone we knew and it was just like, ‘Man, he is it.’
Q. Were you ever tempted to jump in with a comment about the soundtrack?
A. I understood that Sheldon had a vision. I really separate from me as an actor from me doing music. I don’t necessarily have to do a song for this film, but the music in the film from Blaqstarr is great. I’m doing an EP [due the end of January] that will accompany the film in many ways.
Q. What was it like shooting in Baltimore?
A. We shot 19 days, it was great. It has a blue collar feel to it; it has its own specific things, whether it’s the crabs or the brand of house music that they do, the way they talk. I immersed myself in Baltimore and learned what Baltimore is. I met everybody from the mayor to former convicts,to former kingpins.
Q. Michael is an adorable kid. How was it working with him since he seems rather precocious?
A. At times you think you’re talking to a friend — but he is a friend, like a little brother, like a nephew in many ways. He’s so educated on so many different things but then you recognize that he’s a kid. But his work, abilities, his work-ethic , they’re incredible.
Q. You had Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton – that’s quite a cast. Were you ever intimidated?
A. I was more honored, like man, Danny Glover, Charles Dutton! Also, I looked at [Glover’s] performance and was like, ‘This dude is doing great.’ He didn’t even have to try.
Q. In your mind, how does this role fit in your repertoire as an actor? Do you feel it helped you stretch?
A. This has been a great experience growing as an actor. In an indie you don’t have a big budget so you have to use your true resources and be a leader. This was different. We had a shorter period to shoot, more rugged conditions, I just learned more.
Q. Do you think you prefer comedy or drama?
A. I love drama and great stories, but I won’t limit myself. If you talk about foods, some days you want Jamiacan, some days Italian, so I love being able to do all the genres…though I haven’t done horror yet.
Q. You filmed “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” here. Do you get to Atlanta much?
A. I was slated to film another film there [last] October, but it got postponed – ‘Motor City.’ Hopefully it will still happen. If it does come to film I’d love to be part of it. I love coming to Atlanta.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene