Andy Garcia (Stanley Locke)
 Joe Carnahan (Director)
 Common (Sir Ivy)

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Interview with Common (Sir Ivy)

Common and Jeremy Piven in Smokin' Aces. Universal PicturesMost actors when they make their film debut are in small films, but here you are acting alongside Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Piven and Ben Affleck, just to say the names of a few of your co-stars. Did the caliber of co-stars make you a little nervous?

Definitely. Joe Carnahan was really brilliant because the first day I shot was with Alicia Keys, who also was making her debut. It allowed us to warm up and do some takes. But, I got nervous again for my first take with Jeremy, because he’s such a great actor.

You have had such an accomplished music career and now, with Smokin’ Aces, you have begun a new phase with acting.

That’s why I’m so excited. I have a new light in my life. New art. It’s a fun thing. I find everything about acting fun and fresh. Everything from making films to even the acting classes.

So, you’re like a kid again?

Yeah, just like a kid in many ways because acting is still new to me.

You have an emotional, heart-wrenching scene in Smokin’ Aces where you confront Jeremy Piven’s character about loyalty and betrayal. It really seemed to come from your heart. Was it partly improvised?

What made me want to be part of this movie was the quality of Joe Carnahan’s writing. But, I was blessed to being able to partly improvise. Jeremy likes to improvise too. My nature is to improvise. So we were allowed the space to do that, which was beautiful for me.

Have you ever personally experienced betrayal in your career?

Oh yeah. Definitely betrayal. I could relate with what my character was going through. He didn’t receive the respect he deserved as a human being.

How do you react to betrayal?

Me, personally, I’ll talk to the person. In Smokin’ Aces, my character, was really trying to see if Buddy Israel was going to come clean. As the conversation continued, you could see Buddy was lying.

Jeremy Piven has some pretty amazing scenes where we see his character on a vicious downward spiral. You were in a couple of the scenes. What was that like for you to watch?

That was powerful. Jeremy was crying and giving it in each take.

In one of your scenes with Alicia you have to carry her down some emergency stairs because she was injured. What was that like?

We did that scene for two days. It was inspiring because, hey, it was Alicia Keys, and she’s beautiful, but it was also tiring. Inspiring and tiring!

Just watching Smokin’ Aces, it looks like the actors had a great time making it.

Oh yeah, we did. We had a ball.

Did you have weapons training to prepare for your role?

Yeah, I had an incredible trainer who made sure I knew how to use the guns. It was fun to learn how to load and do tricks with the gun.

Did you go to a shooting range to practice?

We went to one of the studios where there was a shooting range where we could shoot and work with these mannequin type things. We learned a lot of different weapon techniques.

Hey, your gun skills could come in handy one day.

Hopefully I won’t have to use any of that stuff. I’ll stay peaceful. I’ll leave that stuff for the movies. That’s why I love movies because things you don’t do in everyday life you can do in the movies.

Because you are known as a pacifist, your fans might be surprised when they see you in Smokin’ Aces playing a gangster?

That’s why I was glad for this role because the guy I play, Sir Ivy, is a killer. People who know me know I am a peaceful, progressive, free artist, so they wouldn’t expect to see me play this character.

Did you have to audition for the role or did they offer it to you straight up?

I auditioned twice and it was a process.

What were your auditions like?

I went to the casting agent’s office and there were all of these other cats there waiting. I walked in after they auditioned and gave everything that was in my heart. Then, I was in Paris and they called me back and said they were thinking about me, but they were also looking at other people. I flew back to LA and went in and auditioned as soon as I landed. This time it was with Joe Carnahan and I gave it my all.

What was it like for you to go and line up for an audition with all of these other actors? You are one of the world’s biggest music artists, but here you are standing in line for a casting agent?

I loved it. It was humbling. It’s good to know no matter how popular you get, you’re still a child of God, you’re still a person. It was a humbling experience to go into a casting agent and sign the sheet just like any other person and wait. You hear the other person auditioning and you try and be focused on what you have to do. Then when it’s your turn you go in there and do it like a warrior.

So how do you sign your name at the audition? Common?

Yes, Common. Common, baby.

Do you think your popularity in the music world helped you get the part in Smokin’ Aces?

No, I think it was an obstacle. They already had Alicia Keys. One of the producers told me they didn’t want another music artist, but they said I really brought it at the audition. They had to give me the part. That’s what I want. I want the world to respect me as an actor.

Will you keep making music?

Oh yeah. I have a new album coming out next year. I’ve been working with Kanye West.

And you’re writing children’s books?

Yeah, it’s fun. I wrote two books and my mom put them out on her publishing company, Hip Hop Schoolhouse. They carry a very good message about loving yourself. It’s important to love yourself, you need to know that no matter how poor you are or what color you are.

Do you still live in Chicago?

I pretty much live in LA and New York. Chicago is my home, but I live out in LA and New York because that is where the business is I’m working on. I wouldn’t have got the role in Smokin’ Aces if I didn’t live in LA, because they wanted the actors to be in LA.