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Tuesday, May 11,2010

There's nothing Common about this rapper's acting ambitions

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Common is running a little late for his interview. But he's a musician, right? That's to be expected.

"No man, I'm an actor, man. I'm an actor," he says, laughing.

And so he is. Those tentative first steps in front of a movie camera in films from "Smokin' Aces" to "Date Night" have been replaced by his first starring role, paired up with Queen Latifah in the romance "Just Wright." He's not the bald tough guy with the scary eyes and the big gun, sort of the generic rapper-turned-actor role. Not this time.

"As my daughter says, 'Daddy, when are you gonna stop playing the BAD guy?'

"I wanted to break free of the sorts of roles that Hollywood sees me in; you know, the tough guy. I like doing dark roles, but I like playing romantic, and I like playing conflicted characters. This guy gives me all that, and he's an NBA player. He's my dream role."

Common, 38, grew up on Chicago's South Side. Lonnie Rashied Lynn Jr. may have harbored dreams of basketball glory — he played organized ball up to high school — but it was with a microphone that he found fame. As the rapper first named Common Sense, then shortened to Common, he developed a rep as "Chicago's cerebral rapper" (per Britain's The Guardian newspaper) thanks to his clever lyrics, soulful rapping and singing style in songs such as "Be."

"I want to be as free as the spirits of those who left

"I'm talking Malcolm, Coltrane, my man Yusef

"Through death through conception

"New breath and resurrection."

But as his musical fame grew to include a couple of Grammys and a featured slot in Dave Chappelle's "Block Party" hip-hop concert film, Common sought other outlets, taking classes from veteran acting coaches Greta and Sandra Seacat. They helped him with the basics, but for "Just Wright," he needed more than that.

"I worked with an assistant coach for the Nets so that it felt natural when I got out on the court. Don't want to look like I've got no game."

Common has been in hits ("Date Night" is the surprise of the spring) and prestige pictures ("American Gangster"). He'd love to move into more serious and varied roles. Playing the late soul singer Marvin Gaye is "a dream of mine." And if he needed further reinforcement in his decision to add acting to his resume, he could look at his "Just Wright" co-star, the Oscar-nominated singer and actress Queen Latifah.

"She made this journey from hip hop to TV to movies and excelled in all of them," Common says. "Working with her is learning from the best. I plan to be the biggest movie star and greatest actor out there. And I plan to continue making music, hopefully music that moves and inspires people. I want to continue to do both because both are what I believe I was put here to do."


(c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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