After his 2002 debut in the Rick Famuyiwa rom-com “Brown Sugar,” rapper-turned-actor Common has made more than 40 films. In his latest, “Here and Now,” he stars opposite Sarah Jessica Parker as her music manager, but he believes the last 16 years will be only a blip in his trajectory.
“I’m truly still working to get to where I want to be,” he said. “I want to be one of the great actors of our time. I don’t want to just play the ‘black character,’ or one-note human beings.”
He has an eclectic list of films he loves, and would have loved to star in: “Man on Fire,” “Half Nelson,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Forest Gump,” “The Shawshank Redemption.” Same with directors: Barry Jenkins, Steve McQueen, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Bigelow, and the Coen Brothers are at the top of his list.
However, opportunities like those aren’t simply handed to him. “I do get some offers, but I’m always looking to get to the next level,” said Common. “The majority of roles I want, they want other actors for. But I’m always going to fight to prove myself. I’ve always been about earning mine. When I do that, I feel confident, like I belong, because I worked to get there.”
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Of course, Common is a Grammy-winning musician (with three Grammys as well as an Oscar for “Glory,” the theme song for Ava DuVernay’s “Selma”). His most recent studio album, 2014’s “Nobody Smiling,” features up-and-coming musicians from his hometown of Chicago; supporting new talent also informed the 2015 launch of his production company, Freedom Road.
“Truly, one of the most fulfilling things I’ve felt in my career is being a producer and giving other artists the platform to get their work out there,” Common said. “It makes me feel good to watch artists like Lena Waithe, who we’ve been able to partner with, do well.”
Common is an executive producer on Showtime drama “The Chi,” created by fellow Chicago native Waithe. “When I go home to Chicago and I see crews of all kinds, all of them from Chicago — women, people of color, all working in the film industry, who are talented and deserve these jobs,” Common said. “That’s one of the victories I feel in being able to produce. It’s in our mission to provide these opportunities.”
This summer, Freedom Road signed an overall deal with Lionsgate TV to develop series projects. (Common is also featured in Lionsgate franchises “Now You See Me” and “John Wick.”) “We have some projects in the works that deal with legendary artists of the Harlem Renaissance,” Common said. Freedom also teamed with “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” star Yara Shahidi, as well as acclaimed writer Roxane Gay, on individual projects.
“We also are meeting with some folks who are new to Hollywood, but who we believe are incredibly talented,” he said. “That’s where our vision is as a company, to help all these artists help get their voices heard.”
AMBI Distribution released “Here and Now” November 9 in theaters and on demand.