Common is a Grammy-winning rapper, an Oscar-winning soundtrack contributor, and an increasingly prolific actor. He’s also an athlete, basketball fan, and extremely quick with a sports analogy. And while it was never his intention to become an action star, the 44-year-old Chi-town native says that when he crossed over from music to movies, it was his athleticism that landed him in a steady stream of bullet-riddled thrillers. His first five films: Smokin’ Aces (2006), American Gangster (2007), Street Kings (2008), Wanted (2008), and Terminator Salvation (2009).
Turns out they were all just warm-ups for John Wick: Chapter 2, the new hit sequel that pits Common against Keanu Reeves’s titular dog avenger in the most intensive action the rapper has faced. Common plays Cassian, the bodyguard to an Italian heiress who by Act 2 will have some avenging to do of his own, and inevitably faces off against Wick for an extended round of gun-fu, knife-fighting, and stairway-flight tumbling.
Common told Yahoo Movies about entering the hyper-violent realm of John Wick, how close he came to playing Green Lantern in George Miller’s ill-fated Justice League movie, and more.
Ever since you started acting you’ve got pretty hard with action. Was that always your focus, to be an action star?
No, when I started acting, I wanted to do theater. I wanted to dig into all types of films. I like drama. I like dark comedies. With Smokin’ Aces, there was some action within the story, and I think I fell into that pretty naturally because I’m athletic. I grew up playing basketball and I like physical activity and exercising. I’m coordinated so I can get it done. And I’m a competitor so that nature helped me with action. Since then each one was an experience, but when it comes to fighting and action and technique, [John Wick Chapter 2] was the highest level I’ve experienced to date.
How has your relationship with the genre changed over these films?
I gained a whole new respect for action movies when I got to participate in them. I mean I had already enjoyed them, but [you see] the creativity [involved] in coming up with the sequences and choreography and techniques and new ideas. And it’s also a lot of commitment and dedication, and not easy to execute and deliver.
Were you a big fan of the first John Wick?
Yeah. Watching the first one I had so much fun. I was really into it… So when I was given an opportunity to be a part of the second, I was like, “Man, I gotta do this.” And I wanted to get into that world of fighting and stunts.
Did you petition harder for this role than other movies you’ve gone out for?
Well I mean any film that I go out for I’m going to give 110 percent. But I got on the phone with [director] Chad [Stahelski] to let him that I would really like to do this. And I let him know that I give my heart and soul to everything that I do. And I wanted to work with him on a level where I could not only learn but deliver at a high level as an actor who can do action and do stunts. I let him know that I want to be the Muhammad Ali of this. So I was gonna give my all, give my heart to it, and commit to it, and be a team player. But at the same time I want to be the best.
How many of your own stunts did you do on John Wick 2?
I would say 90, 95 percent of what you see. We did all of the things but at certain points [stuntmen] jump in and do it. But Chad is really adamant about us doing it and being able to do it. I think each actor he chooses, he chooses someone he feels can accomplish what vision he has for the character and [that includes] how that character will be fighting. Or driving, or shooting, or working the knife. It’s like a coach choosing basketball players by position.
Are you constantly staying in “action” shape, even between projects, since you’re doing so many?
No, I mean I do my best to stay in good condition. But the strange part is no matter how conditioned I think I am, when I jumped into training for John Wick, it was next level… As much as I train naturally throughout the week, when it was time to get into these scenes and get into rehearsals, I had to step it up. I had to start eating healthier, get more rest. A little less drinking [laughs].
Have you gotten banged up through all this action?
Nothing too bad. You hurt your bones but nothing broke. You get bruised up. It’s like a player after the game, you gotta ice up and do that stuff. But unless it’s something really bad, you don’t say it. ‘Cause there are dudes out there within the scope of our scene just doing it. You don’t complain about your arm getting bruised up.
You were also in one of the biggest action movies of last year, Suicide Squad — a movie that had its fans but also caught a lot of sharp criticism. How do you look back at that film?
I mean I’m grateful I got to be a part of it. It had a really dope cast, and I love David Ayer. I wish my character didn’t get taken out that quick. He was out quick, Monster T! [laughs] But it was fun to do.
I know that movie was tweaked along the way. Were there scenes of yours left on the cutting room floor?
Nah, we saw it all. They might’ve cut the scene a little bit. They changed a little bit about how he went out, but at the end of the day I was still just in that one scene.
In the midst of all these action roles you also once came really close to playing a superhero. You were cast as Green Lantern in George Miller’s Justice League movie. How close was that to happening?
Yeah, I was cast and we started rehearsals for the film. I went to Australia. I tried on the outfit and everything. It was heartbreaking, but it happened.
So somebody somewhere has photos of you in the Green Lantern costume?
You’re absolutely right.
What was the script like for that film?
The script was super-dope. It was intricate. And knowing George Miller was going to do it, you knew it was going to have that raw edge. But it had Superman, Aquaman, it had all of the characters really involved. Each one of them had moments and you got to know them. It was a strong piece.
I know you’ve said recently you’d still be interested in playing Green Lantern/John Stewart. Think that could happen?
I would love to, I’ll say that. That would be a blessing. That would be incredible to get the opportunity. But that’s up to the studio and DC and those guys to see who they feel is the right person. But it would be an incredible honor and I would be geeked for that character and that role. I would go to the highest with that role.
What do you think you’d bring to the role?
I would bring the humanity of who the person is, and the heart and soul of who John Stewart is, but also the [heroic qualities]. And I definitely think I could deliver when it comes to any of the action and the fighting.
The cast of ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ share their favorite fight scenes: