LOS ANGELES — Common is at the top of the Billboard albums chart for the first time in his 15-year career, but now the rapper is setting his sights on a different frontier: Hollywood.
Following up on what many considered to be an exceptional screen debut in the otherwise unexceptional "Smokin' Aces," the Finding Forever rapper is wrapping up work on "Wanted," a buzz-heavy comic book flick that's rapidly becoming one of the most-anticipated non-sequels of 2008 (see "Why Angelina Jolie, Common 'Wanted' To Work With Red-Hot Russian Director").
The famously pacifistic star is once again playing against type — he's taking on the role of the Gunsmith for the flick. "In movies, I'm always playing gun-totin' dudes!" he told us this week.
Regardless of his appreciation for spirituality and social awareness, the hulking hip-hop star's frame fits the Hollywood mold of intimidating hit man. And as anyone who has seen recent Timur Bekmambetov's Russian imports "Day Watch" and "Night Watch" knows, the stylistic director of "Wanted" will keep Common and co-stars Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy and Morgan Freeman from being anything close to typical as he makes his American-movie debut.
"It's a really good story — I think the story's got substance to it, but it's still got great action," he said. "It's gonna be something new, man."
We'd expect nothing less from the mixture of Bekmambetov, this cast and one of the most beloved graphic novels of its generation. Telling the story of a cubicle-slave antihero with more than a passing physical resemblance to Eminem, the story takes off when Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) has his eyes opened to an underground world where villainous assassins — including his recently deceased father — have been given death orders engineering the extinction of superheroes. Taken under the wing of the assassins, Wesley joins the dangerous group that includes the deadly Sloan (Freeman), the lethal Gunsmith and the sexy Fox (Jolie).
"One of the scenes that I'm excited about is a scene that Angelina and I were improv'ing," Common remembered of the shoot, which has taken them from Chicago to Prague to the Czech Republic. "It's a scene where I, the Gunsmith, am instructing James McAvoy's character about shooting, because that's what I do — I'm a master of guns. So I'm telling him to shoot, but during that time [Jolie's character] and I are having a conversation about something else. It was just an improv situation that felt natural and good. I'm excited to see that — I'm excited to see the whole movie, to be honest."
Between all those takes of "Matrix"-like gunplay, Common reported that he and Jolie became good friends and that she's nothing like the tabloids would have us believe. "Angelina was the best — I've gotta tell you," he said, flashing a grin. "She was, like, one of the coolest people I've ever met. I felt like the way she was encouraging me was just really warm and cool, and she brought the family around. I got to meet Brad — everybody was cool, just down-to-earth people there.
"It's good to meet somebody who's such a big superstar who's just so cool," he added, "and really there for a cause."
Bekmambetov, meanwhile, has his own unique Hollywood cause: To create visuals that amaze even the most well-versed blockbuster-movie buffs. From exploding child's toys to end-over-end flipping trucks to trippy voyages into "The Gloom," his "Night Watch"/ "Day Watch" films have done amazing things on miniscule budgets — and Common insists that "Wanted" will continue to get a big bang for the cinematic buck.
"The way this is shot is different," he insisted. "Timur is from Russia. His whole way of shooting is a different approach ... some action movies are just good action, but this has a great story to it. It's got substance to it. Morgan Freeman is in it — that's one of the legendary people in acting. It just has these elements that are gonna make it special."
"The way it feels, and the way the story goes?" Common promised of the March 28 release. "It's gonna blow people's minds."
Check out everything we've got on "Wanted."
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