T.I. To Star With Oscar Favorites Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe

Common also featured in Ridley Scott-directed 'American Gangster.'

VAN NUYS, California — When "Gladiator" collaborators Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe team up, it's called an epic. Add Denzel Washington to the mix, and you've got what sounds like an Oscar-worthy recipe.

But stir in rapper/actors T.I. and Common, and suddenly your movie transforms itself into a high-profile school of hard knocks.

"Man, that's my internship into the field," grinned Atlanta's T.I. this week. "Like, I'm just there to learn, man."

The "Why You Wanna" rapper and Chicago MC Common are the newest additions to "American Gangster," a big-budget crime drama moving into production.

Based on a long-gestating screenplay by "Gangs of New York" writer Steven Zaillian, the flick was previously slated to star Benicio Del Toro and Don Cheadle. Earlier this year, the "Scarface"-like flick — about a police detective (Crowe) pursuing a Harlem drug lord (Washington) during the 1970s — was resurrected with Crowe and Washington on board.

"Well, I won't give away too much about the story, the script or the plot, but basically my character is Denzel's nephew, and he has aspirations of playing baseball," Tip said of his "ATL" follow-up role (see "Roll Up! T.I., Atlanta Hip-Hop Luminaries Star In Coming-Of-Age Flick 'ATL' ").

Common, meanwhile, has been cast as Washington's brother, a role that demands a crash-course in the intricacies of a Southern drawl.

T.I. is pumped to be working alongside so many Oscar-pedigreed talents in the film.

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"I heard about the movie and I read the script and got into the same room with ['The Da Vinci Code' mega-producer] Brian Grazer thanks to my wonderful agents," T.I. smiled. "They put me in the room with the right people. We create our opportunities, and we have to prove over and over again that we're worthy of those opportunities.

"It's like I'm going to school and learning from the best in the business," continued the star. "I'm looking forward to ['American Gangster'], and I'm honored."

T.I. has cleared three months of his hectic schedule to shoot the flick in the New York area beginning next week. The suddenly rapper-heavy "Gangster" also stars Wu-Tang Clan beatmaster RZA.

"The hardest part is yet to come," T.I. insisted. "I've still got to go on a movie set with Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and Denzel and hold my own."

Grinning, he added: "It ain't like I'm patting myself on the back yet."

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