R & B Grammy winning sensation Alicia Keys and hip hop artist Common star in their first movie ever–Universal Pictures’ new action-comedy Smokin’ Aces, written and directed by Joe Carnahan. The film is a kick ass vivacity flick featuring an all-star cast, including Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven and Ryan Reynolds. Smokin’ Aces will leave you on the edge of your seat enthralled in the intense action scenes.
The story is centered around Buddy “Aces” Israel (Piven), a shady Las Vegas magician who once ran with the mob and is about to sell them out to save himself from a lifetime in prison. His former mob boss puts a high stakes hit on him and every thug, psycho assassin and hardcore hit man is trying to be the one to take him out and collect their $1,000,000 pay check.
ComingSoon.net talked to Piven, Reynolds, Keys, Common and actor Nestor Carbonell about starring in the film:
ComingSoon.net: You’ve probably gotten offers in the past to start a movie career before. What made you brave enough to say that you weren’t going to do the cute little housewife or a cute little love interest role, and go for something as gritty as this kick ass role?
Alicia Keys: Or the singer who happens to play the piano. Well, that was obviously one of my most important things. I did not want to play a character that was a reflection of who I am. I also wanted my first film to be something where I was surrounded by an amazing cast. This fit that criteria to the fullest. I wanted to do something that was completely unexpected, totally out of the box, something that would blow people’s minds, the last thing on the planet earth that they would ever think I would do would be this met that criteria as well. It was very exciting and it totally took me out of my element and out of my comfort zone completely and it challenged me in a way that was very rewarding for me.
CS: When you talk about going out of your comfort zone, what did you learn about acting that will inform you now as an artist and vocalist, and the same for you Common?
Common: For me I just learned to be a freer artist. I think that it made me more comfortable with myself, actually acting, because I started getting more in tune with him, by doing roles or even just being in a class and being around people. That gave me a certain confidence and I started digging into parts of myself that I had probably ignored and don’t really get to express because Common is an artist that is conscious and is aware and is trying to put a positive energy to the world. So, me being able to be acting and doing other things has opened me as an artist, and I think even more from a visual standpoint too as far as writing goes.
Keys: I felt that I rediscovered how tremendously close the two worlds are. I grew up in the theater. My mother is an actress. I was always around the world of acting and theater and I was always amazed the way that people would come in looking one way and transform completely to the point where I couldn’t recognize their language and their accent, the way that looked and their hair and their faces even changed in becoming so inside of the character. So, I think that I reconnected to the way that that affects me so much when I see a film that moves me in one way or another, either angers me or makes me feel good or saddens me whatever and how that connects so much to what I do as an artist as well. The two are very close together in regards to drawing on your life experience, drawing on something that you understand and transforming it into something that you give to the world or give out in another way. So, for me, it actually confirmed how close they are for me.
CS: This movie is violent. Was there any apprehension in playing a role where you’d actually have to shoot a gun, and how did you go about actually developing your character?
Keys: Oh, there was much work that went into, tremendous work that went into developing Georgia in regard to the acting and digging into her. When I was with my coach I almost called it therapy for me because she dug things out of me as a human being where I was like, “Wow.” But I knew that if I didn’t or wasn’t able to address them there in that room with her then I would never be able to address them there on that set. So that was intense work for me to do. I physically worked out tremendously. That was intense work for me to do. Our gun training was extensive to the point that my hands were cut and bleeding and it hurt very badly, but these were all things that were a part of developing Georgia to discussing with Joe [Carnahan] and Taraji [P. Henson] in a private way of what Georgia’s story was, where did she come from, what her life had been like that, why did she feel that this was what she had to do and her only option, what it was that drove her to this, what was it about my relationship with men as Georgia that would make me feel these feelings? So many just deep discoveries and things that went into pulling Georgia out of my understanding of who I wanted her to be.
CS: Jeremy and Common, Joe Carnahan talked about how you guys formed a bond off the set. Can you talk about how you started with that bond and how it developed while you were working together? And you guys have stayed friends since because I know Jeremy, you’re constantly talking about Common.
Jeremy Piven: Absolutely, to the point where I think I’m stalking him. It’s actually awkward for him. No. The synchronicity is pretty heavy. I mean, literally the other day I pulled up to a stop light and I looked next to me and there he was and that doesn’t even happen. I can’t find anyone in this town ever. I met him backstage before his show, yet again me stalking him. He has this kind of poetic energy that’s very soulful and peaceful and yet I saw like this element of danger. He would kind of kick the stool, like he had this moment, and he was so theatrical in his presence and his cadence as a rapper is so similar to human speech when you’re in front of the camera. It was almost there anyway, and then the duality that he has as an artist. I felt something that you couldn’t direct or teach someone to do, and so I knew and thought that he could do it probably before he even had it confirmed himself. I just called Joe immediately and said, “This guy is just so perfect.” He had already auditioned and was the front runner and was killing it and I saw the auditions and it was really clear there anyway. So the synchronicity was kind of amazing and then we had this Gap campaign together and this is one of those things where they didn’t know about our movie, and suddenly we’re on the sides of buildings together which is kind of ridiculous anyway.
Ryan Reynolds: They’re actually holding hands under the table.
Piven: Yeah [laughs]. There is something that we need to tell you all. No.
Common: Easy, easy, easy.
Piven: No, no, no.
Common: I’m a rap artist [laughs].
Piven: I single-handedly killed his career. No one wins. No. We just kind of connected. We’re both from Chicago and are kind of kindred spirits. Immediately I felt very comfortable with him and it was almost as if we went to high school together or something. There was a kind of shorthand that we had. I think that both of them are superstars in this arena and then they come to a new arena and yet they’re kind of students and were very open to the whole process which says a lot about them as human beings and this is a reason why they’re such great artists because it’s a collaborative medium and they kind of get that. It’s so fun to do this process because he’s kind of doing this for the first time and so I kind of get renewed about it as well. This is kind of an exciting time for all of us and the cast is so completely eclectic and everyone is so strong except for Ryan [Reynolds], and God bless him.
Piven: No, you’ll get there, man.
Reynolds: I know. I’m holding her hand.
Piven: No. There’s not a weak link in this thing. I was really, really proud watching this film that’s a true ensemble piece. Everyone is really strong. I didn’t mean to take up all the time.
CS: Ryan and Nestor, these characters are a bit different from what you’ve done in the past. Can you talk about what drew you to the project?
Reynolds: Well, yeah, I’ve certainly never been in a movie that’s had this unique brand of unblinking violence before. So that’s sort of new for me. But it’s like any other role. You tackle it in the same way and you try to find the truth to it and I was really caught with this guy who was trapped in this bureaucratic FBI cluster-f**k, for lack of a better word, and because of that loses someone that is very dear to him. So for me it was just playing the truth of that the whole time and I was sort of alone throughout the movie because my character is sort of a rogue player and he kind of arrives to the party a little late and in doing so I didn’t establish the special friendships that people seem to have made here [laughs]. But when all is said and done it was great and I’m also just a huge fan of Joe Carnahan. He’s such a charismatic individual and someone that just applies every part of himself to the project that he’s in. So it was great for me.
Carbonell: Well, for me, like Ryan said, Joe is such an enormous talent. If you watch “Narc,” it’s amazing to see how incredibly talented he is in that particular genre which was just a drama, and then to come around and do a follow up, second picture that is such a tonally different kind of movie this being a dark action comedy and every character, as Jeremy said, has a moment, has a sort of epiphany. Even though it’s incredibly violent there’s a real moment of clarity for characters and as dark and as depraved as some of the characters, which mine certainly is, we all have a sort of moment of lightness. I think that the reason the movie works so well is because the violence is so well balanced with the comedy. On my first day I got to take a blow torch to a man’s genitals which was only funny when I saw it onscreen, but I mean, how often do you get to play something as dark as that and still make it funny. So, for me, it was just a dream to get this job and to be able to work with this phenomenal cast.
CS: Ryan, your character is one of the only ones sort of emotionally affected by the violence going on. Everyone else seems to be cooler and even happy about it. Were there conversations about that perspective?
Reynolds: No. That was just part of the story. I mean, he was the guy that was deeply affected emotionally by it, deeply and through the ringer by the end of this adventure. So, it was the focal point for me as the character. The climax for the character of Messner was the reason to do this movie, to really get inside of that guy and find out what made him tick. For me I haven’t done a lot of films where I had to jump into something in this way. So, it was the least amount of me that I usually put in and oddly enough the most. It was the most effort and a departure from anything that I’ve been comfortable in, any sort of wheel house that I’ve established.
CS: Jeremy, I was wondering how long it took you to learn all those tricks and if you worked with a magician to learn them? Also, it’s a very emotional film for you, all of your scenes. Can you just go in and out of that easily or do you stay in that mode for the whole day?
Piven: That’s an excellent question. Paul Wilson was the guy that I worked with for the magic and the thing that he said that was the most important was to actually pull a trick off in front of people and he was absolutely right. I went with Common and Joe, Ryan wasn’t invited, but anyway went to the Magic Castle [laughs] and we got up there and I actually did a trick. It is addicting. It really is. I’ve been on the stage my entire life as an actor and it’s a kind of another level where you pull this thing off and then to look in people’s faces that are completely freaked out by something I could see why you could dedicate your life to that as I did to the stage, and so that was really informative for me. I had never really been around cards. I wasn’t that guy and so I really had to work kind of extra hard and always have them in my hand, and they’re kind of like worry beads for the character that I kind of incorporated. So that was really great, to always have them in my hand. What was the other question?
CS: The emotion that your scenes had with the drugs and all of it. How did you deal with that?
Piven: Yeah. That’s just what you live for as an actor, to get there. Joe said to me when we met on this role, “Do you want to go deep?” I mean, I’ve waited my entire life for that moment. I had been doing it onstage in Chicago for a couple of hundred people and so I always knew that I have an emotional instrument and I’m accessible in that way and a big cry baby, to be honest with you. So, I knew that I could tap into that. Also, even though a character like that is far from my experience there are a lot of metaphors there when you have a guy like that that’s looking at himself in the mirror and wondering who he is and if he’s a charlatan and what’s happened to his life. I think that any one of us have had moments where we question ourselves. So these things are not too far from something that we can get into touch with and you just have to kind of make it real and go to that place. We had a moment where I had to get really, really emotional and I wasn’t quite clicking in the way that I wanted to do. Joe asked me to put this little kind of twist into it that threw me off balance for a little bit and so I had to call upon some other stuff. It all sounds really cryptic what I’m saying here, but anyway I kind of connected on a very deep level that ends up being in the movie. I knew that it worked because I talked to Common afterwards and he said that he was in the other room and he felt something through the wall.
Common: Yeah, I remember that.
Piven: So it was like, “Okay then.” It was confirmed that I was sort of onto something. So the whole thing was just a complete gift and Joe and I knew that if you didn’t care about this guy, if he had no heart when everyone was trying to kill him and extract his heart or put him on ice for the money, whatever their motivations were everyone was converging on this hotel room and if you didn’t care about this character, if he didn’t have some potential as a human being and if it wasn’t a tragedy then all the hard work that everyone puts into it wouldn’t mean as much because you needed to have that central character be tragic. It was just an honor to be able to kind of live fully through that guy.
CS: Alicia, what kind of character do you play in “The Nanny Diaries?’
Keys: Well, basically her name is Lynette and she is tremendously in every way in every possible crevice different from Georgia which is another reason why I chose to do that film. She is way more bohemian. She is like the earth of the movie and is kind of the one person that has sense. I would even be inclined to say that in regard to the worlds that are described are just chaotic. So it’s a very, very great film. I love it very much. Scarlett [Johansson], again working with Scarlett was fantastic, and being able to, again, take a character that wasn’t precisely like me but still so different from where I just came was a tremendous experience. That’s what I want to continue to do.
CS: Jeremy, you’ve had a great year. Do you have a goal or a vision for your future, are you on a track of things that you want to achieve?
Piven: I never really got off too far ahead of myself, but there is a lot of stuff out there. For so much of my career I’ve been trying to find little things and make something out of it. This is one of those gems, this role. It’s the best role that I’ve ever had in my life and was just a true gift to be here with this cast and to have Joe be at the helm was magical, no pun intended. As far as the rest of it, I started a company and I’m producing some stuff right now and got the rights to some stuff and I wrote a script and I’ve been whispering in directors’ ears for a really long time I’d love to direct. I know that everyone says that, but it’s true for me. I just think that it’s a really collaborative form and I want to continue on with that. I’d love to get the girl in something if that’s possible. How about that?
CS: Do you have any musical aspirations now since working with Common?
Keys: Yeah, he has an album coming out.
Piven: Easy, easy. I have been drumming my whole life, and so that’s just really, really fun to me. So I would love to get onstage and mix it up someday with these five people live somewhere. You never know. It could happen. Stranger things have happened.
Smokin’ Aces opens January 26th.