Rapper Common has spent the last five years gracefully transitioning into a full-time acting career, partially helped by his ongoing role on the AMC Western series “Hell on Wheels,” but with Sheldon Candis’ Luv, he takes center stage playing Vincent, a former prison inmate put in charge of taking his young nephew Woody (newcomer Michael Rainey Jr.) to school. Instead, Vincent decides the boy needs to learn more about the real world so he takes him around Baltimore on a number of his daily errands. The first stop is a bank where Vincent is trying to get a loan for a club he wants to open. When that doesn’t work out, he turns to his former crime boss, Mr. Fish, played by Dennis Haysbert, to get the money, but dubious of Vincent’s loyalty, Mr. Fish tests it by sending Vincent out to take care of some business, essentially dragging Vincent back into the world of crime he’s been trying to avoid, along with his impressionable young nephew.
It’s an impressive debut if only for the caliber of the cast that Candis was able to assemble for such a small budget film, a cast that includes Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lonette McKee and Michael Kenneth Williams. Shot entirely in Candis’ hometown of Baltimore, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and was finally picked up by Indomina Releasing. Before the holidays, ComingSoon.net attended the New York junket for the movie where we got to catch up with Common (who we’ve spoken to a number of times before) and talk briefly to Haysbert and Charles Dutton about their roles in the film.
ComingSoon.net: This is a really great role for you so how did you find out about it and hook up with Sheldon?
CS: Did you wonder who he was going to get to play the kid? It’s pretty much you and Michael the whole movie.
CS: Was he wearing the suit when you met him? That suit is so much a part of his character.
CS: Vincent has an interesting story and I feel it’s fighting against obstaclesthe bank won’t give him a loanbut he’s trying but he ends up having to go back to get his money. It’s a shame but it happens.
CS: Working with Michael, did you have to sugarcoat things or protect him from the material or did you want to really be like Vincent and really show him what the world is like?
CS: The cast he assembled around you was great and you have great scenes with Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover, Michael Kenneth Williams.
CS: I remember when we spoke for “American Gangster,” which was almost exactly five years ago, at that point, you’d done “Smokin’ Aces” but not a lot else as far as acting, but now you have a TV series. How has it been switching over from doing music to being a full-time actor?
CS: “Hell on Wheels” is a great gig for you and I have to say that the only reason I watched the show was because Rod Lurie was posting pictures from the set when he was directing his episode so I decided to check it out. It’s a really good show and I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more attention.
CS: There are a lot of shows that take a couple seasons before they are good, but your show is really strong and I feel it’s been forced to live in the shadow of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” and “Walking Dead.”
CS: Are you going to be able to do any more movie stuff or music in between seasons?
CS: I went to the set of “Now You See Me” at 3 Points, but you weren’t there that day.
CS: Same here. I haven’t seen much of anything other than what we saw on set which was just one scene.
CS: Yeah, I saw it twice, it’s really good.
CS: Yeah, and I just came from the junket. It’s interesting to have “Hell on Wheels” which is a real Western and “Django” which isn’t even trying to be authentic. It’s more like Quentin Tarantino’s take on a Western. Do you enjoy doing the TV show where you stay on one project for a long time to develop the character?
CS: The writers obviously love your character because they really give you great stuff to do.
And here are a few quotes from our interviews with Dennis Haysbert and Charles S. Dutton conducted the same day.
Dutton’s involvement with the film is particularly compelling, first of all because he’s one of the few locals living in Baltimore and he also directed the HBO series “The Corner” there which ultimately led to “The Wire.” Dutton’s own story mirrors that of Vincent in some ways since he spent time in prison before finding a love for acting which ultimately led to him developing the popular TV show “Roc.” It turns out that Dutton’s connections to Baltimore and prison life played a part in him taking on the role of Cofield, one of Vincent’s colleagues who has come on hard times after going against Mr. Fish.
“Sheldon’s uncle was one of my good friends,” he told us early in the interview. “He’s in prison but he’s one of my old running buddies from way back in the 1960s so when I heard this young USG filmmaker was trying to get a hold of me through my agency. I was like, ‘Aw, another young kid with a script. I can’t be bothered. I ain’t doin’ nothing for free no more,’ but then I learned the kid was from Baltimore and I thought, ‘I’ll give him ten minutes.’ Met him in L.A. and a couple things happened. He told me who his uncle was and I’m lookin’ at the kid sayin’, ‘Wait a minute, Vernon was your uncle? Me and your uncle started in reform school together when we were kids.’ Then I saw his short film, his reel. I was so impressed with that. His reel blew me away. I saw a young filmmaker who had a cinematic eye and an eye for detail, then I got his script. I read the script and said, ‘I don’t know what part I can play. It will have to depend on how much time I can give you with my schedule,’ ’cause I was already shooting a film. ‘I might be able to get away for four days, I might not be able to get away for one or two days.’ It was wonderful to help a young filmmaker out who was obviously talented, so it was a labor of love and passion but at the same time, we believed in him.”
Best known for his role as President David Palmer on the series “24,” Dennis Haysbert got the script through more conventional means before meeting with Sheldon to talk about playing the film’s primary bad guy, Mr. Fish. “I think he always had me in mind for Mr. Fish,” he told us. “I figured it would be a good departure from what I normally do.”
He was also compelled to join when he heard Dutton was already attached even though Luv is the second movie in which they both appear without having any scenes together. Oddly, this is only Haysbert’s second film shooting in Baltimore after “Major League II” way back in 1994.
“I’ve known people sort of like Mr. Fish, not really kingpins but people that were maybe at the top of their particular pod, if you will.” Haysbert told us when asked whether he felt his character was taking advantage of Vincent for his own means. “Mr. Fish’s story is a little more complex in that it’s not just Common’s character coming out of jail but his character coming out of jail early, which begs the question, ‘What did he do or say to get out early?’ That’s where any boss’ paranoia comes from because he was one of my closest and best lieutenants and I raised him like a son, so I’m a little curious how he got out so early. ‘What did you say and to whom did you say it?'”
“Common is a hard, hard worker,” Dutton said about the film’s lead. “Having just started getting into the acting side of things, but he’s a really really hard worker and works at the craft. I was really proud of his performance and I really believed every moment that they were uncle and nephew. They even started to look alike in the movie.”
“Working with the cast that he had assembled was very generous,” Haysbert said about working with the first time director. “I think 80% of directing is the casting and I think he cast the film very well with strong actors and actors that are going to be compelling to see together. It was really wonderful to be working with Danny (Glover) as a Michel Corleone (with him as) Fredo with a dash of Sonny in it. That was the challenging to be the boss of your brother and to have that brother be Danny Glover. I’ve known Danny for a while, but this is the first time we’ve ever worked together and then to work together in this capacity was very challenging and entertaining.”
Luv opens in select cities on Friday, January 18.