Academy Award-winning musician and actor Common (born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr.) hails from Chicago, so it seems logical that he would join the widely popular urban comedy franchise “Barbershop” in its third installment.
Though mostly known for his dramatic roles in films like “American Gangster,” “Wanted” and “Terminator Salvation,” the versatile performer also has a gift for comedy, having appeared in the UPN comedy “Girlfriends” and the big screen comedy “Date Night.” He earned an Oscar statuette for Best Song 2015 for his anthem-like civil rights-inspired song “Glory.”
In “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” the tall, personable actor, who also is a poet, entrepreneur and activist, among his many accomplishments, steps into the Southside Chicago hair cuttery as Rashad, the boyfriend of returning character Terri (played by music artist/actress Eve), who co-owns the barbershop/beauty salon annex with Calvin (played by rapper turned actor Ice Cube). Rashad is deeply in love with Terri, the mother of his child, but is tempted by one of the other hair stylists, the flirtatious Draya (played by Nicki Minaj, another newcomer to the franchise). Will he or won’t he succumb to Draya’s advances is one of the many storylines that runs through this ensemble satire, which also addresses contemporary issues from a wide variety of viewpoints of the opinionated characters that hang out at the shop. Common will appear in this this summer’s highly anticipated “Suicide Squad,” an all star action adventure from director David Ayer, in which he co-stars with Will Smith and Jared Leto.
He spoke recently about the addressing contemporary societal issues through comedy in “Barbershop: The Next Cut.”
Q: Could you talk about the politics of this film, which are so raw and relevant and yet in the middle of it, we are able to laugh. How do you relate to that as a performer?
Common: Being from Chicago, I know that it’s a city that represents America in a lot of ways. It’s blue-collar people. It’s multicultural as much as it is really segregated and this movie is really telling a story about what is really going on in Chicago, but also in a lot of other cities. To be a part of a story that is socially relevant, like not only from the violence, but also how some people feel about our President, and how they feel about relationships.
There are a lot of important social discussions about things that’s talked about that’s fun in how it’s told in the story. The movie is funny. It has a value that you don’t have to be beat over the head with the message. This is the joy of what I get to do as an actor because in some films I don’t get to be a part of discussing so many social issues, but we’re still having fun. I love being a part of it, and I’m grateful that the movie is like this. We’re doing stuff in the community. We were doing promotional things in Chicago for the movie, having town halls and so forth.
Q: You showed both sides of the political aisle in this film.
Common: I was all for the political aspects and social aspects of the film. I know Malcolm (Lee, the director) can get this accomplished. You have to have a director that knew that people have to be entertained. But he also has the sensibility and intelligence to drop those seeds and messages in there, without it being like, “Message! Message! Message!” (He laughs.)
Even though my character had some things to say that were message-y, they were able to make sure that it didn’t come off that way. It’s about being able to thread this in a way that’s entertainment. When I go to the movies, I want to be entertained. I enjoy going to the movies. I’m proud that when we screened this movie in Chicago, people were like, “That movie felt like Chicago. This is us, we see this.” People left the movie like, “We haven’t seen this Chicago in a movie in a long time,” although we filmed it in Atlanta. (He laughs.) But it was written and filmed from a place of truth and heart, and I thought they did a wonderful job.
Q: Rashad is caught in a love triangle and finds himself in a real pickle. I love that scene in the car where you’re like, “Is she asking me to come upstairs?!” That was a great comic moment. Usually, we see you in dramatic roles, so how fun was it to do this comedic stuff, particularly the scenes with Nicki Minaj?
Common: It’s so much fun. This was the most fun times I’ve had, so I hope we do another one. We formed a bond and I learned a lot from these guys, like Cedric (the Entertainer), JB Smoove and Regina (Hall). They were all so funny. At certain times, I just felt like we really were in a barbershop. I felt like we were doing theater. We would go to this same set every day and although it wasn’t the same scene, you were in your same station. I loved the comedic aspects and I loved that my character could have those moments, and at the same time deal with a relationship and fatherhood.
Q: One of the strengths of this film is the anchor of it: Calvin and the personality of Ice Cube. He is the most serious character in the film. How you feel about him? How is it working with him?
Common: It really became a natural thing because Ice Cube is a real good dude. He does keep a straight face a lot. He truly does have leadership quality. He has a good scope on how to make everything good, and he’s willing to give you some support and guidance. I hadn’t been around Cube a lot before this film. Once I saw he was open to try things and was supportive, I saw our characters were able to bond in certain ways. When we had conflict, it worked too. We were two men who had the dynamics of what men could be amongst each other. I feel like he’s a great leader in many ways. He would come over to me and say, “Do your thing. We got you here for a reason.” And that type of support you want to get from the guy that’s making the whole thing go. We were able to get that. So, for me, I do my best just to bring as much of the character to life, and if someone is in the scene with me, we’re going to be in it together. I’m going to give it my all. And he did that same.
Q: Besides a performer, you’re also an activist?
Common: I always wanted to help the community and help people and, at a certain point in my career, I wanted to use my platform to help the youth and people. “Selma” was the first opportunity I got to do it in film because the subject matter allowed us to talk about things as we did press. It convinced me to go and do more. This has been the second movie in my career as an actor that I’ve been really able to go out and do community work in accordance with the movie—whether it’s talking about social issues or talking about the community. We went to Chicago and we presented some things to the Urban Prep Academy, which is an all-black male school that has a 100 percent graduation rate. We went there and spoke to them. We also did a town hall meeting.
For me, “Barbershop” has been a real joy because I’m from Chicago, and I get to go home and do these things. We get to go around the country and deal with real social issues going on right now and talk about it.
Q: Where do you keep your Oscar?
Common: I keep the Oscar in my home, and I’m grateful for it and proud of it.