Our cover gentlemen may have killer credentials, but neither has mass murdered the box office…yet. Running and gunning together in Wanted, the two are finally shooting for the stars. Duck down!
At one point or another in your younger days—possibly while playing Sega or watching Robotech—you bit into a Kudos bar and thought... What the hell do Kudos have to do with granola?
James McAvoy and Common, two talents well familiar with critical accolades know the answer: Kudos are good for you and they’ll satisfy your hunger, but they’re not sugary sweet.
But this summer, all that is set to change thanks to Wanted, the cinematic adaptation of Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’s graphic novel of the same name. Rife with guns, sex, violence, more guns, and then some bigger guns just in case, Wanted is a criminally minded epic that tells the tale of Wesley Gibson (portrayed by McAvoy, despite originally bearing an uncanny resemblance to Eminem in the comic), a pencil-pushing corporate cog who discovers innate superpowers that make him an ideal assassin. He links with a guild of like-minded individuals, including Fox (Angelina Jolie) and the Gunsmith (Common). Needless to say, mayhem ensues and mad blood doth spill. But in the meantime, Complex caught up with the critical darlings to discuss nihilism, superpowers, and Common’s beef with white boys on the Bulls.
What do you feel is the value of nihilistic art, whether in hip-hop or movies?
Common: Well, I gotta learn what “nihilistic” means.
Someone or something who doesn’t believe in anything, rejects all moral conventions…
James McAvoy: No hope.
The killer is a nihilist.
James McAvoy: The character, to be honest with you, is less nihilistic. He doesn’t kill indiscriminately, it’s fate telling him to do it. It’s not the same, really—I don’t think I would have gotten involved if it was, to tell you the truth.
Common: I’m an advocate for hope and I always feel like there’s hope; I don’t know why, that’s just what I believe. I don’t know if it’s my spiritual belief that makes me know it’s always hope, but I definitely didn’t feel that Wanted left no hope.
Did you trip out on your character looking like Eminem?
James McAvoy: No, not at all. If anything, it made me want to do my own thing with it. Because casting Eminem—there’s just no point in going that way. So we talked about cutting my hair off and dying it bleach-blond, but I was like, “That’s never gonna happen.” ’Cause we’re not doing an impression of Eminem.
Was it more fun to film in Chicago or the Czech Republic?
James McAvoy: Chicago is a fun town, but we weren’t there for long and it was all night shoots. In Prague...
Common: Prague, dude, I had a good time. It was one of the funnest times of my life. Just hanging out, filming, working, and relaxing; I sat by the river, looked at the bridge, and drank wine. We’d go out...
James McAvoy: Sangria. [Laughs.]
Common: [Laughs.] Yeah, drinkin’ sangria, just kickin’ it. We even went go-karting.
If you were given mega-strength in real life, along with a crew of people who would cover all your tracks, would you do good or bad?
James McAvoy: I’m sure I’d do something that wasn’t very good. I hope I’d be a good enough person not to fuck up too much. Power corrupts, though, it really does.
Common: [Laughs.] We all misuse power at some point or another. Some of the times I get power, I see myself misusing it. If I had powers, I would do my best to do right in the world, but like James says, you’re gonna mess up a little bit, do something sneaky. But overall you just wanna do right. That’s what life is.
What kind of superpower would you want?
James McAvoy: Do you know, man?
Common: Yeah, I think I would want to be able to create anything with my mind, so if I visualize it, I can create it. So that means I can do a lot of shit.
James McAvoy: Cool, man. I think time travel or teleportation, that kind of thing.
I would want to be able to talk to animals like Dr. Dolittle. They could do my bidding.
James McAvoy: Nice.
If you could talk to animals, what would you have them do, or do with them?
James McAvoy: I would become the most fucking kick-ass animal wrangler in Hollywood. [Both laugh.] “Pick up that cigar, light it, and put it in Rashid’s mouth.” [Both laugh.]
Common: For me, I don’t know what I would have ’em do, but I would want to be amongst the lions. I don’t know if it’s hunting or whatever, but I’ve always wanted to be a lion, like that kingly attack. They’re beautiful, too; panthers and stuff are beautiful too.
James, how has being a classically trained actor helped or hindered you?
James McAvoy: I don’t think it’s hurt me—sometimes it would have been easier just to think of it as my job, just turn up and say my lines.
Common, you have training as well?
Common: Once I knew I wanted to start getting into it, I took some classes and I loved it. That’s what made me want to do movies because my first class I was like, “Man! This is a good feeling, getting to express myself like that.” So I can say the classes have helped me to become more confident and comfortable. And I was just excited to work with James. I seen James in Last King of Scotland, I’m one of them people like, if I see somebody and I think they got something, I become a fan and follow they stuff. So when I seen James, after that, what was that movie you did with “ten?”
James McAvoy: Starter for 10? I can’t believe you watched that.
Common: [Laughs.] I wanted to see that just because I liked James. So I was excited to work with him. Going back to the whole classical training, whatever he was bringing was just right, and he’s like that in every movie I seen him do.
James McAvoy: Thank you, man.
Common: So whatever training is going on, it’s right. [Laughs.] You can learn some things through training, but there’s a certain natural quality that God gives you and that’s what I saw in James that made me go, “All right, he got that thing that make you wanna watch him.” You wanna watch James. I’m just tellin’ the truth.
James McAvoy: I should leave the room and do something about the raging erection I now have. [Both laugh.]
James McAvoy: Thank you, man. That’s really kind of you.
Common: I’m very serious.
How does acting compare to being an MC?
Common: Ah, man, there’s some similarities as far as just you know, expression, it’s still an art—MCing is an art. With acting, the difference is you have to channel somebody else’s spirit even though you’re not the writer, so you got certain guidelines that you need to go by, ’cause you part of a story. I definitely can say MCing has helped me as far as improv. I’m not afraid to go on naturally what’s happening. ’Cause I’ve learned through performing just, through any situation, keep rockin’!
Do you know of some MCs who are great actors? Studio gangsters, maybe?
Common: There’s a lot of people out there who exaggerate their lifestyle. My father said to me, some of the best actors he know is them cats on the streets, those hustlin’ cats you know? If you wanna know an actor who comes from music who is a great actor, I’d have to say Mos Def.
James McAvoy: He’s great, isn’t he? You know what I think helps as well, mate, is that you can learn lots of techniques and tricks and you can get experience doing different types of theater and different types of film, different genres, but if you’re not open, you can’t communicate. That’s what I love about you, you’re so open as a person. On set, as well as an actor, I think you’re incredibly open. It must be MCing that’s done that for you, but like you said, it’s also something you’re just born with.
Do you listen to hip-hop, James?
James McAvoy: I don’t really, I do like Common’s stuff, though. I really, really like it, and I didn’t know it before we got together on the film. I think it’s exactly what you were talking about, so hopeful.
Common: Thank you, man. You know, I actually feel good that James wasn’t familiar with my work and I got to introduce it to him. You know I’ve been rapping for a long time...
James McAvoy: Have you?
Common: Yeah, there’s still new ground to gain.
Which album did you give him?
James McAvoy: It was your latest one, wasn’t it?
Common: I think I gave him either Be or Like Water for Chocolate.
James McAvoy: It was Be. Hip-hop’s not particularly huge in Scotland, although my little sister, Joy, was in a hip-hop group called Streetwise, which is kind of strange, to be a Scottish girl in a hip-hop group. But I’m quite glad I’ve been introduced to it properly.
We gotta get you Resurrection.
Photographs by James Dimmock