Whenever rapper-actor Common speaks to children and teens, whether he’s greeting fans or at an official event, the pressure is on.
“I feel like, ‘Let me say something that’s going to inspire them, some words they can walk with the rest of their life,’ ” says Common, who stars in “Luv,” opening Friday. “Because you don’t know when you’re going to have another time.”
Uncle Vincent, Common’s character in the Baltimore-set film, feels the same way. After spending eight years in prison, Vincent, who’s now living with his mother, sets out one day to teach his young nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) how to be a man. The day starts out with discussions about girls, a trip to get Woody a custom-tailored suit and a hilariously halting driving lesson in a parking lot (the 11-year-old can barely see over the wheel), but slowly descends into crime and violence as Vincent encounters obstacles in his pursuit to start a legitimate business.
“Fundamentally, [Vincent] is making small choices that turn into bad decisions,” Common says. “If that’s the world you’re used to, you may have the desire to do better, but sometimes the walls go up even quicker.”
The way Vincent explains things to his nephew, much of being a man is the complete absence of fear, whether Woody is talking to girls, eating his first oyster or firing a gun. “Not showing fear was something I would teach a young person differently than Vincent,” Common says. “Fear is something that I say if you feel it, you have to deal with it and realize that nothing will destroy you, that God’s got you. [Vincent’s] route was a shorter route, to say, ‘You ain’t gotta fear nothing.’ He was teaching what he knew the only way he could teach it.”
Though the film uses a largely African-American cast and an urban setting to examine masculinity, Common says race plays a relatively minor role in Vincent’s definition of manhood.
“I love that the story can be told from the perspective of a black human being, but any human can relate to it,” he says. “It does give people more insight into struggles people can go through, specifically black people, but I remember watching ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and thinking, ‘This is cool — the guy in the story is Indian, but anyone can relate to it.’ Those are the stories I want to be a part of.”