Entertainment

Talking to Common About Finding Humanity in 'John Wick: Chapter 2'

We caught up with rapper-cum-actor Common to talk about his nuanced role with Keanu Reeves in the gloriously bloody action sequel.

by Layla Halabian
Feb 8 2017, 5:35pm

Two years after his return to the screen as a bonafide action star in John Wick, Keanu Reeves returns as the titular assassin in John Wick: Chapter 2. Picking up where the original left off, Chapter 2 provides a relentless stream of adrenaline, as the taciturn-yet-deadly Wick once again emerges from retirement to embark on a breathtakingly violent murder spree. The mythology of Wickworld is expanded: Audiences are introduced to the High Table—an international council for the world's most fearsome criminal organizations—as well as a marker Wick must repay if he hopes to return to retirement relatively unscathed and outside of a body bag.

Wick's debt sends him to Rome, where he gets ensnared in a power struggle between Italian siblings Santino D'Antonio and Gianna (respectively played by Riccardo Scamarcio and Claudia Gerini). Much to Santino's chagrin, Gianna has a seat at the High Table, prompting her jealous brother to cash in his marker and have Wick do away with her. The shift in power sets off an unforeseen chain of events, leaving Wick with a bounty on his head and vulnerable to network of assassins in what becomes a meticulously orchestrated dance of gun battles, bloodshed, and high-octane absurdity.

Wick's enemies include a ceaseless procession of henchmen, but his most complex adversary in Chapter 2 is Cassian, Gianna's head of security, whose loyalty to his boss continues beyond her demise. Played stoically by rapper-cum-actor Common, Cassian brings a sense of nuance to Wickworld. VICE caught up with Common to chat about what drew him to John Wick, staying political, and the importance of being present. 

VICE: How did you get involved in this project?
Common:
There was some interest in me playing the character Cassian. After I watched the original John Wick, I was like, "Wow, this is a really good movie." I had a conversation with director Chad Stahelski where I let him know that I'm a warrior and how I want to be one of the great fighters, as well as actors, in film. It's a skill to do that, and I knew this world was dealing with a lot of action and fighting. He said I was the right guy for the job, so I was really happy knowing I was going into a world that was going to enhance me with some of the skills I want to bring to film.

How was the training process?
It was the most dedicated, intense, and in-depth process. After all the training—we went through months of training where we went through these different skills we had to learn, whether was jiu- jitsu or knife-fu—you still have to be present. Stahelski is a fighter himself, and if he doesn't like something, he's going to change it on the spot, and you just have to be present and be aware.

In John Wick, you're going with one of the best ever, which is Keanu Reeves. Since The Matrix, we've seen him be one of those dudes who can really accomplish action and gun work. So, for me, I know I was about to be in the land of the best. I already try to eat healthy overall, but it was still a real dedication—putting my mind to it, putting my body to it, putting my heart and spirit to it.

A big part about "being present" is about opening yourself up to whatever happens to come up.
When you get into things, you can start thinking, OK, this is how we planned to do it. But then when you get on the spot, Stahelski may say, "No, this way is better," or he may come up with a completely new idea. That's the one thing I really liked about being a part of this, because I come from a world of improvisation. Whether it's music, or even as an actor, the art of just letting things come out and being present. When you get that in the action world, it's crazy because it becomes more dangerous. If someone changes something on the spot and gives you a five-minute warning and people are tired, you can easily hit somebody with a knife. But I kind of like that rush.

Photo by Niko Tavernise. Courtesy of Lionsgate

The stakes are higher than a dropped joke or a line.
In the scope of things, you're really working with some tough warriors. Ain't no whining about it. When I saw Keanu with injuries and still going in despite how many fights he had to do, I was like, "I can't complain if it's cold, I can't complain about nothing!" He has something that's really samurai about him. He's centered, calm, but there's also a wild beast in there. He has both worlds.

What drew you to the script besides the action opportunities?
I do love this world John Wick creates. It's a world that's fun and has intensity, but doesn't take itself too seriously. It can make jokes about itself. It's the energy I love that was created in the first John Wick. When I read the script for the sequel, I saw they were getting deeper into this world and dealing with other characters. With John, you see this human being who is trying to find his new place in life. You see that he doesn't want to be out there fighting, but he's drawn to what he has to do and has a certain honor. 

I also liked that we were going to Italy. I loved that my character was speaking Italian. I love that you were getting deeper into the world of these assassins and learning the codes, the ethics, and the rules. 

It's always enjoyable when fictional worlds get fleshed out. Did you do any reading or watching to prepare for the role?
I was really focused on who this character was. Who is Cassian? If you just took the character description, he's the head of security for one of the bosses. But I had to develop more of a history for him, like his relationship to John Wick and toward the people who he was dealing with so that you could feel his humanity. I also did some research into Italian culture since it's in that world and because I was speaking Italian. It was a lot of fun because I felt like I had a little grasp on the language for a little while when I came back to the States. You know, I had more romance to me. [Laughs]

We're living in an extremely tense and frightening time in US history. How can people politicize their everyday actions toward making change?
I think change begins with the perspective you have on things. A lot of people felt we're in a discombobulated energy, but our individual energy can help change the world energy. I think when you get a grasp on that and know that the power that you have as an individual is connected to the creator and all human beings, you can find things that you're passionate about changing. If I'm able to affect you, you might go out and affect ten other people with positivity. You can do change in the world on that level. Also on the same token, finding things that you see injustices in like education, the prison system, or women's rights. It's finding things you identify with or feel passionate about and finding ways that you can change those things. The world has been through struggles before. This might be a unique time in its own way, but the world has dealt with hatred, with bigotry, with rulers who are not prepared to be great rulers. We just have to find the humanity in one another. Marches are beautiful steps. That solidarity is something. When we look at the footage of the March on Washington and Dr. King and all those protests, to know that you were in that crowd is a statement. It's bigger than us as individuals.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 is in theaters Friday, February 10.