Light Mode

Alicia Keys & Common: Music Stars Hit the Right Notes as Actors in ‘Smokin’ Aces’

They’ve both been on top of the musical charts for years, but now R&B sensation Alicia Keys and rap artist Common are testing their skills on screen in director Joe Carnahan’s outrageously out-there new film Smokin’ Aces. They sang the secrets of their transition—and their smokin’ chemistry together—to Hollywood.com.

HW: Having stepped out of your comfort zone into a new art form, what did you learn about acting that will inform you now as a musician?
Alicia Keys: I felt that I rediscovered how tremendously close the two worlds are. I grew up in the theater. My mother is an actress. I was always around the world of acting and theater and I was always amazed the way that people would come in looking one way and transform completely to the point where I couldn’t recognize their language and their accent, the way that looked and their hair and their faces even changed in becoming so internal with the character. So I think that I reconnected to the way that that affects me so much when I see a film that moves me in one way or another—either angers me or makes me feel good or saddens me, whatever—and how that connects so much to what I do as an artist as well. The two are very close together, in regards to drawing on your life experience, drawing on something that you understand and transforming it into something that you give to the world or give out in another way. So, for me, it actually confirmed how close they are.
Common: For me I just learned to be a freer artist. I think that it made me more comfortable with myself, actually acting, because I started getting more in tune with myself, doing roles or even just being in a class. That gave me a certain confidence and I started digging into parts of myself that I had probably ignored and don’t really get to express, because Common is an artist that is conscious and is aware and is trying to put a positive energy to the world. So me being able to be acting and doing other things has opened me up as an artist, and I think even more so from a visual standpoint, too, as far as writing goes.

HW: Alicia, we’re assuming you’ve probably gotten many offers in the past to start your movie career. What made you brave enough to go for something as gritty as this not do the cute little love interest role?
AK: Or the singer who happens to play the piano. Well, that was obviously one of my most important things. I didn’t want to play a character that was a reflection of who I am. I also wanted my first film to be something where I was surrounded by an amazing cast. This fit that criteria to the fullest. I wanted to do something that was completely unexpected, totally out of the box, something that would blow people’s minds, that the last thing on the planet earth that they would ever think I would do – this met all of those criteria. It was very exciting and it totally took me out of my element and out of my comfort zone completely and it challenged me in a way that was very rewarding for me.

- Advertisement -

HW: What does acting give you that your music does not?
AK: Well, I personally feel that acting is not so totally different from singing and being a musician. The way that I write a song it’s a memory. It’s a moment in my life, and three years later when I’m on stage signing that same song I have to recall what it was about that moment in my life that made it real for me and bring that back to the moment on stage to make it real for you. To me that is the same technique that I use, in a very basic way, for acting as well. So I find that they’re very similar for me, which is why it’s not such a stretch, such a leap. But what acting does bring that doesn’t come from music is the opportunity—and probably for Common too—to be completely different in every way from who we normally are, the person that you are when you wake up in the morning. That’s the person you are in your life. But to take that and have the opportunity to be the complete opposite of that—as Georgia was, as Ivy was—is the excitement of it. I think that personally allowed me to access places in myself that perhaps I had never accessed before because they are not who I am on a daily basis. So that is the incredible part of it for me and that I love tremendously.
C: I have to agree with Alicia with the acting. For me it’s just another way to express myself as an artist. I had to battle with myself for a minute about wanting to establish myself as an actor, that I wanted to be seen as this rapper/actor. And I realized that if you’re an artist, you’re an artist. You can express that through music, through painting, through photography, through acting. This is just another way for me to express myself. Overall, as far as artistry goes, it is a similar expression. Alicia answered it when she said that you do basically discover other things about yourself that you probably wouldn’t have just writing songs sometimes. That’s what it is.

HW: Alicia, you play a real hard-core badass. How did you go about actually developing your character?
AK: Oh, there was much work that went into, tremendous work that went into developing Georgia in regard to the acting and digging into her. I almost called it therapy for me, because my acting coach dug things out of me as a human being where I was like, “Wow.” But I knew that if I didn’t or wasn’t able to address them there in that room with her, then I would never be able to address them there on that set. So that was intense work for me to do. I physically worked out a lot. That was intense work for me to do. Our gun training was extensive. It was to the point that my hands were cut and bleeding and it hurt very badly, but these were all things that were a part of developing Georgia. I also discussed things with [director] Joe [Carnahan] and Taraji [P. Henson] in a private way of what Georgia’s story was, where she came from, what her life had been like that, why she felt that this was what she had to do and her only option, what it was that drove her to this, what was it about my relationship with men as Georgia that would make me feel these feelings? There were so many just deep discoveries and things that went into pulling Georgia out of my understanding of who I wanted her to be.

HW: Common, having shown such magnetic chemistry on screen with Alicia, do you have any plans to do anything musically together?
C: I’ve been able to come over and rock some shows with her and I was also featured on her unplugged album. We’re artists and I respect her as a woman and as an artist, as a person, and when the time is right we might connect like that. I feel like if she has a song and says, “Common, let’s get on this,” I’ll be down for that, or if I have a song. So I feel that would come naturally like everything else in life.
AK: That’s a beautiful thing because rarely are you able to establish a relationship with a person where you get to know them. You rarely know them. Here though you can call them on the phone and say, “Hey, what’s going on with you? Where’s your head and how is it all with you?” To be able to have that without having to go, “By the way, can we got on this music together real quick.” is amazing. So when we do that it’ll be the friendship. So it’s all good.

HW: Alicia, what kind of character do you play in The Nanny Diaries?
AK: Well, basically her name is Lynette and she is tremendously in every way in every possible crevice different from Georgia which is another reason why I chose to do that film. She is way more bohemian. She is the earth of the movie and is kind of the one person that has sense. I would even be inclined to say that in regard to the worlds in that film which are just chaotic. So it’s a very, very great film. I love it very much. Working with Scarlett [Johansson] was fantastic, and being able to, again, take a character that wasn’t precisely like me and so different from where I just come from was a tremendous experience. That’s what I’d like to continue to do.

- Advertisement -