CHICAGO — Common performed during a high school basketball all-star game last month (the Jordan Brand Classic in New York), but he never played in one when he attended Luther High School South on Chicago’s South Side.
He was a ball boy for the Bulls, but that’s as close as he would come to being a member of an NBA team.
And yet, the 6-foot-tall rapper relates to the NBA superstar he plays in “Just Wright,” which opens in theaters May 14, better than he did to any of his other film roles.
For one thing, he’s not a gun-toting tough guy in “Just Wright,” as opposed to just about every movie he has been in lately — he was a detective in “Date Night,” a soldier in “Terminator Salvation” and a weapons expert in “Wanted.” For another, he says he and his “Just Wright” character, Scott McKnight, share several qualities.
“Because some of his characteristics are similar to mine, some things came naturally for me,” said Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.
“He has a lot of love for his mom, he’s in a field where popularity comes to you, and he’s definitely a sensitive guy.”
Apparently the basketball scenes came naturally as well.
During an interview ahead of the Chicago premiere of “Just Wright” last Wednesday, Common recalled being complimented on his game by a former NBA Finals MVP, discussed what would’ve happened to his basketball career if he had never been injured and talked about the time he hung out at the White House.
Q. Your movie is a romantic comedy but also a basketball film. What have NBA players been telling you about the film?
A. I’ve had some NBA guys come up to me and say, “I want to see your game now.” To see them recognize me as a ballplayer is cool. Even Dwyane Wade said he’s seen a lot of basketball in movies, but this is the most authentic because of my game.
Q. How good of a high school player were you?
A. I got injured my sophomore year and couldn’t play for a while. It wasn’t a big injury. My eye got scratched. But I had to wear shades for a couple months. That led me into making music almost full time.
Q. What would have happened if you didn’t get your eye scratched?
A. I’m in the NBA (laughs). I would be one of the basketball players playing a basketball player in this movie.
Q. The film features cameos from Wade, Dwight Howard and Elton Brand. Did you personally call these guys to get them to appear in the movie?
A. I called some of them. Dwyane Wade was at the top of our list, so was Dwight Howard and, of course, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. A lot of players were interested, but some were out of the country, including Chris Paul.
Q. Did you give any advice to Wade and Howard when they were filming their scenes?
A. Those dudes are naturals. They came in and knocked their scenes out quicker than I did. And I leave that stuff up to the director. I know coming from that situation, you have some nerves and don’t want a lot of people telling you what to do. You want to have confidence.
Q. Are there any acting techniques you’ve picked up from the actors you’ve worked with?
A. More than anything, come in and be prepared and try different things. I always thought acting was like, you got lines and (you) do it. But you can change scenes right then and there. That freedom is what I learned most from the actors I’ve worked with. People like Denzel Washington, Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, (Queen) Latifah.
Q. How disappointed are you that the “Justice League” movie you were attached to never happened?
A. I would love to play the Green Lantern. I love that character, John Stewart. But the movie never happened because of the writers’ strike. They put a halt on it and then decided not to do it. They’re doing Green Lantern now, but it’ll be with the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan (to be played by Ryan Reynolds).