- In a wide-ranging profile, Common told Insider how he began acting after a musical low point.
- The near-EGOT said he's now focused on his acting craft.
- Common, who's dated many celebrities publicly, also revealed he's in a "great partnership" at the moment.
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Common's life and career are in a constant state of evolution.
"As you are on this planet, you can grow and you can evolve and you can do things that can benefit and be fruitful for the planet," he reflected in our virtual meeting room.
The Academy Award winner sat in front of an eggshell-colored wall in an undisclosed location in the United Kingdom. He donned a simple sage-colored crew neck t-shirt, topped with a huge smile. As we acquainted ourselves, I realized that there was no room for formalities. Still, the conversation felt as comfortable as the artist's cotton tee.
Ahead of our interview, I imagined chatting with Common as he sat in the lotus position, burning incense and wearing a knitted kufi hat, a la Common of the early 2000s. I dreamed of a version of Common who was rapping his seminal hip-hop love song, "The Light," a track that sampled "Open Your Eyes" by the late Bobby Caldwell. I hoped for the "Peace, Love and Gap" rapper from the clothing line's holiday campaign. Common, the "conscious" rapper. I was deeply nostalgic, but in reality, the artist traded in his crochet accessories for sleek suits years ago.
"Should I refer to you as Common?" I asked, "or should I be referring to you as Rashid, which do you prefer?"
"Well, you can call me Rashid," he said.
Lonnie Rashid Lynn, known by his stage name Common, was born to his mother Dr. Mahalia Hines, a former educator and principal in the Chicago Public School system, and father, the late Lonnie "Pops" Lynn Jr., a professional basketball player and frequent contributor on Common's albums. A "master of words," in a 2014 interview with the Associated Press, Common credited Pops with being one of his artistic inspirations.
Common is the consummate creative. While his professional career, which spans three decades, started in hip-hop, today the multi-hyphenate is an acclaimed musician, artist, activist, and actor who cut his teeth acting in a school play.
In the fifth grade, Common took on the role of Tiny Tim in "A Christmas Carol." He felt deflated after his performance. "As the story goes, my mother spoke so highly about my friend and how great he was in the play that I kind of lost my fire after," he recalled. From that point on, Common channeled his energy into other creative outlets, later arriving at hip-hop, releasing his first studio album in 1992, "Can I Borrow a Dollar" at 20 years old. He worked to attain mastery of his craft, evidenced through his acclaimed musical works, which included his 2000 album, "Like Water for Chocolate." But it was in the face of a professional low point, that he decided to pursue acting.
Common began acting after a musical low point in his career
Common's fifth studio album, "Electric Circus," was a watershed moment. The 2002 album was too esoteric and the rapper lost support from his core audience.
"Before I might not have gotten a lot of radio play, but the hip-hop community would be like, 'We're rocking with you. This is dope,'" Common reflected. "And with this album, they were like, 'What the hell is this? What are you doing?'"
The album's dicey reception prompted Common to embark on an exploration of sorts. "I went to acting class. I was like, 'I can become an actor,'" he told Insider. "I had the spirit and the soul for it."
Common does not shy away from conversations about spirituality. As a budding actor, a coach once told him an actor can heal audiences through performance. He was intrigued. "It became not only just this thing that I was pursuing, but it became a spiritual quest for me too," he said, "and a journey."
After years of training, in 2005 the actor got his first movie callback for the Joe Carnahan-directed film, "Smokin' Aces." Common has since amassed quite an impressive amount of on-camera credits — in film and television — including his role in Ava DuVerney's "Selma" in which he portrayed civil rights leader, James Bevel. In December 2022, the actor made his Broadway debut.
"'Between Riverside and Crazy' is one of the greatest projects I ever got to be a part of, from the writing to the actors and the production," said the performer, who played Junior in the play, and who is one Tony Award away from the coveted distinction of EGOT.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning play recently received a 2023 Tony Award nomination in the "Best New Play" category. During his Broadway stint, Common worked closely with Stephen McKinley Henderson, who played his onstage father. The Broadway newbie learned much from the veteran Henderson, helping Common assuage his trepidations. "Stephen McKinley Henderson, who was the lead actor in Between Riverside and Crazy, he'd always say, 'Don't try to get it right, get it true.' And at the end of the day, whether it's in movies, plays or TV series, I just want to get it true."
The multi-hyphenate is now starring in Apple TV+'s series, "Silo"
The actor, who admitted that he can't watch his performances inordinately on screen, most recently committed to Apple TV+'s 10-part series, "Silo," which premiered earlier this month. The drama is both dystopian and suspenseful, telling the story of a future civilization living underground. Common plays Sims, a villain who believes that he is protecting the lives and the livelihoods of the citizens of the silo.
"I found my preparation started with me finding who Sims was in this story," said the actor. "Sims definitely has a lot of traits that are not me. And what I mean specifically is he's working for what would be 'the government' in the silo. He is enforcing those laws, for real."
Conversely Common, the activist and individual, tends to "question the establishment," he said.
Sims' storyline picks up in the second half of the series, but don't miss his performance in a monologue during the fifth episode, entitled "The Janitor's Boy." It is absolutely riveting. Both Common's growth and gift, on camera, are evident. This actor has improved his craft.
"I put the work in it because I love it and I want to do it for the rest of my life, just the same way I want to make music for the rest of my life," the actor said. "I love this art form as much as I love music, to be honest."
Common says he loves being in love due to astrology
A true renaissance man, the rapper-actor-producer is both creative and free-spirited. And, as the media has noticed, Common is a lover of love.
"Some people probably would look and say, 'This dude is a loving person. The way that he expresses love. He should be married or in a relationship.'"
Indeed, Common has had his fair share of public relationships — and the media is obsessed. In fact, there are articles that specifically chronicle the 51-year-old's love life. The actor most recently dated comedian Tiffany Haddish, the relationship ending in November 2021. Common said dating celebrities, such as Serena Williams and Erykah Badu, add to the frenzy around his relationships. People start "asking questions," as he put it.
Common attributes his romantic tendencies to astrology. He is born under the zodiac sign of Pisces, which means — if the signs are accurate — that he's a "dreamer and healer," filled with "compassion, imagination, and artistry." Pisces is a fickle sign on the horoscope. Sometimes, he said, "I need to be free-feeling" or single, but then at times it's like, 'Oh man, I'm in love.'"
While Common remains evasive about any specific relationship details, he does share that he's giving love another chance. "I'm in a partnership. I'm in a great partnership. But yeah, that's all I can say," he revealed.
The prominent themes in Common's life — professional, personal, and romantic — are growth, change, and evolution. Common's career decisions are intentional. The roles that he takes on are intentional. He seeks to fulfill his purpose, one that he believes comes from a higher power.
"This has been about finding something that God has given me and being aware of that and being in pursuit of it with all my heart and soul," Common said. "And being humble enough to learn and know that even in achievements, even in awards, even in record sales, even in collaborations or sitting in the studio with your heroes, it's still room for you to grow and be better."
Common in "Silo," now streaming on Apple TV+.