Common Talks Mentoring Filmmakers: 'One of My Biggest Rewards Is to Help Other Visionaries’ (Exclusive)

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Common at CMT event
John Shearer/Getty Images for CMT

Common has found the reward in paying it forward. 

ET caught up with the Oscar-winning rapper and actor during AT&T’s Hello Lab Mentorship film event at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California, last Friday, where he dished on helping "visionaries and artists be heard."

I think one of my biggest rewards is to help other visionaries and artists be heard, to give them opportunities and platforms,” he told ET. “That’s been some of the most fulfilling things that I’ve been able to do in my life.”

AT&T’s Hello Lab linked aspiring filmmakers Gabrielle Shepherd, Matthew Castellanos, Neil Paik, Sara Shaw, and Nefertiti Nguvbu with entertainment industry mentors including Common, Octavia Spencer, Dope director Rick Famuyima, Fruitvale producer Nina Yang Bongiovi and actress-director Desiree Akhavan.

The night’s event debuted five never-before-seen short films helmed by the mentees, all of whom hail from diverse backgrounds. The films, Candid, The Lost, Tooth & Nail, The Last Two Lovers at the End of the World, and Yoshua, are currently streaming on Direct TV NOW. 

Common mentored Nguvbu on The Last Two Lovers at the End of the World, with help from a “team of producers” from his Freedom Road production company who were “hands-on with trying to make sure” that her vision for the project came to life. 

“I’m the type of co-creator or producer that [wants] the artist to have their vision,” he noted. “I’ve signed to labels, I’ve worked with networks and different things, so I know how important it is when an artist can get their visions out and still have support.”

The Chicago native also praised AT&T Hello Lab for its diversity. “To actually focus and say we’re going to give women, people of color, and the LGBT community visionaries opportunities, is walking the walk, and I love to see the results,” he noted.

Besides fostering budding talent, the 45-year-old actor is also executive producing The Chi, the upcoming Showtime series from Emmy winner and fellow Windy City native Lena Waithe. 

The drama chronicles Chicagoans who are “managing to exist even amongst the violence, poverty, and the things that strike every inner city." 

“But you get to see the joy that exists there, you get to see the community, the music, the fun,” said Common. “You get to see human beings living their lives and how these lives are interconnected. You get to laugh with them and cry with them and fear for them, but also see their courage and strength.”

“It’s just a real good look into black life from Chicago in a way that’s so universal and humane that I don’t care what color you are, you’ll get to connect with it,” he added.

In addition to working behind the scenes, Common makes a “cameo” on the show, appearing in three episodes as an imam of a local mosque. “I really enjoyed it, but this is about Lena [Waithe's] vision and her artistry and brilliance,” he gushed. “This is about the talented actors [in the cast], from Jason Mitchell to Ntare [Mwine]. The world doesn't know their names, but they will. It’s about being able to give Chicago actors, light directors, location scouts, makeup artists, people from my city, an opportunity. It’s really fulfilling.”

While speaking to the need for inclusion and representation, Common went on to share his thoughts on women and men opening up about sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, and beyond. The last two months alone have seen allegations brought against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Brett Ratner, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, among other powerful men.

“I think anybody who experienced abuse or harassment deserves to be heard,” he said of women and men vocalizing their experiences. “I believe that a change in the shift in the culture of men and women and sexual abuse -- and anybody that’s being abused or harassed -- the change in that culture, the cleansing, needed to happen. And it’s happening.”

Despite knowing Simmons for several years, Common's opinion on confronting harassment and abuse doesn't change based on who is involved. His “compassion and empathy" lies with anyone who has been "victimized."

“I don’t know Russell’s situation, so I can’t speak specifically to Russell, but if it’s somebody that I know and they are caught in a situation like that, if they did wrong I’m going to tell them they did wrong,” Common said, detailing how he would approach the situation. “I’m not going to say ‘go to hell.’ It’s going to be like, 'This isn't right, and you have to correct it.’ We all have issues, but that issue is something that you have to address. And if a friend did that, I’m going to tell him 'This isn’t acceptable.' I don’t care who it is.” 

“Any family member, somebody I love dearly, you have to be able to tell someone that you love dearly that they did wrong,” he continued. “That’s what standing up is about. Standing up against the natural opposition that you know everybody else is standing up against, that’s good. But to able to stand up in a situation when your life could be in jeopardy, your career could be in jeopardy, going against somebody you care about? That’s standing up.”

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