By Leah Greenblatt
April 15, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Adela Loconte/WireImage
  • Movie

Common is known for roles ranging from epic dramas (American Gangster) to wham-bam action (Wanted, Terminator Salvation, Run All Night) and fizzy comedies (Date Night, New Year’s Eve, Just Wright). But the famously clean-pated star is getting a new kind of buzz from his role as a barber in Barbershop 3: The Next Cut (out Friday).

The award-winning actor and rapper, 44, joins the likes of regulars Ice Cube, Eve, Anthony Anderson, and Cedric the Entertainer onscreen, each reprising their earlier roles in the long-running comedy franchise — and he isn’t the only fresh addition to Cut; Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man, Roll Bounce) is directing an installment for the first time, and new cast members Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Regina Hall, and New Girl‘s Lamorne Morris have also come onboard.

Another change: Though the story retains the lighthearted humor the previous films were known for, it also brings in a new and very topical kind of social consciousness. “It wouldn’t be right if we did a story dealing with Chicago and didn’t really deal with the truth of what’s happening in the community,” the South Side native says. “The real issues were in constant evolution too, so we would address them as they came about.”

Here, he talks to EW about jumping onboard, finding balance in a tricky role — and yes, making out with Nicki Minaj.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you talk a little bit about how you got involved in the movie?

COMMON: My agent reached out, and I was really intrigued because I knew that Malcolm Lee was directing and I knew that Kenya [Barris] and Tracy [Oliver] from Blackish wrote the script. And also some of the new additions acting-wise — JB Smoove, Lamorne Morris, Deon Cole, Nicki Minaj — so it was interesting to see what that could be.

But then what really got me was when I read the script. It had a heart that I really love. I love when movies make you feel emotional, and then you leave feeling good. And I just felt connected to the story in many ways — like, being from Chicago and how I feel about doing our best as a community to come together.

The movie feels much more overtly about current events than the previous ones — it addresses the killings of Trayvon Martin and Freddie Grey and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the recent surge of violence and political wrangling in Chicago is really central to the plot. Did the script have to evolve while you were shooting to reflect the news as it happened?

It was truly a work in progress. Unfortunately the problem with violence has been continuing and it’s been really tough, this was one of the worst years. So that’s an ongoing problem that was already in the story, and I think the reason the movie really resonated as far as the script is that they did approach it from an authentic place — a place that is really relevant and happening, and some people in America know that and some people don’t.

It would be — not ignorant, but it wouldn’t be right if we did a story dealing with Chicago and didn’t really deal with the truth of what’s happening in the community. And I think we had to keep it relevant and keep updating what was going on. Like, the shooting in South Carolina happened in that church while we were filming and that’s why my character talks about it. That happened that week and we just put that in.

There are also plenty of lighter jokes about Nicki’s outfits and Instagram culture and why Lamorne’s character is like, the world’s oldest virgin. Was there any struggle to balance those elements with the more serious stuff?

At times I would say to Malcolm, “Is my character being too preachy, too message-y? You know, that guy has always got to message.” [Laughs] I didn’t want my character to have only that dimension. But I gotta say, we put our trust in Malcolm and he was able to put a movie that’s funny and fun and you enjoy it but you feel the heart of it, you feel the struggle of the real situation that’s going on.

Look, there were over a 100 murders this year [in Chicago]. More than 500 people were shot, and as difficult as the situation is — and we know it’s real — you leave the movie feeling inspired or touched and empowered. So I gotta give all credit to Malcolm, because during [shooting] I was like, “Okay, these guys are lacing some real good jokes and I’m saying something real serious.” You also gotta look at the styles of comedy in there — Cedric has a different style than Lamar or Deon, but it all felt really natural and blended, thanks to the talents that where there.

Do you see that message crossing over to other demographics?

I do. Some of the white audience I think is not aware of the conversation and what goes on in the black community, and it gives them a peak into that, for those that don’t get to interact. Because really, Chicago is a good example of a city that’s still segregated, there are some parts of our country where different races and cultures don’t really interact or intertwine, so it gives you that.

But I think more than anything, when things have a certain authenticity to them it doesn’t matter what color the storytellers are. When I watched 40 Year Old Virgin I wasn’t like, ‘Man, this is a white comedy,” or “Slumdog Millionaire, that’s an Indian movie.” The characters just resonate. And because this story has heart and every human being has a heart, some of the comedy is really universal. And it’s not self-righteous or we only talk about ourselves in a good way, it’s a real discussion.

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There were a lot of studio executives who didn’t want to greenlight Straight Outta Compton because they didn’t think there was an audience for it. And to be fair, that’s very different, that’s a music biopic, but I was surprised that they were surprised when it did so well.

I think in all truth sometimes the people who are gauging that are not in touch with the universal language that’s being spoken…. They may base things on numbers or who the star is, but man, there’s so much untapped potential. NWA wasn’t a group that was only speaking to black people. I know kids from all walks of life that love those records. I think Barbershop can do that too, if they’re exposed to it. It’s black people telling the story but it’s not just black subject matter, or black issues, the situation that’s taking place. It’s America. 

On another note, how rough was it to have your character being fought over by Eve and Nicki?

I mean… That’s a dream job right there [laughs]. These two beautiful powerful women. I love women that have a sense of self like that and it was just a lot of fun. And I got paid for that! What more can I ask? It’s a good life.

Well, you do have three Grammys and now an Oscar after your win for Selma last year, so you’re already halfway to an EGOT. You better start working on that Tony.

Yes! You know I am — I’ll be in theaters at some point soon. [Laughs] 

  • Movie
  • PG-13
release date
  • 04/15/16
  • 112 minutes
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