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Labor of 'LUV' hits home with Common

Saturday, Jan 12 by User 0 Comments

 

The title is "LUV," all capital letters, no periods. It's not an abbreviation; it doesn't stand for something else. And that's appropriate: The film is about something big and powerful, very much like love, but not quite - at least, not ideal love.
 
"I thought it didn't make you feel like this character was just a bad guy; you could see the human being in him was wanting to do well, wanting to do right by himself, his family, his nephew," says Common of his role as ex-convict Vincent, who comes home to his mother and young nephew in Baltimore.
"It really visited the concept of how you can love someone, but the love you're giving them is not really helpful to their life. It happens in many relationships - uncle-nephew, parent-child, husband-wife - you really, really love that person, but you're in such a painful place, and desperate place, that you're not able to give healthy love."
Told from the point of view of Vincent's adoring nephew, Woody (outstanding 11-year-old newcomer Michael Rainey Jr.), "LUV" takes place over the course of one day. Woody follows Vincent around on a series of increasingly dangerous errands as the ex-con haunted by a big reputation tries to go straight.
The movie is an urban coming-of-age tale that doesn't feel like a typical example of the genre. There is crime involved, and violence, but rookie director and co-writer Sheldon Candis' atmospheric, character-driven film less resembles the work of John Singleton than of, say, Terrence Malick. That intent was a big part of what made Common sign on with an unknown filmmaker for an independent drama.
"I was doing a speaking engagement in Philadelphia, and he drove up from Baltimore to see me," says the double-Grammy-winning rapper and author. "We had a great talk about movies, about the script, what we thought was quality in general. Man, I liked him and what he wanted to achieve with this film, what his vision was for being a filmmaker; I was with it. I was in on it.
"He referenced 'The Bicycle Thief,' which was a movie I'd never seen. He told me how simple the story was, what it was about. ... Taste is very important to me. When I heard some of the films he was into, the directors he really appreciated, whether it was Paul Thomas Anderson or Spike Lee, I was just like, 'OK. Especially for this film, his heart is in the right place.' Terrence Malick was on that list, too. He wanted it to be perceived as an indie film, to have an international feel to it, to almost feel like a European film. He said, 'This is cinema, we're doing cinema.' His vision for that is where I want to be and what I want to do."
To confirm his belief in Candis' tastes, Common immediately watched Vittorio De Sica's Italian neorealist classic "The Bicycle Thief."
"Oh yeah ... if it had turned out to be something I watched and went, 'Oh no ...,' but it turned out to be a really good, simple story; you feel the people, you feel the characters and what they're going through. I love that," he says. "The fact that ('LUV') took place in one day and you feel this young man going through such changes and loving his uncle, how does he maneuver through life, through this day - it's a simple story that has a lot of complex thoughts to it."
Signed as producer
Common ended up being so sold on Candis and the film's potential that he signed on as a producer.
"The biggest thing I did as producer was make those calls, like get that call in to Danny Glover, get that call in to Dennis Haysbert, to help bring them on," he says of a supporting cast that also features Lonette McKee, Meagan Good and Charles S. Dutton. But the key bit of casting had to be Rainey, an unknown who had appeared in commercials and a few TV shows.
Rainey's only previous feature experience was in the Italian "Un altro mondo" (2010), for which he learned to speak Italian. For Common, now a 20-year show-business veteran taking a leadership role on "LUV," it was natural to form a bond with his youthful co-star.
"There was nothing to try to do; it just was what it is. It is what it is," says the 40-year-old. "He was like a little nephew to me, a son at times, a little brother. I'm a believer that you can learn from young people. Not just little things, like what's the cool toy or whatever. You can learn things about life from younger people. And not just mentoring - doing what I can do to be an example, being myself - but learning from him, spending time with him, having fun. We definitely bonded. I feel like he's part of my family."
Citing the "depth this character has and just being able to act with those actors," Common calls "LUV" his favorite movie work to date. He brings it back to the main lesson he says he learned from his co-star.
'He's a kid'
"Just to stay free," he says of Rainey. "There were things he was doing - trying different things - because he's a kid, the freedom was there. There was no fear. One time we were filming a scene and he just slid down the banister of the stairs. I said, 'Man, we gotta film that.' He just did it on his own, just being a kid, flying down the banister. He would do things like that in takes. Sometimes you can be restricted in your art, but a kid can remind you to be free. It's fun, it's creative; be free." {sbox}
LUV (R) opens Friday at Bay Area theaters.
 
Source: SFGate

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