LUV RED CARPET
By Gary Murray
The red carpet was ablaze as the cast and crew of the newest independent feature LUV descended on the AMC North Park in Dallas, Texas. The film stars Common as Vincent. He is a man out of prison who spends the Baltimore day with his 11 year-old nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.). The boy learns from his uncle what it is to be a man. It is also a story about gun violence in the inner-city. The film features a cast of such notable performers as Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert, Charles S. Dutton and Meagan Good.
The film is co-written and directed by Sheldon Candis and is put out in conjunction with the Michael Finley Foundation. Such Dallas Mavericks as Dirk Nowitzki were on hand to lend emotion support for their former teammate.
Michael Rainey Jr. is a young performer with a long list of commercial and television credits. This is a major acting role and a departure from his previous work. He was not intimidated by either the press or the red carpet.
“It’s exciting,” he said of being in Texas and the center of attention. “At first I was a little bit nervous but I started doing them. Now, I just breeze through them.” This veteran has walked before photographers and journalists three or four time by his own estimates.
When asked what advice he would give to a young actor with so much fame, Michael answered, “Always stay humble.” He was on a one-day hiatus on the film he is currently working on but for his future plans he said, “I want to play in a comedy movie.”
Executive Producer Michael Finley is a former professional athlete who was not fazed by the mass of media that descended on him. The former Dallas Maverick had also played for the San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtic before his retirement a few years back. ESPN has reported rumors of his attempted comeback to the NBA.
On how he became involved in LUV, he said, “I had met with Sheldon Candis, the director, and we talked about the movie that he had in mind. I read the script and I fell in love with the script. We were able to sign Common and it was like icing on the cake for me. It made the whole process an easy one for me to enjoy.”
He was thrilled by how the film turned out. “The whole movie,” he said, “it takes you on an emotional roller-coaster. No one moment is the same and that is the uniqueness of the film and that is what I enjoy about it.”
Michael Finley did see a larger message to the film. ”It is all about the education of gun control,” he said. “If you put guns in the hands of wrong people usually wrong things happen. We can use this as a platform to bring up the subject of gun control among youth and among adults. It is a great movie to promote gun control. Like all movies, you have to go in with an open mind. This process has been that. There have been some gun issues but we are using this movie as a platform to inform kids and even adults the education behind gun violence.”
The film is being presented as a part of the Michael Finley Foundation, a philanthropic organization. Michael said, “The foundation was created to help children as well as families to get a better way of life. It enables them to handle some of the pressures in life, for a young kid to become successful in life. We fund them through college. It is my way of giving back to children and families.”
As part of his involvement in a major motion picture, it was asked what he learned from the experience. He said, “It was my first time being on a set and you have to be patient. I took for granted how long it takes. You think it is filmed in a day but it is a long process, maybe two years, from first writing to actually having a premiere. It has been a patient process but it has been enjoyable.”
But, there were things he did enjoy about the experience, “I’m a movie fan,” he explained, “and to meet the actors Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert just to name a few. Just to get to meet the guys and see the realness about them other than what I’ve seen on the screen was a great opportunity.”
Sheldon Candis was a man in his element in front of the press. This is his first major feature. “When you make independent films, this is the moment you live for,” he said. “All of us, since we have been kids, we have been coming to the Cineplex watching movies, experiencing movies. It comes a point in your life where you go, ‘I want to make something and have a movie that plays in a place like this.’ Now, I am standing in one of the greatest chains in the world, the AMC Movie Theaters.”
“You are making an independent film and there is just not enough time in a day to shoot and create the story,” Sheldon said of the independent film process. “So, you have to constantly be processing how to tell the story in economy, the least amount of shots. That and being a first time director and working with very seasoned actors and just really catching my stride and working with time because a part of you is in complete awe and amazement of the actors. I mean, there is Danny Glover from The Color Purple.”
More and more filmmakers are going past the Hollywood system and taking on the route of financing their projects through different means. To this, Sheldon said, “I think that what has happened with the economy, what is happening with the studio system and with Wall Street, it has very much become about hard numbers. A lot of the films the studios make today are super hero franchises and vampires. From my point of view as an independent film maker, what I aspire to do is non-existent in the studio system. There are some rare exceptions. That is why it is important to continue to support and nurture independent films.”
Common commanded the attention of everybody at the event. The rap star has been seen in such films as New Year’s Eve, Terminator Salvation and Smokin’ Aces. He was proud of taking the lead in this small film. “When you go into this film,” he said, “it is not about the money but it is about the love you feel for the script. It just felt good. There are so many things I could learn from these guys. I was just grateful to be in their presence. Danny Glover is a legend and has been around for a long time. It is one of those things where you feel honored for them to take time to do a film this small. It is a salute to the material and to Sheldon.”
He said that the most difficult part of the movie was putting the gun in the hand of his young co-star. “I started thinking about the cycles of what young black men go through and that was the most difficult thing. This is the beginning of what could be a lot of violence things that happen. People get a gun and think that anything could happen and they take life for granted in that situation. I don’t want kids having guns,” he said.
Then he got a bit philosophical about the issue of guns. “There is something else you have to live for. What do you want to do and what do you dream of? Anything you dream of doing in your life will not be achieved with a gun. You have to look at each and every person as a part of you because they are all God’s creation. Life has value.”
He then switched his thoughts to the idea of fame and celebrity. “It has been a part of what has been created by American entertainment and pop culture,” Common said on the pursuit of fame for fame’s sake. “The things that are celebrated are the famous people. I think a lot of people have to put value in that life and they have to know that famous is not the destination. The people that are famous that last are people that have a passion for what they are doing. You have to find something that you love to do. The other fame is overnight and it will be over, over night.”
Since this was such a small budget for a feature, Common did comment on the difficulties of working under such constraints. He said, “The conditions of not having a bigger budget made it hard. You had to work faster and work harder. You had to be precise with things. You don’t get as many takes. You don’t have as many resources. Sometimes that brings out the best in you. And that was the good and the bad in it—it brought out the best in our creativity. Sometimes we just don’t have the time to shoot another one.”
The other challenge involved his young co-star, Michael Rainey Jr. “Another difficult part was handing a little kid a gun and making him shoot because it was a real gun, even though it had blanks in it. Having a little kid shoot it really made me think about all the kids it happens to. It really brought it out of me for effect,” he said.
On how he became involved in the production, Common was very matter of fact. He said, “My agent told me about the script and he thought it was great. He thought it was a great character for me to play. It was one of the most in-depth characters that I have had the opportunity to play because you saw a colorful human being from the streets and out of prison who was a good guy who was trying to teach his nephew things. You could see that he loved his nephew and he wanted to pursue his dream but he was making some bad choices so I think that showed the humanity of being human.”
This was a very intense role for the performer and a character with some major personality flaws. Of the role, Common said, “I commit to the roles and give my all to the roles. What I was feeling is what my character was feeling. If I get into judging the character, then we won’t get the story out. I had to allow my character to let that happen, to let it breath and live. When it did, I felt it just like my character did. I gotta teach him this right now.”
He finished the thought by saying, “I have to make sure this character has human qualities and you don’t hate this character. Any person with a sound mind and feelings is going to go why is going to do that to that little kid. I felt like I had to look at this character and create this depth.”
With new music coming out in the fall and another rap group going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one asked what Common felt about music and his chances of becoming part of that landmark. “I feel like my career is still going” he commented, “and hopefully I will do things enough that I will one day be selected into that arena–The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I first gotta salute Public Enemy and RUN DMC. It would be a wonderful honor to get that at some point in my career but right now I’m still charging even as a musician.”
His next film Now You See Me is a heist flick that stars Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine and Mark Ruffalo comes out this summer.