From writer/director Eva Vives, the indie dramedy All About Nina follows up-and-coming comedian Nina Geld (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in the best work of her career so far), whose undeniable talent has helped her build a career for herself in the male-dominated world of stand-up. Off the stage, Nina’s life is a mess, and that’s most evident when it comes to romantic relationships, including one with an abusive married man (Chace Crawford) that she leaves behind in New York City to go out to Los Angeles for a huge opportunity. While finding her footing in a new town, she meets Rafe (Common), who attempts to move her past her own desire to self-destruct and onto the path of commitment.
At the film’s press day, held at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, Common sat down with Collider for this 1-on-1 chat about the unique voice that was evident in this script, what he liked about this character, why he thinks stand-up comedy is scary, how much he enjoyed working with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and his desire to step it up alongside of her. He also talked about his evolving idea of success, how much it means to him to give opportunities to other people looking to reach their dreams, his next film Eve (opposite Jessica Chastain), and where he’d like to take his career next.
Collider: Really remarkable work in this!
COMMON: Aw, thank you!
I thought this was such a surprising movie, and not at all like what we typically see explored with relationships in film. Was all of that there, when you first read it?
COMMON: When I read it, I felt like it was just a unique voice coming through for Nina, for Rafe, and for all of the characters. It had things that were funny, where you just laugh, and then there was things about the story that really break your heart and make you cry. Rafe, as a character, was so colorful and so dynamic that I was very enthused to play him because you don’t see relationships like the one between Rafe and Nina in film, and you don’t always see men showing the aspects that Rafe showed, which was a vulnerability. He’s just a solid guy. He’s still working on himself and acknowledging that, but wants to be there for someone. It really was a great character to play.
When you started down this whole path, as an entertainer and a performer, could you ever have imagined that you would be here? What did success look like, back then?
COMMON: That’s a great question. Honestly, success for me, initially, was writing my first rap and really saying that I wanted to be an artist. Success was hearing my record on the radio, and other artists knowing who I was. I wanted other artists that I looked up to, like De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest or KRS-One or NWA, to know who I was. That was success, initially. The amazing thing about success is that, as things start to grow, you can grow a bigger picture. When I really started feeling the joys of success, on a holistic level, was when my success could bring other people opportunities or inspire someone else. That’s when you really feel like it’s worth it. You feel great about personal achievements.
Adding an Oscar to all of that must be really nice.
COMMON: Yeah, exactly! Just growing up, as a little kid on the South Side of Chicago, you couldn’t tell me that I would be in a film, starring with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, or just doing an indie where I’m playing this character, and then also doing an animated film, or being at the Oscars. Your dreams get bigger. You first think about what you wanna do and be, but if you’re humble and you’re willing to learn and grow, your aspirations and dreams and success will continue to grow, and continue to evolve and expand.
Do you feel like, if the you now went back and told the you then, that you would have albums, movies, an Oscar, and all of these accomplishments, would that you think you were just insane?
COMMON: I would be like, “Wait, what are you saying? I can’t even fathom that.” I love movies and I love theater, but I didn’t know that I would be in a movie. I remember the first time I was even filmed in a movie, I was a background actor. I was just in the scene, and I was super nervous, but I always knew that I love film and theater and TV. Once I started acting, at that point, I started to envision myself doing a film with Leonardo DiCaprio, or working with a Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese, which I haven’t done yet. At this point, I have to visualize myself being there, so I will get there. If you told the little kid Rashid that he was going to be performing at an Oprah event, or even just sitting down talking with Oprah in conversation, or going to see President Obama, there are so many things that just blow your mind. At that time, we didn’t even think a black President was realistic, growing up. When you’re a kid, you don’t even think of the President as a human being. And then, I literally had conversations with President Obama about music. I heard him playing one of my songs on his playlist in the White House. It’s those things where you’re like, “God, how did I get here? But, thank you.”
I’m not taking the credit for it. I’m just grateful and thankful to god, and to every human being that has crossed my path and helped me get anywhere. I just wanna do the best with this. I wanna be at my best and achieve incredible things, as an actor, an artist, a producer, a writer, and a composer for films. I also wanna give access to that kid in Alabama, North Carolina, Brooklyn or South Central , who didn’t think they could be that kid. I want to be a bridge to get them to their dreams, so they can be sitting here like, “You couldn’t have told me, in 2018, that I was gonna be on an Oscar stage.” It will be a young black kid that grew up in the toughest neighborhoods, who’s on the Oscar stage, as a director, or a young Latino girl. I’ve seen certain parts of the world and experienced these things, but it becomes another level of joy, when you can create it for others to experience. One of the biggest, most rewarding things that I’ve had happen to me, in the past five or ten years, is producing the television show The Chi with Lena [Waithe], our team at Freedom Road, and Showtime. Going home and seeing people from my hometown working on a movie set, and I’m a part of it, is great.
It really feels like this movie pushed you, as an actor. What do you feel you learned about yourself, as an actor, doing this movie?
COMMON: Doing this movie, I learned that I can do anything, as an actor. I feel like there are no borders or limitations. I want to seek out those roles that are dynamic and that have a lot of dimensions to them. It takes work, and I will do the work. I’m willing to give 115% and 360 degrees of who I am, to create these characters and let these characters live. This is something that I’m coming to grips with. Sometimes you find things in the scene, and sometimes you might not initially know everything about the scene. One other thing that I learned was that stand-up comedy is no joke. That’s not an easy thing to do, to go up and make people laugh, and then endure it when it doesn’t work. It’s different being a musician because you can hide behind the music. If they don’t like your voice or vocals, there’s still the music going. When you’re a stand-up comic and you’ve just got you and the audience, if something doesn’t go right, everybody hears it, sees it and feels it.