Common, Sanaa Hamri Get It 'Just Wright'

The new film Just Wright is about an injured basketball player struggling to heal his heart and his body. Host Allison Keys speaks with rapper Common, who stars in the film, and Sanaa Hamri the films director.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Just ahead, you know her as the original Foxy Brown. You'll never guess what music actress Pam Grier listens to when she's not busy acting. She tells us what's playing in her ear. That's in just a moment. But, first, you've heard the story before, or at least a version of the story. Man meets woman, she's smart and funny, but not the pencil thin beauty of his dreams, so man blows woman off and relegates her to friend status.

That's the story at the core of the new romantic comedy "Just Wright," starring two hip-hop stars turned actors, Common and Queen Latifah. The movie debuted this weekend and took in about $8.5 million. In the film, Queen is a diehard basketball fan who meets a hottie all-star basketball player, who's played by Common, of course. So, does the man figure it out that she's the woman of his dreams before she says, I'm out?

The two first cross paths in this modern version of Cinderella at, where else in this fairytale, a gas station.

(Soundbite of movie, "Just Wright")

COMMON (Musician, Actor): (As Scott McKnight) Can't find the button to put gas in this thing, man. This is getting ridiculous. No, you should talk to my mom about that, she's running the charity, okay? Excuse me, miss?

QUEEN LATIFAH (Musician, Actor): (Leslie Wright) Leslie.

COMMON: Let me call you back. Leslie, right?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Yeah, Leslie Wright, with a W. These cars usually don't have a, ah, a button. And you might want to spin it around.

COMMON: Okay, Leslie Wright.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Smells like it's fresh off the assembly line. You just get it?

COMMON: Yeah. Thanks, though, I appreciate it.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Well, you can thank me by winning the championship.

COMMON: Oh, you're really a die hard, huh?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Red and blue run through my veins.

COMMON: You got plans Saturday night?

KEYES: That again from "Just Wright," which was just out this weekend. And we just so happen to have Common joining us from NPR West, along with the director of "Just Wright," Sanaa Hamri. Welcome to both of you. And I want to warn our listeners now, there may be some spoilers in this conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COMMON: How are you doing?

KEYES: I am fabulous and so are you. But, Common, I've got to say, come on, Queen Latifah, you don't immediately look at her and go, wow, look at that?

COMMON: Yeah, I mean from the basketball players that I've met, you know, each one is individual. Some of them I find do have, you know, trophy wives in many ways and some don't. Like some have their high school sweethearts. Some have everyday women that are just, you know, are beautiful in their own right. So, what I love about this film is that we don't get into the stereotypes that many people depict basketball players to have.

KEYES: Since we're talking about basketball, that was pretty nice moves you were making on the court out there with the real pro ballers. Was that really you and how'd you do that?

COMMON: Oh yeah, that was me. I took a lot of pride in making sure that the basketball was authentic because I grew up playing ball from elementary school to high school and had dreams of being in the NBA. So, I mean, this is like a dream in two for me to be a leading man and also - play a romantic lead, and also be an NBA star. It was, like, ah, this is incredible.

KEYES: Even that three point against the Heat?

COMMON: Yeah, the three point, I knocked it down against D-Wade, you know.

KEYES: Wow.

COMMON: It was something we could keep for the ages, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Sanaa, I know that you used to play too. Could you have hit that three?

Ms. SANAA HAMRI (Film Director, "Just Wright"): I, you know, he made that three, I was so excited on set because one thing that we wanted to do is to make sure that we showed the viewer that Common can actually play basketball, which was part of the role requirement of Scott McKnight. So, you know, I'm very blessed to have a great actor, a great artist and a great ball player.

KEYES: So the story goes that Common's character Scott McKnight meets Leslie Wright. But Scott gets all caught up in Leslie's friend Morgan played by Paula Patton. She's out to marry into fame and fortune, but McKnight has no clue. Let's find out how she bags herself a ballplayer.

Ms. PAULA PATTON (Actor): (As Morgan Alexander) Girl, I am sorry, but I can't stay.

QUEEN LATIFAH: What?

Ms. PATTON: Yeah, I just got a call from Safe Horizon. They need me.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Scott, this is Morgan, this is my godsister. We grew up together.

Ms. PATTON: Hi.

COMMON: Hey, how are you doing? You can't leave this party, it just got started.

Ms. PATTON: I have to. One of the volunteers at the homeless shelter I help out at just called in sick, so it's urgent.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Bartender? Mm-hmm. Hi. Can I trade this in for a Hennessey - double?

Unidentified Actor: You got it.

QUEEN LATIFAH: Thank you.

COMMON: You know I volunteer at different spots myself. I wish I had more time to do it man, you know?

Ms. PATTON: Oh, I've got to stop back at the house and get some games for kids, okay?

COMMON: Oh, you two live together?

QUEEN LATIFAH: Temporarily.

Ms. PATTON: It's a long story.

COMMON: How can I get in touch with you?

Ms. PATTON: Oh, Scott. It's Scott, right? I'm sorry. I've tried the whole dating a ball player thing and it's not for me. But it was really nice talking to you.

KEYES: I have to say, the audience that I saw the crowd with went, aw.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HAMRI: Because they saw her technique.

KEYES: Right. And I feel like I've personally met this girl. You know, youre at some fancy joint and she's knocking you over in her five-inch heels to get to the rich guys. Common, do you run into this sort of thing in your rapper persona?

COMMON: You know, most of the time the women that approach me, they kind of come on on the more conscious. They try the spiritual route. Theyll strike a conversation about something that they feel is going to interest me and they can prove that they, you know, have an avenue that can get to me and spark an interest. But I, you know, I've learned to not judge people in those situations. And like I said, I'm pretty aware. So if I feel like somebody has the wrong intentions for me, then I just keep them at an arm's distance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we are speaking with Common and director Sanaa Hamri about the new film "Just Wright."

And Sanaa, I've got to go back to the Morgan point for a moment. I mean, Paul Patton played her in the movie but she herself says every woman has a little Morgan in her. Is that true?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HAMRI: I guess. You know, I think for me, Paula Patton's character really represents, in way, all those books that we read about relationships and quote/unquote, "how to get a man." So I just wanted to make fun of that because in a way, some of these books tell us not to be our authentic selves as woman and I wanted to showcase that through her character. And in actuality for me, I believe that the best route is being authentic and be who you are and be comfortable with who you are, like Queen Latifah's character, Leslie Wright.

KEYES: I was thinking at the end of the movie, and I think so were a bunch of other women in the audience, no she did not get away with that and suddenly develop a heart at the end.

(Soundbite of music)

KEYES: There was no karma?

(Soundbite of laughter)

COMMON: Well, I liked the honesty that it was no conflict between them. I do like the stereotypes that have been broken in this film, like, you dont see women catfighting with each other. Men are not disrespectful to women in this movie. It's like, you know, you see good images of a father and Scott McKnight is a good guy. And I really love that about what Sanaa with the film and the way the script was written also is that we dont have the stereotypical images that we see of - usually of African-American characters and just of men in general.

KEYES: Sanaa, when we were first approached to do this film we were told that it might be marketed as an African-American romance. But having seen it, it looks like it could speak to many more audiences than this.

Ms. HAMRI: I agree. I mean, I think that there needs to be more stories out there in, you know, in Hollywood in which we have, you know, people of color starring in different roles but it's not necessarily skewed just to one group. I mean, this is a love movie, universal themes that we can all relate to. Queen Latifah is the everyday woman who is the average woman of America who's not a size zero or a minus two.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

Ms. HAMRI: And, you know, we can relate to her. And this story is for everybody and guys are going to like it as well. I mean, I love making movies that reach everybody. And, you know, food for thought.

KEYES: When youre shooting a romantic comedy, do you have to keep from being all sugary sweet with it?

Ms. HAMRI: I mean, it really depends. I mean, I just try to have characters that we believe in and that are going through, you know, their journey. I like having a sort of sweetness and strength behind romance in my work because I feel that image really influences the masses. You know, life is imitating art nowadays, extremely so. So, I just think that we need more of positivity, more of beauty that we can look to and aspire to in an inspirational quality and aspirational. So in general, my work lends itself for that.

KEYES: Sanaa, is there a message that you hope people take from this film besides the, okay, that was really fun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HAMRI: I mean, the message is about being, you know, your authentic self and following your heart as a person, whether youre a man or a woman, and just making sure that youre happy. And the key to happiness, I think, is being yourself and being authentic.

COMMON: Yeah. And I want - can I...

KEYES: Common, let me ask you the same question. Absolutely.

COMMON: Yeah. When we did this film I didnt know I would have such like a substantial presence on people's lives. Like, already I've had women come up and say, man, this movie makes me feel beautiful. This movie makes me feel like I can be loved. And I think, you know, the message that I see coming out of it also is like that beauty has no shape or size. You could, you know, beauty is something that really it resonates on the inside. And the more beautiful you are inside, the more beautiful you are outside.

And I really like the fact that you can't put love in a box. And what Sanaa said about love comes from the heart, you know, when you love someone you become a better person. You make that person better. You also just are able to be yourself and you can have fun with that person and be honest and communicate.

KEYES: Common, actually, one more question. Because you just said that women came up to you to say that. I wonder if there was not also a message to men that they should look outside of the, as you said, Sanaa, the minus twos and the size zeros and the weaves all the way down your back.

COMMON: Yeah. I do actually believe that men will see this and realize that, you know, I dont have to fall victim to societys like stereotypes. And I do feel that guys can get influenced and images are important. Image, you know, images seen in film, images seen on TV, images of Barack Obama, these things help people to see themselves in a greater way, and I think this will help men to see that all women are beautiful.

Ms. HAMRI: Absolutely.

KEYES: Common is a hip-hop all-star and sometime basketball hero.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: He plays Scott McKnight in the new film "Just Wright," also starring Queen Latifah. He was joined by Sanaa Hamri, the film's director. They both joined us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California. Thanks so much for coming in.

COMMON: Thank you for having us.

Ms. HAMRI: Thank you.

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