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Common contrasts fictional film violence to Chicago’s real crimes

Chicago's Common (right) in a scene from "John Wick: Chapter 2" with Keanu Reeves.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — As he continues his ascent as an action star with a role in “John Wick: Chapter 2” (opening Friday), Oscar winner Common makes sure to differentiate between the extremely violent assassin he portrays and the level of true violence happening daily on the streets of his hometown.

“This film is entertainment. From the moment you go into the theater, you know this is a fictional world that’s been created and it’s just a movie,” he said in an interview. “The reality that is going on in Chicago that I feel — and so many people both inside and outside of Chicago feel — is: What can we do to change the conditions that cause the violence?

“I think the ultimate cure for the violence — or at least a reduction in the totally unacceptable level of violence today in Chicago — has to come from people and forces within our city. As a community, we need to empower each other and care for each other. We absolutely need to create opportunities. We should be looking for the people who have strayed away, and we have to embrace them.”

The actor, rapper, civic leader and philanthropist stressed that everyone in Chicago “in all neighborhoods and at all levels of society” needs to be proactive in reaching out to the inner-city youth “who have long been ignored and, in many ways, discarded by our community. Businesses across our city and programs across our city need to go in and support these young people — especially the ones who are not in school. We need to give jobs to people who maybe are coming from the streets, but need just a little bit of training and caring.

“Those opportunities will lessen the violence. When you’re idle — as a lot of these young men are — things happen. We also have to overlook past problems these kids have had. Chicago needs to be all-embracing and get those kids into educational and job-training programs that will keep them off the streets.”

Turning to the movie action he faced in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” Common laughed as he recalled the “boot camp” he had to undergo to get in shape — especially for a very extensive fight scene with Keanu Reeves, who plays the title character. “I thought I was in shape before I made this film, but when you get into ‘John Wick’ training, it takes things to a whole other level. It takes you to places you’ve never been to in your body!”

The actor also is excited about the Showtime series “The Chi,” which he’s co-producing with fellow Chicagoan, writer and actress Lena Waithe. “We want the people of Chicago to know we will have something great for our city from this project,” said Common. “Right now we’re casting. We have hired a great director [Rick Famuyiwa] and it’s going to be shot in Chicago.”

• Another key member of the “John Wick: Chapter 2” team is director Chad Stahelski, who made his big-screen directing debut on the first “John Wick” movie. Stahelski’s connection with Reeves dates back to his time spent as the stunt coordinator for Chicago’s filmmaking siblings the Wachowskis — working on their classic “The Matrix.”

The lessons he learned from the duo were rooted in their all-encompassing approach to filmmaking. “They function at a much higher level than I can ever hope to achieve, but I did learn so much about incredible attention to detail from them,” Stahelski said.

“They created a world in ‘The Matrix’ was so precise, from things like how Keanu would hold a spoon inside the matrix and how he would hold the spoon outside of the matrix. From wardrobe to hair to lighting to the color palette to how and where people stood in a scene — everything was so exact. It was all about perfection in dressing a scene. There was nothing left to chance. Anything in front of the lens — and anything in back of the lens needed to make a moment or a scene happen — the Wachowskis were involved in.”

The director , a former stuntman and stunt coordinator, noted that the Wachowskis — and obviously he himself — would not do “what some directors do making movies today. Some put all of their time and effort into directing the dialogue. As soon as an action sequence comes up, they delegate that to the action [stunt coordinator] guy.

“With the Wachowskis, that would never happen. They understood, as do I, the story happens inside the action.”