ChitChatter: Common Talks About Playing An Ex-Slave On AMC’s “Hell On Wheels” And Says He’s The Best MC, Period

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Common Time out

Common’s latest project, the new AMC series “Hell on Wheels” premiered last weekend. The show is AMC’s new Western series, and Common plays an ex-slave named Elam Ferguson who is working on the transcontinental railroad in Nebraska. In December, Common is expected to release his ninth studio album, “The Dreamer, The Believer”. The actor/rapper was interviewed by Time Out magazine about both, as well as his thoughts on politics, religion and materialism. Check out the excerpts below:


What’d you learn from researching the role of a recently emancipated slave?

I learned that the relationship between black and white people wasn’t just all hatred. I learned there were some slave masters that weren’t treacherous. I had studied in elementary school about slavery, but it was a whole new understanding getting to read slave chronicles and do due diligence in the research of it.


In your memoir you write that, with Hollywood roles for thirtysomething black men, “You’re either bouncing a ball or busting a cap.” This must be a more fulfilling role, then?

Yeah, this is definitely the most fulfilling. When you look at the roles that black actors are afforded, some of them are just, like, the heavy guy or the muscle-in-the-street guy. But what was so interesting about the writing of Hell on Wheels is like, man, this guy, he’s a freed slave but just because I’m oppressed doesn’t mean that I’m not strong, just because I’ve been through one of the biggest hells that you can go through doesn’t mean that I’m not intelligent.

You write that, growing up on the South Side, you’d get into street fights with your friends, you’d carry a gun. Could you draw on that period to understand Elam’s anger a bit?

Definitely some of my life experiences I can utilize to channel certain things for Elam, but it’s a difference [between] feeling injustice in 1989 than in 1863, man. That’s a different, like, delivery of hate, a different delivery of racial prejudice, man. It’s, like, it’s so out there and outward. Hell on Wheels, it’s not trying to hide the prejudices. It’s like, man, you have people calling people ni**ers, you have people calling people Injuns. During that time, things just seemed more to the point. I’d rather know where I stand than to not know.

We hear him on that. You definitely want to see the fight coming and not have it surprise you from behind.

Keep reading for Common’s thoughts on being the best MC.

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