The Q&A

Pair of ''Aces''

Alicia Keys and Common tell us how it felt to be two rookies on the set of the action movie ''Smokin' Aces,'' now in theaters

Smokin' Aces, Alicia Keys, ... | COMMON GROUND Like the rapper, Keys leaned on the advice of the experienced actors in the Aces cast
COMMON GROUND Like the rapper, Keys leaned on the advice of the experienced actors in the Aces cast

Alicia Keys and Common are no strangers to the stage. But neither of them had ever set foot on a movie set — that is, until they were cast as denizens of the mob underworld in Joe Carnahan's new action flick, Smokin' Aces. Here, the musicians describe what it was like working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Common and Alicia Keys on...

...learning the basics

Common: ''I had to learn the little things, like which way is camera left and which way is camera right. And, of course, the minute I felt like I was getting it all down, it was time to go home because my scenes were finished.''

Alicia Keys: ''It's a little intimidating at first when you walk onto a set and all the people there are actors. Some of them are huge names like Ben Affleck or Ray Liotta, and here you are this movie virgin who doesn't know how it all works. But it was a very supportive environment.''

...how to be schooled...

Common: ''The closest I had gotten [to acting] before was writing soundtrack music [for Freedom Writers and 2002's Brown Sugar]. Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, and Taraji Henson all gave me tips and I was grateful for the help. These people know what they are doing. I'm a musician and that's what I know. I feel like we all need to be open to learning and advice in life in every new thing we take on.''

Keys: ''Having so many incredible actors surrounding me enabled me to [do my best]. I worked very hard on it, and I felt good about my big-screen debut. I didn't want to play the piano-playing singer. I didn't want to play a singer. I wanted to do something that was completely and totally not me. And this character Georgia Sykes is not me at all. Not one bit Alicia is in there, except she looks like me.''

...and how to school

Common: ''I am very honored to be among these great people, even if they are biting my style [of dress]. But that's OK 'cause I stole from them every day on the set. I was eating up every piece of knowledge people like Jeremy Piven or Joe Carnahan or Andy Garcia wanted to drop on me.''

Keys: ''I don't believe in weapons, although I can kill you in other ways.'' [Laughs]

...the sweet taste of success

Common: ''The fake blood is hard to get used to and there was a ton of it on this film. I have it coming out of my eyes when Jeremy throws a card at my eye. It is so sticky and it tastes really sweet and disgusting.''

Keys: ''I was in a good headspace to create while I was filming Smokin' Aces. I was writing music like crazy.''

...upcoming projects

Common: ''I just finished working on American Gangster with Denzel [Washington] and Russell Crowe. God willing, this is only the beginning of my acting career.''

Keys: ''I have The Nanny Diaries coming out April 20 with Scarlett Johansson, Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. It's a lot less violent and much more of a family film than Smokin' Aces. I'm working on my album as well, which should be coming out in June.''

...and each other

Common: ''It was nice to be able to share that experience with the great Alicia Keys. I knew her from music and so I didn't feel totally alone on this. She was new to this as well, [so] she knew what I was going through.''

Keys: ''It was nice to not be the only new kid on the block, and it's nice to hear that Common felt that way too. We know each other from music, so it felt like a piece of home with me on the set. And ladies, for the record, winding up in the arms of Common is not a bad place to find yourself.''

Originally posted Jan 25, 2007