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Common on ‘Selma’ Oscar Performance: ‘We Wanted God to be Felt’

Common is still struggling to accept that he can add “Oscar winner” to his list of accomplishments after capturing a Best Song statue for his work writing the civil rights anthem “Glory” alongside John Legend.

The rapper and actor keeps the award in the front room of his Los Angeles home, he told Variety at the New York premiere of his new film “Run All Night.”

“It’s the greatest achievement I’ve had as a professional in my life,” he said. “Some days I walk by and I can’t believe this is here with my name on it. It’s such an amazing feeling and I really want to use the energy and the platform to do more.”

Common and Legend’s performance of “Glory” and their subsequent acceptance speeches, during which they linked the march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama with ongoing struggles to protect freedom of expression and to reform the justice system, were widely cited as being among the ceremony’s high points.

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“We wanted to convey the spirit of the civil rights movement and what ‘Selma’ is about and what the song ‘Glory’ is about,” said Common. “We wanted God to be felt and the spirit of love to be present. I didn’t know we’d get those responses. We couldn’t see from the crowd that people were crying.”

The rapper said he hadn’t seen all of President Barack Obama’s speech last week marking the 50th anniversary of the historic marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge because he was traveling, but what he was impressed by the sections he watched.

“The part that I did hear was tremendous,” said Common. “It was very important.”

Run All Night” represents another facet of Common’s career, giving him a chance to go toe to toe against Liam Neeson and Ed Harris while playing a devastatingly efficient hitman. The film centers on a mob enforcer (Neeson) who must keep his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) safe after he witnesses a murder.

“I’m in this film with legends,” said Common. “These are legends that are rising and they continue to rise.”

Indeed, Neeson has had a career resurgence in recent years, re-positioning himself as a middle aged action hero after spending the early half of his professional life primarily in serious dramas or playing mentor roles in the “Star Wars” and “Dark Knight” films.

Neeson credits the “Taken” series, in which he plays a retired CIA agent who must defend his family, with making him realize his affinity for the action genre.

“I felt comfortable doing them,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to be a 30-year old super action hero. The basis of the action was always firmly rooted in character.”

An emphasis on character development over carnage is what drew him to “Run All Night.”

“It was a lovely throwback to certain Sidney Lumet films of the ‘70s,” said Neeson. “I was on the look out for a good gangster film. As an Irish boy I was brought up on that stuff.”

“Run All Night” marks Neeson’s third collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously worked with the actor on “Non-Stop” and “Unknown.” Their mutual familiarity has led them to develop a helpful shorthand, the filmmaker said.

“When you meet somebody and you just click, it’s very obvious,” said Collet-Serra. “You barely need to talk to each other and you understand each other and what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Movies are complicated enough, you need people who understand who you are and your vision.”

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