Warner Bros. released the trailer for its new animated film Smallfoot, starring LeBron James, Zendaya, Channing Tatum and Chicago’s own Common. The rapper-turned-actor sat down with EBONY.com correspondent Kiki Camille and discussed his role in the film, working with James and Zendaya, and his reaction to Serena Williams and the US Open debacle.
You can watch the exclusive video above or read the transcript below.
Kiki Camille: How did you come across your role as Stone Keeper and what attracted you to it?
Common: I’ve always wanted to do animated films. I love things that kids get excited about, and there’s something about being a part of one of these. Smallfoot is one of those films I know kids would be excited to see.
When I was approached to be a part of it potentially, I [said] yes! I met with the team, and they showed me [several] pre-production ideas they had and what the story was about. Beyond all that, I wanted [to work with] LeBron James. I love LeBron. You know? Zendaya, I love her and Channing Tatum. [The opportunity] to be in a film with those actors was part of the draw, too.
KC: What did that process look like? Were you doing voice-overs in your closet at home, or were you in a studio with LeBron and Zendaya feeding off of each other’s energy?
They show you some clips before it’s really animated and give you a little look at what your character looks like. You [still] have to do some preparation work to figure out who the Stone Keeper is within the story. To be honest, I never got to really work with Channing or Zendaya in the booth when we were recording. I was working with the director, Karey [Kirkpatrick]. He had everything under control, and we just bounced off of each other.
It’s incredible when you see it all together. You’re going back and forth with these other characters, and [when you] hear your voice coming from this animated character, it’s like, “Wow!” It’s like another world. It almost reminds me of one of the first times I saw myself in film. Even though I’m not seeing myself, just hearing myself as this character [is] mind-blowing.
KC: The Stone Keeper is basically the high priest or chief of this village of Yeti. I’ll be honest: When I initially heard your voice, I wasn’t sure it matched the character. Did you practice using different voices beforehand?
Common: When I got to the first recording session, initially coming in I thought, ‘Maybe I should try this voice or try that voice.’ I did practice on the ride to the session. Ha! But I knew it was going to be a process because it still had to fit with what the director felt was right and what felt comfortable once I started getting in there. Sometimes you come in with an idea, and the director has a vision of the whole project. So you have to be open to becoming a part of that vision. Hearing things back and trying different things, I found the voice as we were in the booth.
I can remember when our director was like, “Yo! That’s it right there. Stay in that tone.” And I mean, come on, I can play a high priest or a guru. The funny thing about the Stone Keeper is he is the leader of a village. He also has some secrets that he does reveal, and he’s almost like a politician but a high priest.
KC: One of the themes of the movie is challenging ideas we learn through media and politics. As the Stone Keeper, what advice would you give us Smallfeet about what’s happening in the media concerning Serena Williams’ issue with the US Open umpire?
Common: The Stone keeper would say, “Let’s get to the truth of the situation with Serena.”
First of all, [I acknowledge] that Serena is the greatest tennis player to ever do it and one of the greatest athletes to ever do it, if not the greatest.Her passion was coming through in that match. She had some frustrations she was dealing with. The referee was accusing her of cheating, and she was like, “I ain’t accepting that.” That is understood from anybody that’s as good as she is.
Nobody would ever think she has to cheat. Why would she? She’s been doing this for 20 years [and] winning. So anyway, to fast- forward, I think the referee would need to allow some space for her to go off a little bit because she was going. But that’s OK, you have to allow that. The Stone Keeper wouldn’t have taken away the game or taken away points. He would have just had to rise above it or pull her aside and say, “Look, I’ll work with you on this but just calm it down for a second. We’ll get there.”
KC: Or he could create a new stone.
Common: See, that’s the tricky thing with the Stone Keeper. [He] knows secrets about the stones that everybody does not.
KC: I guess we’ll unfold the secrets of the stones on Sept. 28, right?
Common: Yes! Sept. 28, Smallfoot, all the secrets will be there. Take your whole family.
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Christina Santi is a news and culture writer for EBONY.com. Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, she considers herself a well-read, not so traditional feminist with a heavy interest in music, fashion and pop culture. Christina currently lives in New York City, where she refers to her Cuban & Jamaican descent often while writing about her experiences as a first-generation Afro-Latinx in America. She also devotes time writing personalized reading material for her tutees and turning ideas into words for streetwear brand, PUER By Noel Bronson.