A Guide To Common’s AMC Debut In ‘Hell On Wheels’

By Dionne Buxton and Carly Kilroy

Common has been extra busy this year. In September he released his New York Times bestselling memoir One Day It’ll All Make Sense, in which he speaks candidly about his past relationship with Erykah Badu, working with legends like J. Dilla and love for his fans. Last week he debuted the video for “Blue Sky,” the latest single from his upcoming December album The Dreamer, The Believer. And this weekend the Chicago native will make his debut in AMC’s post Civil War drama Hell on Wheels. Check out our guide to Common’s most anticipated acting gig to date.

What: AMC’s latest series Hell on Wheels.

When: Sunday, November 7 at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. central)

The lowdown: A drama set in the post-Civil War era, based around the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. The 10-epsiode series zeroes in on the dynamics of black and white relationships, exploring how roles are changed and challenged while these groups unite to the American landmark that connects the West to the East.

Common’s role: Common plays a former slave named Elam Ferguson who continues to battle the pre-war racist mindset. His character deals with the challenges of being a bi-racial man (half white/half black) while working in a predominantly white male environment. Still, the drama he endures at work pales in comparison to the struggles he faces in his personal life.

Common’s details on the show: “I hadn’t seen any material written this great for a black character, especially of this time period, and I was so attracted to the role because I felt like, there’s depth in this human being,” he told The Chicago Tribune. “They wrote Elam Ferguson as a person who was a slave that had been oppressed but [was] very strong and intelligent and had aspirations and was not perfect.”

“It doesn’t matter how many times you hear it, it still hits you,” he said on the show’s liberal use of the N- word. “You feel disrespected.”

Expert’s take: “As Elam, one of their unofficial leaders, rapper Common gives one of the series’ best performances, showing his incandescent bitterness at going from slavery to servitude.” —Time.

“Common brings a layered intensity to a very complex role. This part required someone who can transcend the stereotypes of the period and bring the character to life in a truly unique way, and he brings that.” — AMC’s SVP of programming, Joel Stillerman.