Jeremy Piven, Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Keys, Common and Nestor Carbonell Smokin Aces

Fast paced action and the sickest guns you'll see on screen

Most of the time when you hear about a great cast in a movie, it's because that's the only draw for audiences to go see. That is certainly not the case in Smokin' Aces.

Sure, it boasts one of the biggest names in Hollywood, but it's the film that really gives it that edge. Joe Carnahan, who's best known for his 2002 hit, NARC, has written and directed an awesome movie - plain and simple.

Jeremy Piven plays magician, Buddy 'Aces' Israel who has turned to drugs and the mob; and the mob wants to turn it back on him with a bounty for his heart in the tune of $1 million dollars. See, Buddy wasn't too loyal to the 'family' and ratted them out; when he found out about the hit on him, he went into hiding - in Lake Tahoe.

Out for the money are seven teams of assassins ready to take down anyone in their way; one of those teams is headed by Alicia Keys, who makes her feature film debut as an actress, with Taraji Henson as her partner. Chris Pine and his brothers also have that money on their minds; the Tremor brothers are a gang of ruthless animals who use any kind of electronic machine they can find to kill anyone and anything that stands in front of them. And Nestor Carbonell is working on his own to stake the heart of Buddy Israel.

On the sort of good side, part of the cast is Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Andy Garcia as FBI agents on the heels of extorting all of the info Buddy is willing to give them; R&B star Common plays Buddy's bodyguard; and Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, and Peter Berg try to protect Buddy from giving up any more information than he needs to.

In an all out war, gun shots fire and all out hell erupts as the teams of assassins and FBI agents converge on the Lake Tahoe hotel where Buddy is hiding out.

And also like an all out war, Jeremy, Ryan, Alicia, Common and Nestor sat down with Movieweb.com to talk about working on Smokin' Aces. Here's what they had to say:

Alicia, what was it about this role that attracted you?

Alicia Keys: I did not want to play a character that was a reflection of who I am; I also wanted my first film to be something where I was surrounded by an amazing cast - this fit that criteria to the fullest. I wanted to do something that was completely unexpected, totally out of the box, something that would blow people's minds, that the last thing on the planet earth they would ever think I would do would be it and this met that criteria as well. It was very exciting; it took me out of my element totally and out of my comfort zone completely and it challenged me in a way that was very rewarding for me.

What did you learn about acting that will inform you now as an artist and vocalist?

Common: For me, I just learned to be a freer artist; I think that it made me more comfortable with myself, actually acting, because I started getting more in tune with who I am by doing roles or even just being in a class and being around people. It just gave me a certain confidence and I started digging into parts of myself that I probably ignore and don't really get to express because Common is an artist that is conscious and is aware and is trying to put a positive energy to the world. So, me being able to be acting and doing other things has opened me as an artist, and I think even more from a visual standpoint too as far as writing goes.

Alicia Keys: I felt that I rediscovered how tremendously close the two worlds are; I grew up in the theater, my mother is an actress, I was always around the world of acting and theater. I was always amazed the way people would come in looking one way and transform completely to the point where I couldn't recognize their language, their accent, the way they looked, their hair, their face even changed becoming so inside of the character. I think I reconnected to the way that that affects me so much when I see a film that moves me in one way or another - angers me, makes me feel good, saddens me. That connects so much to what I do as an artist as well and how the two are very close together in regards to drawing on your life experience, drawing on something that you understand and transforming it into something that you give to the world or give out in another way. So, for me, it actually confirmed how close they are.

Alicia, did you have any apprehension in playing a role where had to actually shoot a gun, and how did you go about actually developing your character?

Alicia Keys: There was much work that went into it, tremendous work that went into developing Georgia in regard to the acting and digging into her. I almost called it therapy for me because she dug things out of me as a human being where I was like, 'Wow.' But I knew that if I didn't or wasn't able to address them there in that room with her then I would never be able to address them there on that set. So that was intense work for me to do; I physically worked out tremendously and that was intense work for me to do. Our gun training was extensive to the point where my hands would cut and bleed and it hurt very badly. But these were all things part of developing Georgia to discussing more with Joe and Taraji in a private way what was Georgia's story - where did she come from, what was her life, why did she feel that this was what she had to do and her only option, what was it that drove her to this, what was it about my relationship with men as Georgia that would make me feel these feelings? So many just deep discoveries and things that went into pulling Georgia out of my understanding of who I wanted her to be.

Jeremy and Common, the bond seems to be very strong between you two in the film; how did you develop that off screen?

Jeremy Piven: Absolutely, to the point where I'm stalking him; it's actually awkward for him. The synchronicity is pretty heavy; literally the other day, I pulled up to a stop light and I looked next to me and there he was and that doesn't even happen. I can't find anyone in this town ever. I met him backstage before his show, yet again I'm stalking him, and he had a poetic energy on stage that was very soulful and peaceful. I saw this element of danger; he'd kick the stool, like he would have this moment, and he was so theatrical in his presence and his cadence as a rapper is so similar to human speech when you're in front of the camera. It was almost there anyway, and the duality that he has as an artist. I felt something that you couldn't direct or teach someone to do, so I knew and thought that he could do it probably before he even had it confirmed himself. And I just called Joe immediately and said, 'This guy is just so perfect.' He had already auditioned and was the front runner and was killing it and I saw the auditions and it was really clear anyway. So the synchronicity was kind of amazing and then we had this Gap campaign together and this is one of those things where they didn't know about our movie, and suddenly we're on the sides of buildings together which is kind of ridiculous anyway.

Ryan Reynolds: They're actually holding hands underneath the table; their pinkies are interlocked.

Jeremy Piven: Yeah, there is something that we need to tell you all about. No.

Common: Easy, easy, easy.

Jeremy Piven: No, no, no.

Common: I'm a rap artist

Jeremy Piven: I single handedly killed his other career - nobody wins. We just connected; we're both from Chicago and we're kind of kindred spirits and immediately I felt very comfortable with him. It was almost as if we went to high school together or something. There was kind of a short hand that we had; I think both of them are superstars in this arena and then they come to a new arena and yet they're kind of students and were very open to the whole process which says a lot about them as human beings and this is a reason why they're such great artists because it's a collaborative medium and they kind of get that. It's so fun to do this process because he's kind of doing this for the first time so I feel kind of renewed about it as well. This is kind of an exciting time for all of us and the cast is so completely eclectic and everyone is so strong. There's not a weak link in this entire cast; I was really, really proud watching this thing. It's a true ensemble piece, everyone is really strong.

Common and Alicia, your on screen chemistry was really kind of hot; do you have any plans to work together musically in the future?

Common: That's good. Alicia and I - I've been able to perform, been blessed to come and rock some shows with her, and I was also featured on her unplugged album.

Alicia Keys: Absolutely.

Common: When the time comes; we're artists and I respect her as a woman and as an artist, as a person, and when the time is right, that's how we connect. I feel like if she has a song and she's like, 'Yo Common, lets get on this,' then I'll be down for that, or if I have a song. I feel that would come naturally like everything else in life, you know.

Alicia Keys: And that's a beautiful thing, because rarely are you able to establish a relationship with a person where you get to know them, you really know them. You know you feel like you can call them on the phone and say, 'Hey, what's going on with you? Where's your head and how is everything with you?' And to be able to have that without having to go, 'By the way, can we get on this music together real quick?' It's amazing; so when we do that, it'll be the friendship.

Ryan and Nestor, these are also definitely different characters for you; what was it about Smokin' Aces?

Ryan Reynolds: I've certainly never been in a movie that's had this unique brand of unblinking violence before, so that's sort of new for me. But it's like any other role; you tackle it in the same way and you try to find the truth to it and I was really attracted by this guy who was caught in this bureaucratic FBI cluster-f*ck, for lack of a better word, and because of that loses somebody that's very dear to him. So for me, it was just playing the truth of that the whole time and I was kind of alone throughout the movie. My character is sort of more of a rogue player and he kind of arrives to the party a little bit late, but when all is said and done, it was a dream come true and I'm just a huge fan of Joe Carnahan as well. He's such a charismatic individual and somebody that just applies every part of himself to the project he's in; it was great for me.

Nestor Carbonell: Well, for me, like Ryan said, Joe is such an enormous talent; if you watch Narc, it's amazing to see how incredibly talented he is in that particular genre which was just a drama. Then to come around and do a follow up, second picture that is such a tonally different kind of movie, this being a dark action comedy, and every character, as Jeremy said, has a moment, has a sort of epiphany. Even though it's incredibly violent, it has a real moment of clarity. And as dark and as depraved as some of the characters are, which mine certainly is, we all have a sort of moment of lightness. I think the reason the movie works so well is because the violence is so well balanced with the comedy. On my first day, I got to take a blow torch to a man's genitals which was only funny when I saw it onscreen. How often do you get to play something as dark as that and still make it funny. So for me, it was just a dream to get this job and to be able to work with this phenomenal cast.

Alicia and Common, what does acting give both of you that your music does not?

Alicia Keys: Well, I personally feel that acting is not totally different from singing and being a musician. My feeling especially is because the way that when I write a song, it's a memory; it's a moment in my life, and three years later when I'm on stage singing that same song, I have to recall what it was about that moment in my life that made it real for me and bring it to that moment on stage to make it real for you. To me, that is the same technique that I use in a very basic way for acting as well. So I find that they're very similar for me which is why it's not such a stretch; it's not such a leap. But what acting does bring that music doesn't bring for me is the opportunity - and probably for Common too because he said this - is the opportunity to be completely different in every way from whom you normally are, the person that you are when you wake up in the morning is who you are in your life. But to take that and have the opportunity to be the complete opposite of that, as Georgia was, as Ivy was, is the excitement of it. I think that personally allowed me to access places in myself that perhaps I had never accessed before because they are not who I am on a daily basis. So that is the incredible part of it for me and that I love tremendously.

Common: I have to basically agree with Alicia as far as the acting; it's just for me another way to express myself as an artist. I had to battle with myself for a minute about, 'Man, I want to establish myself as an actor; I don't want to be seen as this rapper/actor;' and I realized if you're an artist, you're an artist and you can express that through music, through painting, through photography, through acting - this is just another way for me to express myself. Certain things about scheduling and different things that are different from the music industry, that's one difference I've seen. But overall as far as artistry goes, it is a similar expression; you discover other things about yourself that you probably wouldn't just writing sometimes.

Jeremy, how long did you practice the card tricks?

Jeremy Piven: Paul Wilson was the guy that I worked with for the magic and the thing that he said that was the most important was to actually pull a trick off in front of people and he was absolutely right. I went with Common and Joe - Ryan wasn't invited - we went to the Magic Castle and we got up there and I actually did a trick and it's addicting, it really is. I've been on the stage my entire life as an actor and it's kind of another level where you pull this thing off and then to look in people's faces that are completely freaked out by something. I could see why you could dedicate your life to that as I did to the stage, so that was really informative for me. I had never really been around cards; I wasn't that guy, so I really had to work kind of extra hard and always have them in my hand. They're kind of like worry beads for the character that I kind of incorporated; that was really great to always have them in my hand.

How did you handle the emotion of your character?

Jeremy Piven: That's just what you live for as an actor, to get there. Joe said to me when we met on this role, 'Do you want to go deep?' I've waited my entire life for that moment; I had been doing it onstage in Chicago for a couple of hundred people and so I always knew that I have an emotional instrument and I'm accessible in that way and a big cry baby, to be honest with you. So, I knew that I could tap into that. Also, even though a character like that is far from my experience, there are a lot of metaphors there when you have a guy like that that's looking at himself in the mirror and wondering who he is and if he's a charlatan and what's happened to his life. I think that any one of us has had moments where we question ourselves. So these things are not too far from something that we can get into touch with and you just have to kind of make it real and go to that place. We had a moment where I had to get really, really emotional and I wasn't quite clicking in the way that I wanted to do. Joe asked me to put this little kind of twist into it that threw me off balance for a little bit and so I had to call upon some other stuff. It all sounds really cryptic what I'm saying here, but anyway I kind of connected on a very deep level that ends up being in the movie. I knew that it worked because I talked to Common afterwards and he said that he was in the other room and he felt something through the wall.

Common: Yeah, I remember that.

Jeremy Piven: So it was like, 'Okay then.' It was confirmed that I was kind of onto something. So the whole thing was just a complete gift and Joe and I knew that if you didn't care about this guy, if he had no heart when everyone was trying to kill him and extract his heart or put him on ice for the money, whatever their motivations were - everyone was converging on this hotel room - and if you didn't care about this character, if he didn't have some potential as a human being and if it wasn't a tragedy, then all the hard work that everyone puts into it wouldn't mean as much because you needed to have that central character be tragic. It was just an honor to be able to kind of live fully through that guy.

Jeremy, do you have a goal or a vision for your future?

Jeremy Piven: I never really got off too far ahead of myself, but there is a lot of stuff out there. For so much of my career I've been trying to find little things and make something out of it. This is one of those gems, this role; it's the best role that I've ever had in my life and was just a true gift to be here with this cast and to have Joe be at the helm was magical - no pun intended. As far as the rest of it, I started a company and I'm producing some stuff right now and got the rights to some stuff and I wrote a script and I've been whispering in director's ears for a really long time and I'd love to direct. I know that everyone says that, but it's true. I just think that it's a really collaborative form and I want to continue on with that. I'd love to get the girl in something if that's possible.

Do you have any musical aspirations now since working with Common?

Alicia Keys: Yeah, he has an album coming out.

Jeremy Piven: I do but -

Ryan Reynolds: You're a wicked drummer, Jeremy.

Jeremy Piven: I have been drumming my whole life, and so that's just really, really fun to me. So I would love to get onstage and mix it up someday with these five people live somewhere. You never know, it could happen; stranger things have happened.

Do you know anything about season four of Entourage?

Jeremy Piven: I know a lot about it just because it's going to be twenty episodes and we've already shot eight of them. To me it's the best stuff that we've done because I get to do so much. HBO does something that most networks don't do which is give a show a chance to find their voice; I think that the show is hitting its stride and the best stuff is in the season to come and Ari Gold will rise like the Phoenix. You can't count him out of it.

Do you think that the boys were right to fire Ari?

Jeremy Piven: It's interesting because one of the great things that you should never do that I learned from John Malkovich is to never judge your characters. So I don't have any distance to be honest with you because I'm so kind of in that Ari Gold space in terms of trying to flesh him out and give him as much integrity as possible. So I don't see the totality of it like you do. So, my view of it is totally skewed. I say that they were wrong.

Let the excitement begin! Smokin' Aces races into theaters January 26th, rated R.