WASHINGTON (AP) — Common is always in a competitive mindset.

In his latest flick, Just Wright, he plays a top-notch basketball player who deals with a serious injury. In real life, he’s a skillful, Grammy-winning rapper aiming to be at the top of his game.

He’s even driven in his down time — and that includes when he’s playing a round of tennis with his high profile athlete-girlfriend, Serena Williams.
“I hit with her a couple of times but it’s kind of tough … me, having an athletic mind-state and not being able to defeat your companion,” he said. “If I’m playing Uno, I want to win.”

Common, 38, says he learned a few tricks from Williams and gets a chance to show that in the new romantic comedy, which also stars Queen Latifah. The movie debuted Friday, May 14.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Common talked about his relationship with Williams, his friendship with Kanye West and finally getting the lead role in a movie.

AP: Get any tips from Serena Williams about playing an athlete? ­­
Common: One thing I gotta say is that athletes, they play through the pain. I’ve seen the pain that not only Serena or Venus would go through, but the other athletes that I know. … I gained a lot of respect for athletes doing this role because it’s a superhuman ability to go out there and be in that pain and because of the level of skill that they possess.

AP: It seems celebrities always hook up with celebrities. Can’t a common girl have a shot at Common?
Common: I think a lot has to do with being in the same circles. To a certain extent we cross paths in different places and you meet the person then you see them again — you never know what comes about from there. But I think it all depends on the people, because I’ve dated a woman who had nothing to do with the industry, but she
understood my career and was very supportive and I was supportive of her.

AP: You aren’t just in Just Wright, you’re the male lead. Is this something you’ve wanted for a while?
Common: I have actually been studying acting for some years, even (before) getting the chance to be in films. I hit a ceiling with music for a second. I felt like I really want to grow as an artist and this (movies) is another creative outlet out there. I feel like I’m an actor too, along with being a hip-hop artist. To get the opportunity to be a romantic lead is a great step for me.

AP: How did you pull off the basketball scenes?
Common: I grew up playing basketball from grammar school, like when I was about 7 years old until high school. Pretty much once I got into the industry I would play pickup games sometimes. Once I got this I started focusing on my game again and it was, like, rekindling the fire. By the time I finished, the trainer for the Nets said: “You’re a player, you’re a player, now!” I felt great about that!

AP: So, what is it about Kanye West that you get but others don’t?
Common: He is one of the best people I’ve met in life. He is a goodhearted guy who tries to help out a lot of people — that’s one thing I have watched. … He wants to do well by people, but he still has his own
confidence and his own flaws like we all do. Kanye’s definitely a good guy, that’s why I can say that he’s my friend.

AP: You ever pull him aside and say it’s rude to snatch the mic out of the hands of a young country star on live TV?
Common: Whenever I have something like advice, I just tell him — whether he accepts it, it’s up to him. I’ll talk to him about the way I think things should go. It’s just my opinion and I definitely feel responsible as someone who cares for another human being. If I see them do something that I think is inappropriate or not right I’m going to catch him, but that’s our relationship —­ he would do the same thing for me.