HELLO AMERICA! If you believed that Cuba Gooding JR had it easy on his climb to fame and fortune, you would be mistaken. Yes, he was fortunate enough to have a very successful father, a musician, to make him feel very secure about himself during the earlier period of his life, but that ended quickly when he turned five. When his parents divorced, the big house, the expensive cars with the chauffeur, the backstage visits during a concert was over. "I moved with my mother, brother and sister and began facing financial hardships, which included stretches of being evicted and living in a car, as well as experiencing time on welfare rolls."
The family while staying in a cheap motel in suburban Orange County, was when Gooding befriended future personal assistant, Shawn Suttles, and production company partner, Derek Broes, and the three perfected their breakdancing moves, christening themselves the Majestic Vision Breakdancers. Their routine was "phat" enough to get them into the breakdancing extravaganza that was part of the closing ceremonies at the 1984 Olympic Games, and the gig landed Gooding an agent, opening the door a crack to the world he had known as a child.
"During the period of living on welfare," he noted, "never discouraged me. I knew in my bones that I would never end up at the bottom. Then too, my mom, instilled in us that life was full of ups and downs, and instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we should learn from the experience. The tough times would only make us not afraid of the hard times that life sometimes forces on us. Yeah, my mom helped me to believe, not to give up on our dreams...that it might take a lot of work, but it would be worth it."
Gooding landed his first professional role as a thug in an episode of NBC's "Hill Street Blues", then stole some hubcaps when guesting on "Jake and the Fatman" (CBS). Other series appearances (i.e., "The Bronz Zoo" and "Amen", both NBC) and commercials followed before he made his feature acting debut as Boy Getting Haircut in "Coming to America" (1988). His breakthrough came with a starring role in John Singleton's celebrated directorial debut, "Boyz N the Hood" (1991). Playing the troubled Tre Styles, who finds the strength to rise above the self-destructive violence of the ghetto, Gooding sensitively conveyed the pressures and contradictions attendant upon young black men growing up in South Central Los Angeles.
"All of the things that I did during those earlier times," the actor said, "helped me to appreciate as well as understand what my craft is all about. I have the greatest respect for the production crew, the director and all the stuff that a producer must be aware of when making any kind of film. And I believe the respect you give to your fellow actors is primary to any successful story on film. I've been extremely lucky in that department."
After landing in the high-powered supporting cast of the blockbuster courtmartial drama "A Few Good Men" (1992), the actor stumbled as the star of that year's "Rocky" wannabe "Gladiator" (1992) and as the mute sidekick of Paul Hogan in "Lightning Jack" (1994, in a role that purportedly was intended for a dog). However, when Damon Wayans left the producers of "Jerry Maguire"(1996) scrambling for a last-minute replacement for the role of Rod Tidwell, Gooding stepped into the breach and delivered what Owen Gleiberman in "Entertainment Weekly" called a "ferocious star-making performance." As the strutting but ultimately principled pro-football player, he provided a highly sympathetic, multi-faceted portrayal of an egomaniacal but insecure athlete. The part earned him a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar, and cries of "Show me the money!" his catchphrase to the titular agent played by Tom Cruise, greeted him wherever he went.
One would believe that after winning the coveted Oscar that life for Gooding would be easy, filled with big money offers. Not true. He was offered minor roles in projects, but nothing as big as "Jerry Maguire". "Hell," he laughed, "no matter what I have to work -- so, when I was offered several commercials, I accepted. After all, Columbia, the company that had released "Boyz", "Jerry Maguire" and "As Good As it Gets", still considered Martin Lawrence more bankable when it came to casting "Blue Streak" (1999). And that's why I decided on the commercials to possibly raise my profile much more."
In the first leading role since his Oscar win, Gooding broke out of the rut of outgoing, flamboyant characters with a much more cerebral turn as an ambitious psychiatrist trying to draw out Anthony Hopkins' psychotic killer (equal parts Hannibal Lecter and Lear).
Excited by the color-blind casting, the actor earned positive reviews, though the thriller itself left little else to recommend it. That year he also portrayed a small-town guy trying to prevent a chemical weapon from detonating in "Chill Factor" and took his first crack at producing with "A Murder of Crows", an independent feature broadcast on Cinemax. A further sign of his growing clout came when he was cast opposite Robert De Niro in "Men of Honor" (2000), the biopic of the US Navy's first black salvage-and-retrieval expert.
"I'm excited about the future," Cuba admits. "There are so many other things I want to do or produce. Whatever, comes my way, I will be very cautious and careful about each possible project. I still dream, but it's more fantastic when you begin to lay down the work. As far as I'm concern, that's what it's all about."
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