|Cuba Gooding Jr.|
By Miki Turner
Special to Page 2
In "Jerry Maguire," his last sports-themed film, Cuba Gooding Jr. showed us the money and cashed in on a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. In his most recent effort, Gooding shows us his heart.
"Radio," the film that stars Gooding, 35, as a mentally disabled man called Radio because of his penchant for transistor radios, is based on an inspiring true story about the unlikely friendship that develops between Radio and Harold Jones (Ed Harris), a noted high school football coach in South Carolina. The film, which opens today, follows the success of Gooding's other recent feature, "The Fighting Temptations," where he stars opposite the sizzling-hot Beyonce.
ESPN.com caught up with Gooding to discuss his "Radio" role just as he was about to board a plane for a press junket. He talked about "Radio," his love for hockey, his favorite sports fantasy and his younger brother, Omar Gooding (star of ESPN's "Playmakers").
1. Some critics are already talking Oscar nod for you in this role. Is it hard for you not to get caught up in all the hype?
(Laughs.) It's the weirdest thing to answer one of those questions. Here's the deal. I do my career and the roles I do for the library of work, and I'm proud of every single thing I've done -- even the crazy turns in "Boat Trip" and "Snow Dogs," "Lightning Jack" and "Chill Factor." The more prestigious roles, like "Men of Honor" and "Jerry Maguire," that are respected -- that's great. But it's all about the work and getting caught in the character -- especially in roles where you get the physical and the mental stimulated at the same time, and the performance is based on a real-life guy.
But getting awards is a cool thing, right?
When you get rewarded by getting awarded, then more people see the performance. And that's what we're in the business of -- leading people into a fantasy world. So, the only observation I can make on the Academy Award thing is that I don't want to take a stance on "Oh yeah, it's an Oscar buzz thing," because that's a turn-off to me. It's like that day they announce it -- if my name's called, it will be a wonderful thing. If it's not, hopefully I'll already be on another movie (laughs), doing what I love to do.
2 How do you prepare for a role like Radio?
This one was so far different from my normal personality that I really had to get the physical right first. I knew I wanted a certain walk and a certain look to him. I watched a lot of tapes on him, and watched tapes of people who knew him and took care of him, and I tried to make judgments on his personality. Once I was comfortable with all that, I had to come to conclusions on certain characteristics of his personality. I guess the whole process took about four months.
So you didn't actually spend any time with him personally?
No, I didn't, actually. The first time I met him was like three weeks into filming. He came on to the set; and by then, I was pretty comfortable with the character I was going to portray. When I met him, it was like a reaffirmation that I was on the right track. The quirks and mannerisms seem to be pretty consistent with his behavior the day we met.
What did you think of him?
He's a great guy. A very special person with a big, big heart.
3. Is it more daunting for you to play a real-life person than a made-up character?
You know, it is when they're on the set. They're the best critics. And I guess the second negative would be that the people who know them are your critics. So when you're playing an unknown character, then the world is your critic; and that's kind of hard. But when it's a guy who's real and nobody knows him, you kind of dictate who he is. You have a responsibility to be true to that personality.
4. What's your favorite sport?
Well, I guess ... It's funny. It used to be football. I ran track and played football and baseball in high school. I was thinking about going to college on a football scholarship, but I wasn't really good enough. I picked up ice hockey about 10 years ago, and, being a celebrity, I've had the opportunity to play in celebrity games and in pick-up games in L.A. with Mario Lemieux, Luc Robitaille and a lot of the guys who play on the (L.A.) Kings -- Chris Chelios and a lot of guys who have become my friends and have really given me an insight into the game.
I played well enough to compete in certain tournaments, and I'm hooked. Completely hooked. I follow the stats and certain players and the draft.
So which team are you picking for the Stanley Cup?
I'd like to say the Kings. I guess they've been winning pretty good, and that's my first team. But I've been an Avalanche fan since way back when they were the Quebec Nordiques. They've got the best wingers in the world on that team between, (Paul) Kariya and Teemu (Selanne). And their defense with Rob Blake and they've got (Peter) Forsberg ...
They're just an exciting team to watch. Whenever they play, it's almost like watching an all-star game. I once played with Jim Cummins in a pick-up game, and I know how aggressive he is. To see him in the mix is really exciting. It might be the chemistry, the way these guys who are bigger come together with the finesse players.
5. What about the Super Bowl?
My official football pick: I have to stick by the Raiders, because when I was younger, I went to the Raiders' football camp. It was in the '80s and Lyle Alzado was there. But I guess Minnesota and Dallas are really the two teams that look good to me.
6. So, being a Southern California guy who grew up in Orange County and who is now living in Los Angeles: Ducks or Kings, Raiders or Rams?
Kings, obviously, because when I started playing, I was playing with a lot of Kings. And Raiders, obviously, because I went to the Raiders' football camp.
Raiders, even though the Rams were in L.A. first?
Yeah, I was never really into the Rams. I wasn't really into sports at all until I was in junior high school and a guy by the name of Scott Munson and his family kind of took me in and got me into that football camp. So from that moment on, it was like football was introduced through the eyes of the Raiders.
7. Now both you and your brother, Omar, have portrayed football players on screen. Who's the better athlete?
Oh, my brother. He's the better everything. When you get older, you just realize. I just open the door and he just knocks it down. He's so great (on "Playmakers"). I'm so proud of him.
8. What do you think of "Playmakers"?
"Playmakers" looks great. I keep trying to get him to swear off the bad-guy roles (laughs). But he's good. He's talented. I'm sure he'll be able to switch up whenever he's ready, but he's bad on that.
Any plans for you to appear on the show?
Who knows? Maybe.
9. Are you the proverbial big brother, always dispensing advice and/or preaching?
No, because I grew up in a situation where I had people telling me what to do and what not to do. You have to experience a lot of (crap). I talk my brother's ear off when he calls me; but for the most part, I don't reach out and say "Hey, why are you doing this?" I let him figure stuff out. When he gets in trouble, he knows he can call me for help. But you know, we've never had that relationship where I'm always telling him what to do. I want him to experience stuff so he really gets the lesson of it.
10. What's your wildest sports fantasy?
To make it to the Super Bowl and catch a long pass for a touchdown. When I was at the Raiders' football camp, the parents came down on the last day and watched the kids play. I caught a long touchdown pass in the end zone as a wide receiver, and that won the game for us. So doing something like that in a big game in the NFL would be cool.