As Gooding as it gets

Actor: Cuba Gooding Jr.'s success in `Jerry Maguire' rocketed him into Hollywood's big leagues. That's him opposite Anthony Hopkins in `Instinct' which opens in theaters Friday.

June 01, 1999|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

The door swings open. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is on the other side. The door slams shut. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. is still on the other side.

Laughing, he finally makes it into the room. This wasn't a lame attempt at a Hollywood style "entrance," he says. "The door closed on me," he explains reaching out a hand in greeting.

Well, not too many doors are closing on this guy these days.

You know Gooding. He played the swaggering, loudmouth, professional football player who shouted the now-immortal phrase "Show me the money!" in the 1996 movie "Jerry Maguire."

It was a role that won him an Oscar as best supporting actor. Gooding, 31, says he has always felt "respect as an actor" but the film and award catapulted him to major stardom. He even recently was host on "Saturday Night Live," the one with Monica Lewinsky as a surprise guest.

Gooding began his film career in the 1991 urban coming-of-age tale, "Boyz 'N the Hood" directed by John Singleton.

A year later, he was featured in "A Few Good Men," starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Following "Jerry Maguire," he played the gay boyfriend of actor Greg Kinnear in the 1997 movie "As Good As It Gets."

Now, he's gone from being a boy in the 'hood to co-starring with actor Anthony Hopkins. In his latest film, "Instinct," Gooding plays psychiatric resident Theo Caulder, who is evaluating the Hopkins character, Ethan Powell.

It's no small job -- or role for that matter. Powell, a renowned primatologist, has been willingly living among mountain gorillas in the Rwanda jungle for four years. And he is charged with murdering two park rangers.

Caulder must find out what is going on with Powell, why he refuses to speak and why he committed murder. Gooding's character -- a successful, uptight and ambitious doctor -- ends up learning a few of life's lessons from his patient.

Most of the movie, which opens Friday, takes place in a harsh Florida prison for the criminally insane where Powell is committed. There are flashbacks to the Rwanda jungle (the scenes were actually filmed in a Jamaican forest).

For Gooding, it's a very different role, one that meant containing his emotions instead of letting them all hang out. "The screenplay was a great opportunity for me to play someone where the story unfolded through the character," he says at a Georgetown hotel while making the media rounds with director Jon Tarteltaub to promote the film.

Besides, he couldn't turn down the chance to work with Tarteltaub.

"I knew Jon's work," he says. Tarteltaub has directed the movies "While You Were Sleeping," "Phenomenon" and "Cool Runnings," among others.

"And when I heard Anthony Hopkins was involved in it, I knew I was definitely on board."

Hopkins, Gooding found, was a true professional and down to earth.

"You know, I've told this story before, but he pops his Achilles tendon on the set ... and he kept right on working through it!" And, although Hopkins is "knighted," he insisted on being called "Tony."

Gooding is even more handsome in person than on screen. He has a short haircut, round face and eyes that sparkle. There were only a few hints that it had apparently been a long, long night of sightseeing around the nation's capital. He sprawled on a couch, occasionally hugging a pillow. "Coffee," he requested of an assistant. "Ask for enough for six people."

Tarteltaub, who requested tea, says when it came to casting "Instinct," Gooding's name was on the studio's short list of bankable actors -- even before winning the Oscar. Tarteltaub knew Gooding had the emotional reach the role calls for "although he usually lets it out."

Anyway, he says, there were also other incentives for seeking Gooding for this movie.

"I needed somebody who wasn't working and who would work much cheaper that Matthew McConaughey. And we tried to sign him before he won the Oscar because we knew if he won, his price would go up!" Tarteltaub is joking.

"And it did," Gooding says. He isn't joking.

The actor grew up in West Hollywood in an entertainment family. His father, Cuba Gooding Sr. is a singer with the old rhythm and blues group the Main Ingredient. The younger Gooding now lives in Studio City, Calif., with his wife and two children.

It was while acting in a play at North Hollywood High that Gooding knew he wanted to make a career as an actor. As a teen-ager, he was soon cast in an episode of the TV cop show "Hill Street Blues."

"I was, like, thug No. 2," he says.

Next, he filmed a pilot for a sitcom that never made it on the air. At the time, he was heartbroken but now he is delighted the show was not picked up. "My own little sitcom was kind of like a `Diff'rent Strokes,' " he says, implying it would have been an embarrassment.

He has nothing to be ashamed of now. The career is going along swimmingly, he says.

His goal -- besides to keep acting -- is to continue to play characters that allow him to grow. "That is my ultimate career goal," Gooding says.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.