Cuba Gooding, Jr. was born in the Bronx on Jan. 2, 1968, but raised in Los Angeles from the age of 4 on. Best known for his Oscar-winning portrayal of the charmingly-arrogant Rod “Show Me the Money!” Tidwell in Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire, he first found fame in 1991 when he received critical acclaim for his performance in John Singleton’s coming-of-age classic Boyz n the Hood.

Cuba followed-up that success with roles in As Good as It Gets, What Dreams May Come, and the Oscar-nominated A Few Good Men.

Here, he talks about his work opposite Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

KW: What interested you in {The Butler}?
CG: He sent me this screenplay about five years ago, suggesting that I might be the butler.

KW: Were you upset when you didn’t land the title role?
CG: No, one thing led to another in casting choices, and now I couldn’t imagine this movie without Forest Whitaker playing the lead and Oprah playing his wife. I think they’re both deserving of Oscar nominations.

KW: You did a great job, too.
CG: Thanks. It just feels so good to be involved again with a movie that’s socially relevant. I recently met a 27 year-old white male who admitted that he didn’t know about the sit-ins until seeing this movie’s scene with the kids being refused service in a segregated diner.

KW: How much research did you have to do to prepare for the role?
CG: Well, I’d been researching and gathering information on the subject for several years for both this script and for a Martin Luther King story about Selma. So, it’s a time period I’d already become pretty well-versed in.

KW: How emotionally affected were you seeing the film for the first time?
CG: I was a wreck. I sat and hugged Pam like someone had died in the family. And, to be honest with you, Kam, it wasn’t so much the history lesson, but simply that my eldest son who’s 18 was going off to college, and I couldn’t get back to L.A. to see him off when he left because I was stuck in New York. The father-son relationship just hit me, man, especially the scene where Cecil Gaines says goodbye to his son departing for college. What I experienced wasn’t a feeling of sadness, but rather a realization of this higher calling in life, and how we’re all a part of this chain.

KW: How did you enjoy being on Broadway? What play were you doing, {A Trip to Bountiful}?
CG: Yes, sir, since February. I loved it. I actually started in theater, that’s where an agent found me in ’86, I was doing a Shakespeare festival. On the stage, if you don’t understand every word of what you’re saying, it is apparent in your countenance. So, I was always about living the character.

KW: If you could have a superpower, which one would you choose?
CG: I would fly. I’ve been dreaming about flying since I was 5 years-old.

To see a trailer for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, visit:


Kam Williams

Special to the AFRO