Cuba Gooding Jr. recalls the night he won his Oscar as “transformative.”
Fifteen years ago, the performer who added “Show me the money!” to the list of legendary movie lines gave an acceptance speech with all the energy of his “Jerry Maguire” character — Rod Tidwell, the arrogant football player steered toward bigger bucks by the title sports agent (Tom Cruise) — when he accepted his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the 1996 comedy-drama.
“I look back at it in the obvious, positive way,” Gooding tells Zap2it, “with all the prestige and the opportunity that came with it, but also in a negative way. Before that, I was never asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ It was always like, ‘Here’s your assignment.’ I’d started in theater, doing ‘L’il Abner’ in the morning and ‘Twelfth Night’ at night.
“‘Jerry Maguire’ started for me as just a read-through for another actor who, for whatever reason, didn’t do it. I stepped in and read what the character was and became it. And when I won the Oscar, everyone was like, ‘OK. Now, what do you want to do?’ I wound up passing on a lot of great opportunities, because I thought, ”They gave me the power!'”
With such other notable post-“Maguire” credits as “Men of Honor” and “Radio” — in a film career launched by the acclaimed “Boyz N the Hood” — Gooding reflects, “I wouldn’t change anything. I think that now, I have such an appreciation just for the work again, I’m back in the position to bring a passion to my work that makes the statements I want to make as an artist.”
The current Tuskegee Airmen movie “Red Tails” mirrors that for Gooding, as does his role as a youth-correctional-facility counselor in ABC’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie “Firelight” Sunday, April 22. Neither may furnish him a sentence as famous as “Show me the money!,” but he still appreciates being known for it.
“Everybody’s always like, ‘Oh, you must be sick of that line,’ but you just own the moment,” Gooding reasons. “That’s all you can do: Own it, be proud of it, and move on. As actors, what we try to do is create truth in our characters, and I think the truth of that character can be summed up in that one line.”