Cuba Gooding Jn.


Cuba Gooding Jn’s outrageously exuberant performance in ‘Jerry Maguire’ gave him much more than just fame, fortune, and an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Thanks to the scene in which the flamboyant, aggrieved, American footballer player Rod Tidwell (Gooding Jn) encourages his agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) to embrace his “family motto” by repeatedly shouting “Show Me The Money !!!” down the phone, the 1993 smash gave him one of the great cinematic catchphrases of recent times – right up there with “Greed is Good” or “Go ahead punk, make my day.”

Ask him about it and Cuba Gooding Jn refers to it as “the famous line”, as if he’s almost superstitious about not erasing its lustre by repeating it too often.

“Everywhere I go, people shout it at me. In the street, at the airport,” he smiles, shaking his head.

Inevitably, every barman he has bought a drink from has shouted it at him while every time he goes to the dry-cleaners, he says, “the man behind the counter will start screaming “Show me the laundry !” over and over again.”

What he still finds strange is that people are so eager to come up and say it, but then get it wrong.  

” ‘Give me the money !’ they say. Or ‘give me the dinero ‘. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

Anyone who saw the way he stole the film from Tom Cruise will have a fair idea of what Cuba Gooding Jn is actually like: a boisterous, gregarious, excitable, presence who punctuates his conversation with excitable comic asides and explosions of raucous laughter. It doesn’t take much for him to start performing.

Most Hollywood stars earning upward of $10 million-a-movie (as he is reputed to) treat interviews with a brisk, business-like, professionalism and the minimum amount of energy needed to plug their film.

But not Cuba Gooding Jn.

As soon as I mention the TV commercials he made early on his career, he breaks into a bright, wide-eyed, smile and starts singing the jaunty ditty: “I like this friend ! I like the way you make me laugh. Doop-doop-doop !” Yeah, I was the Sprite guy ! I did Bugle Boy jeans !! Burger King !!!” (Virtually everything he says is followed by varying degrees of exclamation marks.)

At 31 and now a dapper millionaire in a Prada suit who says he dresses “to look the part of a $20-million player”, those days making TV commercials seem like a long time ago.

“My hair was bleached orange and green, and, like, spiked and I had a parrot on my shoulder ! I was dancing on top of a brick wall, eating a burger and smiling at the parrot !  Man, if they ever repeated that Burger King ad, my career would probably end, ha-ha-ha.” Even the merest mention of such a notion makes his American publicist (who handles Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone amongst others) look uncomfortable.

Not that this seems very likely. Along with hot comic talents like Chris Rock and Chris Tucker, Cuba Gooding Jn is one of a pack of young black actors tipped to follow in the wake of Will Smith and join the likes of Wesley Snipes, Samuel L.Jackson, and Morgan Freeman in the big league.

He certainly has a film star’s face: handsome, charismatic, with his trademark moustache helping make him instantly recognisable.

I doubt that it’s even crossed his mind that ‘Jerry Maguire’ might be the apex of his career: an almost impossible act to follow. It will certainly be hard to top the euphoria he experienced winning that breakthrough Oscar or hearing for the first time that, having auditioned “a few times”, he had won the role.

“When I got the phone call, I went NUTS. Yelling and screaming. Jumped in the pool with every stitch of clothing on.”

It seems remarkable to think that Cuba Gooding Jn’s very first film appearance was only nine years ago – a bit part in Eddie Murphy’s ‘Coming To America.’ In fact, it falls to me to break the news to him that he is billed on the credits as Boy Getting Haircut. 

“You’re kidding me !” he screams, not entirely pleased. “I had a role ! They just cut it all out. (Pretends to sob.) I used to have a name.”

As the laughter dies down, he says with perfect timimg: “But hey…I’m not the Boy Getting A Haircut anymore.”

He tells me people expect him to admit surprise at his sudden rise to fame and fortune, and modestly deny it’s what he always expected, but the fact is, he always did.

“You have to ! If you don’t believe that you are going to be the biggest actor in the world, that you’re going to be an Academy Award winner, then why start !? As a kid, I saw it. I saw it every time I saw Sidney Poitier on TV. When I saw Denzel Washington in ‘Glory’, I said: that’s what I want to do.”

Within three years of this, he had his first starring role – in John Singleton’s seminal rites of passage movie about life set in Compton, ‘Boyz ‘N’ The Hood’, with Laurence Fishburne playing his father even though there’s only seven years between them, which shows just how deceptive Gooding jn’s boyish good looks can be.

Born in the Bronx, Cuba’s own father was also in showbusiness as the lead singer in the band Main Ingredient and for twelve years had “a pretty privileged life.”

Then, when his parents divorced and his mum struggled to get by, “things hit rock bottom so quickly things didn’t seem real.”

(After 13 years apart, they remarried, which sounds like a movie in itself.)

He tried “a bit of everything to get into movies” – from TV commercials to break-dancing in the closing ceremony of the 1984 Olympics.

He says he loved doing his new movie ‘Instinct“because I didn’t have to play an African-American.”

But in fact ever since ‘Boyz ‘N’ The Hood’ but especially after ‘Jerry Maguire’, the role Gooding Jn has specialised in has been the white star’s likeable, slightly eccentric, Black Friend.

He has teamed up to good effect with Dustin Hoffman (‘Outbreak’), Jack Nicholson (‘As Good As It Gets’), and Robin Williams (‘What Dreams May Come’). He reprises the role in ‘Instinct’ (playing a psychotherapist) opposite Anthony Hopkins as an anthropologist-turned-catatonic killer in what is basically a far-fetched and over-ambitious amalgam of ‘Silence Of The Lambs’, ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’ and (wait for it) ‘Gorillas In The Mist’.

Gooding Jn’s irresistible self-confidence seems undented by the savaging American critics gave the film. (Cuba’s publicist practically chokes when I bring up The San Francisco Examiner’s rather unfair but hilarious description of it as “ape-shit.”) In any case, he has already signed up to make ‘Navy Diver’ (with Robert De Niro) and seems in no doubt as to what he wants to do with his career.

“I wanna become a black studio head. Own my own studio,” he says straight away, settling back into his chair, and already looking the part.

Given what he’s achieved in ten years, I wouldn’t put it past him.

Even if he does go on to run his own studio, the man knows what will be on his tombstone. 

“Ohhhh yes !” he nods, before roaring: “Here lies Mr. ‘Show Me The Money’ Gooding Junior !”

Ever-the-showman, he can’t help entertaining everyone in the room by riffing on a some of the other (cheaper) short-hand possibilities.

“Here lies ‘Show Me !’ Here lies ‘Mr S. M. T. M !’ Here lies ‘Shoomthmn !’ Hah-hah-hah. ‘Here lies Sh !’”

He looks pretty happy about all of them: Cuba Gooding Jn. has made his mark.