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The Hit List/ Cuba Gooding Jr. Interview

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The Hit List
An Exclusive Interview with Cuba Gooding Jr.

By Wilson Morales

May 12, 2011

Released on home video (DVD, Blu-ray) this week is ‘The Hit List,’ starring Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and Cole Hauser.

Ever wish you had the chance to get back at the boss who undermined you…the spouse who cheated on you…or the friend who deceived you? One night, a down-on-his-luck businessman, Allan Campbell (Cole Hauser), meets a mysterious stranger, Jonas Arbor (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who claims to be a professional hit man. Jonas offers to take out five targets, free of charge. Thinking it’s a bad joke, Allan jots down his own private hit list. The next day, the people he named start turning up dead, and all the evidence points to Allan. Hunted by the police and haunted by guilt, Allan races against time to stop the murders he set in motion. In this world, vengeance always has a price.

Since Gooding Jr. won the Oscar in 1996 for Best Supporting Actor for his performance opposite Tom Cruise in ‘Jerry Maguire,’ the Bronx, NY native then went on to star in numerous studio films such as ‘As Good As It Gets,’ ‘Instinct,’ ‘Men of Honor,’ ‘Pearl Harbor,’ ‘Snow Dogs,’ ‘The Fightin’ Temptations,’ and ‘American Gangster.’

However, these last few years, most of his films, where he’s played the leading role, have gone straight-to-DVD. With films such as ‘End Game,’ ‘Hero Wanted,’ ‘Hardwired,’ and more recently, ‘Sacrifice,’ Gooding Jr. has shown a different range of acting skills that hasn’t been seen on the big screen and with ‘The Hit List,’ hopefully producers can see his performance and give him another vehicle that a wider audience can see him in.

In 2009, he gave a well-received performance as Ben Carson in TNT’s ‘Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,’ which garnered him an NAACP Image Award for Best Actor in a TV movie or miniseries.

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Gooding Jr. talks about his latest film and addresses why his decision to take on films that don’t go to the big screen.

‘The Hit List’ is a very intense, action-type film. What was the appeal in taking the role?

Cuba Gooding Jr.: These last few years there’s been a lot of these smaller movies. My motto’s been, as a film actor you only get to practice when you’re paid. (laughs) It’s been like going back to film school, and I’ve been doing a lot of writing and editing and whatnot. This particular story was really intriguing to me because the guy could be perceived as extreme evil, kills people indiscriminately, assassinates them, targets them, yet here’s a guy who’s accepted that as his mindset. He also finds good in this man he runs across at a bar and decides to do something that he perceives as good for him. It’s like the ultimate irony, and I decided to jump headfirst into it.

How was working with Cole (Hauser) on this one?

Gooding Jr.: Cole Hauser and I have met a few times previously. I was blown away by his performance in John Singleton’s ‘Higher Learning.’ I thought his role was by far the most compelling in the piece. I thought his performance in that role was so focused. I even mentioned to Singleton, who’s a good friend of mine for obvious reasons (‘Boys N The Hood’), that Cole was a real talent that should be watched. When I ran into him a couple of times I mentioned those sentiments to him and he just laughed. So when his name came up for this part there was no hesitation for me. Interestingly enough, for that role originally we were seeking a guy like Joseph Gordon Levitt, that kind of person, a frail, fragile guy to have the dynamic of a hit man taking this lost soul as his boss. When Cole came up the dynamic changed because he’s a tall man, a bigger man than me. But I knew an actor of his caliber would bring about the qualities of the character and make the audience realize it’s not the size of the dog but the size of the fight in the dog.

How was shooting in Spokane, Washington?

Gooding Jr.: This was my fourth production in that city. I have an intimate relationship with Spokane, almost too much so because when people walk up to me on the street they’re like, “Oh, you’re back again, huh?” (laughs)

You’ve done a lot of these films. What’s the mindset? People expect a lot out of you because you won the Oscar and you’re part of an elite group, but like you said you’ve have to keep working. Is it the script that’s enticing you to do these movies?

Gooding Jr.: You asked four or five questions in one, so I’ll try to address all your points there. As an actor you have to keep working, we’re perishable fruit. It’s an instrument and if you sit and wait too long a lot of the things you want to try, the mindset, different personalities you want to create. You can only ruminate about them for so long until you actually have to execute. It’s almost like a great guitarist, it’s about that feeling of completion once you actually hit the chord and let the music be excised through your soul. As an actor I went through that period, especially after that Academy Award win. There were a lot of filmmakers who wanted to work with me but they didn’t know in what capacity. What happened was months and months passed before I read anything where there was a filmmaker I wanted to work with. I wound up sitting for a long time, and it created a vacuum in that the perception of the filmmakers I really wanted to work with, even though I had great conversations with them, there wasn’t really anything there we could mutually agree up that would be great for us to work on. As you look at the Oscar movies from last year there are very powerful performances like ‘The King’s Speech,’ ‘The Fighter,’ and ‘The Social Network.’ There are no roles in any of those movies for my type. Even though I’m a huge fan of David Fincher, who I’d kill to work with, or Hooper who I loved with his first movie ‘Damned United.’ Until those guys have black characters in the roles, I have to wait. There’s no complaining here, but it creates this artistic vacuum that I’m sitting in, and what happens is my agent says to me, “Look Cuba, you can’t wait for them forever! You have to work.” I finally came to terms with that. When I finally decided to get down to work the first offers were for TV shows. My fear was being locked into a television series where I’m the same character. Your goal is to realize the performance where people believe you’re that guy. So if I find success in that, I’m going to be that guy for 8-10 years? How can I ask audiences to see me as someone else after you see me as this character for so many years. That was always my hesitation in jumping into those opportunities. What other opportunities are there? There’s going overseas and doing films, which I’ve done like ‘Hero Wanted.’ There’s these smaller independent movies that they do for almost no money like ‘The Hit List,’ but they have these really interesting characters that I can jump in and out of. I hope, in a nutshell, I answered all the points you brought up.

Yes, you did! We’re still waiting to see what happens with ‘Red Tails.’

Gooding Jr.: I’ve seen the movie, I’ve seen the special effects, and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that movie and for people to see it. In my career I’ve done a couple of movies that blown up the zeitgeist of cinema and hit social consciousness, like ‘Boyz N The Hood’ or ‘Men Of Honor’ or ‘Jerry Maguire.’ These are movies where people are affected by either a scenario or scene or environment they’ve never been exposed to, or it just hits them and in their everyday life they can identify with. We actors live for that, and we’ve done that again with George Lucas’ ‘Red Tails.’ The movie is breathtaking, and the thing about it is, visually you haven’t seen the things that George is doing with these fighter sequences. It’s insane. The real people we portray, like my character Major Emanuelle Stance. He took these young black men out of the schools of Tuskegee, Alabama and into the Air Force Base in Italy and turned them into warriors. You fall in love with not just the pilots but these men that helped them along their journey. Terrence Howard’s and my character were based on the exploits of Benjamin O. Davis who was the initiator of that whole Tuskegee experiment in putting together these fighter groups to join the efforts in World War II. I don’t want it to sound like it’s going to be a historical thing, which it is, but visually, I’m telling you, if you stay in your seat while you’re watching this movie I’ll be shocked. (laughs)

Why should anyone pick up “The Hit List”?

Gooding Jr.: Even though a lot of these small movies have not gotten to the theaters, they are going to see different dynamics and characters in my performances. ‘Hit List’ is another wild ride, a character they have not seen me do.


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