It's true what they say: Hindsight is 20/20!
Thanks to FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s career is back on track. Best known for his Oscar-winning role in Cameron Crowe's film Jerry Maguire, the actor's career floundered for years before Ryan Murphy gave him a chance at a comeback.
Taking part in The Hollywood Reporter's Drama Actors Roundtable alongside Vinyl's Bobby Cannavale, Billions' Paul Giamatti, Mr. Robot's Rami Malek, Narcos' Wagner Moura and Roots' Forest Whitaker, Gooding explains what happened. "When I won the Oscar, I fell into that mind-set that this is a precious role. People everywhere were shouting, 'Show me the money!' I just didn't want anything that could parody the fact that I was like a tagline in a movie. So when Steven Spielberg offered me Amistad, I said no; when Hotel Rwanda came along, I said no," he says. "I was saying no to all of these things because I had in my mind the role I wanted to play."
Amistad legitimized Beninese-American model Djimon Hounsou as a serious actor, while Hotel Rwanda's Don Cheadle received a Best Actor nomination at the 77th Annual Academy Awards. Gooding regrets declining both of film roles. So, what kind of parts did he want to play instead?
"I had no f--kin' idea," Gooding admits with a laugh. "So I passed on all these great directors and wound up offending a bunch of them, and what happened was I went off the list of, 'Greenlight if you have this actor in the role.' I went into the wasteland. But I think it was God's will that I took eight to 10 years to go and do direct-to-video trash. Producers would come to me and say, 'We have the foreign financing in place for anywhere from $5 million to $10 million, whatever you want to do.' So I met with writers, I developed the script, we'd shoot it, and then I'd edit it and direct it. I learned more about the filmmaking process in those 10 years and it made me 10 times better as an actor, but unfortunately people had to sit through those movies."
Suffice to say, Gooding learned his lesson. "Now I consider the director—I don't care what the role is," says the actor, who earned raves for his minor roles in 2014's Selma and 2013's The Butler. "When Ridley Scott called, my agent said, 'Here's an offer [for American Gangster]; they want you to play Nicky Barnes.' And I go: 'I don't have to read it. I'm in.' And then my agent's like: 'Oh, we'll take a day. We'll read it.' And I go: 'No, no, no. Ridley Scott called. I'm in.'"