Winning an Oscar does not guarantee a fast-track ride to your preferred roles, as Cuba Gooding Jr found out.
The US actor, who bagged a gold statuette from the Academy for his performance in 1996’s Jerry Maguire, had to plead his case to filmmaker Anthony Hemingway for a role in Red Tails.
Hemingway wanted a cast of new faces to portray heroic black fighter pilots in the Second World War action drama.
Cuba’s previous portrayal in the 1995 TV movie The Tuskegee Airmen instantly put him at a disadvantage and he had to beg friends to organise a meeting with the director.
“I said to Anthony, ‘They’re not really telling many of these stories in Hollywood. I am laser-focused to make sure that the portrayal on this movie is true. Why wouldn’t you utilise that, no matter what my association to The Tuskegee Airmen is?’
“This is such an important story to tell that I wanted to be a part of it, no matter what.”
Fortunately for Cuba, the “stalking” paid off and he was cast – without an audition – in the role of Major Emmanuel Stance alongside Terrence Howard as Colonel AJ Bullard in Red Tails, based on the true story of the Second World War’s first African-American fighter squadron, also known as the Tuskegee airmen.
The still baby-faced 44-year-old understands Hemingway’s reluctance to “recycle” actors.
“There is a sense of familiarity people get when they see me on screen. Not just because of Jerry Maguire, but other military roles that I’ve done like Pearl Harbor and Men Of Honor,” he says.
“But this makes audiences comfortable, like when Michael Jackson’s music is sampled in hip-hop.”
Cuba admits he was embarrassed that he initially knew so little about the Tuskegee airmen.
“I didn’t go to college and knew nothing about blacks in World War One and Two,” he says.
“There’s been African-Americans involved in every major American conflict, and the fact I didn’t know any of that p***** me off. I sure didn’t know they did heroic things, so whenever I hear about one of these tales, I jump all over it.”
He now strives to educate his three children (with high school sweetheart and wife Sara Kapfer) about black history.
“I have an opportunity to teach my kids through cinema our contribution, and that President Barack Obama wasn’t a mistake: it is a natural progression of things,” he says.
“I try to instil a sense of self-respect and worth in them, and to let them know that it isn’t just slavery we came from. It’s funny because there are a couple of slave movies like Django Unchained and Twelve Years A Slave coming out now and that’s fine and dandy, but there are other stories to be told.”