cuba gooding jr

Cuba Gooding Jr. is Major Emanuelle Stance in 'Red Tails'

*It is ironic that we sat just a few blocks from here in 1991 when Cuba Gooding Jr. Gooding, along with Laurence Fishburne, were promoting “Boyz ‘N the Hood” at the Mayflower Hotel in New York city. He was hanging with Morris Chestnut, who wasn’t that well known at the time and wasn’t doing interviews. “I’m just here to support Cuba,” Chestnut chuckled. In 1995 Gooding shared the screen once again with Fishburne in the HBO film, “Tuskegee Airmen.” Today, in an exclusive interview for his role as Major Emanuelle Stance in the monumental movie, “Red Tails,” Gooding discusses his journey to here.


Cuba, what’s your staying power?

You know, I used to go, I don’t know, I don’t know. But the older you get, the more you start to look and ask yourself that question. I think the ones who are really passionate about what they do are the ones that sustain. There’s a passion there with me. I love moving people emotionally with these stories, and especially now. Remember when I first started the business, there weren’t a lot of roles we could be proud of and promote. I was being killed, especially with the black press, on some of these decisions that I made to make these movies. But I was like, ‘Man, that’s all we have.’ So you guys are breaking my balls on movies that I had to fight other black actors to get and you’re telling me I’m holding us, as a nation back. I’m like, ‘What the Hell? I’m trying to work. I’m trying to live.’ Like Elijah says in the movie, ‘I’m trying to live.’ So now it’s like when roles come down the pike like this, they gotta figure out, ‘Ok, are we’re going to green light this movie?’


Did you think you would be traveling this road again when you did ‘Tuskegee Airmen’?

Well, here’s the thing. When we did the first one, George Lucas announced he was doing a movie on the Tuskegee airmen while we were in pre-production. We went into production and he did a second one and put it on the shelf. And I was pissed ‘cause I was like, ‘Aah man, we were supposed to do it that way, not this small way.’ But now, I look back on it and it was God’s will that we did the HBO film.  At the time I didn’t understand and I’ve had a few wonderful talks with George since then and he’s like, ‘It wasn’t time for me to make it then. I didn’t have the technology that I have now,’ and I totally understand and agree with him.


Did you know about the Tuskegee Airmen before the movies?

When I auditioned for the first one I was embarrassed and frustrated cause I didn’t know who they were and I was then 21, 21. I was the most educated, I thought, having just finished school. I didn’t know anything about the Buffalo Soldiers, the Black Marine Corps group, or the Harlem Hellcats. I didn’t know about these men. I didn’t know that every single major American war effort, that the history of America has had blacks in it from the Indian wars to the Civil war, to World War I, always. Every American conflict has had a black participant in it. So yeah, it was eye opening


Do you see a parallel of the story of Red Tails to this century?

Absolutely, darlin’! Let me tell you. I was in Beirut, Lebanon and this old lady came up to me and she said, ‘I love the diver movie.’ People are ready for these stories today because they’re dealing with the same issues that these men dealt with back then, you know. It’s so relevant today.

Even with a black man in the White House, opposing candidates’ agenda are not the issues, but making him a ‘one time’ president reinforces your observation.

I just watched the movie again the other day and it was the first time it hit me that it was like a modern day ‘Boyz ‘N the Hood.’ People are dealing with the same issues whether it’s France or the UK. I do, however, think this movie is very healing in that so many prisons are filled with black men who feel, ‘I came from nothing and I might as well end up nothing.’ No, you didn’t! You came from royalty, bro! You came from majesty and you have to understand that. If they don’t tell you, you won’t know. If you don’t know, you don’t grow. It’s time for us to grow, I think.


Are there now better roles for black actors?

Ten times better. It’s not anywhere near where it should be. The fact that we shot this movie in 2009 and it’s coming out in 2012 without any studio involvement is a big deal. Twentieth Century Fox finally helped George realize his vision, but you know, you would think that between then and now there would be three or four of these movies. But I think they are all waiting to see how this one does. It’s also an action movie. It’s a roller coaster ride. He {Lucas] said he made it for little boys and he really did. This is a throwback to the old clops and robbers movies and we just got blessed as a nation that this is also a film that educates us on these American warriors. Whenever I see troops I say, I got a movie coming out as my gift to you. I don‘t care what color they are. This is for them. This is to celebrate them as men and women, white men and women, Asian men and women who fight for our armed services. This is our love letter to them because it’s no easy thing that they do. They risk their lives for the freedoms they provide for us and it’s brilliant.


Will we ever see you behind the camera?

Yes, you will.


So you want to write and direct?

That’s the end goal.


“Red Tails” opens in theaters this Friday, January 20.

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