Cuba Gooding Jr. takes flight with WWII actioner Red Tails
It's not often that an actor is able to help tell the same story twice and it's even less often that on their second go-round, a producer of George Lucas' calibre should be the one calling the shots.
But Cuba Gooding Jr. finds himself in that very position for Red Tails, an epic action-adventure that follows heroic African-American pilots who fought during the Second World War amidst institutionalized racism and doubts about their flying abilities, since he originally starred in HBO's similarly-themed 1995 TV movie "The Tuskegee Airmen." Gooding Jr. is clearly enthused to be revisiting the story, on a much grander scale mind you, sitting down to answer some questions at Toronto's Hazelton Hotel.
The Oscar winner was friendly and candid, offering his opinion on the well-publicized issues Lucas had with finding a studio that would make an action movie with an all-black cast, including Terrence Howard, Nate Parker and Tristan Wilds, sharing how he prepared for the role of Major Emanuelle Stance and revealing what esteemed on-set visitors had him feeling like a little kid.CINEPLEX: George Lucas has been trying to get this movie off the ground for 20 years. When did you first hear rumblings about it?
CUBA GOODING JR.: "I heard that he was in pre-production [in 1995.] And then, as we shot and completed ["The Tuskegee Airmen"], he put it on the back-burner and said, 'No, no, wait.'"
CINEPLEX: So what does it feel like for you to be able to revisit the story?
CGJ: "Awesome. Absolutely. The HBO one was a two-million-dollar tale that basically dealt with the racism that they had to deal with in Tuskegee, Alabama. That movie culminated with them starting to enter the war effort. This one is like the action-adventure $100-million answer to that one. This starts during the war effort and you see how they integrate themselves into bomber escort. This was the next progression of things. I knew when it had George Lucas' name attached to it, it was going to be a spectacle of a movie. And not a lot of these movies are being greenlit, you know, in Hollywood, with an all-black cast on a such a major budget. So I knew this was something to fight for."
CINEPLEX: How does that feel, for you, that that's a factor in getting a movie made still, in 2012?
CGJ: "Well, let me say this...A lot of these executives that run these studios, they have so many things to consider, you know, there's no getting around the fact that fear permeates a lot of their decisions. And if there's not a lot of hard statistical facts, they don't want to be the first to do anything, if they think they're going to lose a lot of money. So, yeah it blows you away to hear that a director, or filmmaker like George Lucas, has to put up his own money for this, but at the same time, you know, it happens in Hollywood a lot. I play hockey with Jerry Bruckheimer, who's arguably the biggest producer in Hollywood, and made billions of dollars on the Pirates movies, and they pulled the plug on his Lone Ranger and he's going again. The list goes on and on. To look at it as an isolated incident, is George Lucas' entitlement, but as an actor who deals with realities of Hollywood, you have to understand the problem before you can deal with the solution and I understand that these executives have their agenda. So you have to be willing to adjust so you can still be creative and relevant."
CINEPLEX: Tell me about your character, Maj. Stance. He has a pipe in his mouth in almost every scene. Was that always part of the character or did you add that in?
CGJ: "Yeah, from the first rehearsal, the director said, 'I think I want you with a pipe.' 'What?' [Laughs]. But it was one of those things, once I got it and I started to create the character, you couldn't take it out of my hand."
CINEPLEX: What kind of a man is Maj. Stance? How did you figure out how to play him?
CGJ: "When I do a role, I research all the history behind it and there was this one character that stood out to me, Benjamin O. Davis Jr. The third ever to graduate from West Point with honours and he was a black man, obviously, so during his four years there, they never even spoke to him and after a while, he created this air of authority, this gravitas, this presence. And he was commissioned to create the 332nd fighter group, which was an all-black fighter group sent to Italy, and look after all these men. And at one point, he had to go in front of Congress and testify that they were relevant. [Co-star] Terrence [Howard] likes to talk, and it's true, that we both, as we were creating these characters, we looked to Benjamin O. Davis as an inspiration even though our characters were based on a pasting of a few different stories."
| (L -R): Tristan Wilds, Nate Parker and David Oyelowo star in Red Tails (Photo by Jiri Hanzl. © LucasFilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved)
CINEPLEX: From the director Anthony Hemingway to four of the actors - Tristan Wilds, Andre Royo, Method Man, Michael B. Jordan - it was almost like a mini-reunion of "The Wire". Were you a fan of the show? Did you talk to them about it?
CGJ: "Yeah, big fan. Huge fan. It was the first time I'd met them and we did all sorts of talking. We shot this in the Czech Republic, in Prague, in an abandoned air base an hour-and-a-half outside of town, so we didn't have much to do but interact with each other. But it was fun and these kids are talented. Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Elijah Kelley, all producing, making music and writing and directing. Yeah, it's interesting to see this next crop of kids come up and them be so focused on the work."
CINEPLEX: Since your character in the film is an authority figure, did that bleed over on the set? Did the younger cast have questions for you about the industry?
CGJ: "Every day. The weird thing is, there was a hierarchy here. You had them, the cast members, and then they'd see us and say, 'Hey, what was it like, and what should I do, and can you help me with the role?' 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.' They had to go through boot camp for eight days and it was hell and some of them broke down, and we did it too [in other war movies], but this one we didn't have to, so we were like, 'You gotta do it, man. You gotta commit totally.' Then, you had both [Terrence and I] looking to the real Tuskegee airmen who were on the set everyday and we all became little kids around them. And they would be like, 'That's wrong, Change that, Sit up,' you know just little things. So you just had this sense of respect and camaraderie and hierarchy."
CINEPLEX: What do you hope people come away with after watching Red Tails?
CGJ: "Entertainment value, saying 'My gosh, that was awesome. You gotta see this movie, it's kick-ass.' It's a roller-coaster ride. George said he made this for young boys and it was a throw-back in that respect, that it feels like a John Wayne movie. If they get an education, even better."
Red Tails opens in Cineplex theatres January 20.
Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Favourite Movie Memory
You may have heard that Cineplex is celebrating 100 years of movie memories in 2012, so we've decided to ask celebs to share their favourite movie memories and find out what experiences have stood the test of time.
Cuba Gooding Jr.: "My favourite one would probably be when I was nine or 10 years old and my dad was invited by Quincy Jones - my father's the lead singer of The Main Ingredient so he had a lot of opportunities like this to see a new movie - and he took my sister and I and we went to Warner Bros., on the lot, and the lights went down and the first images of clouds came up on the screen...and Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve. And to see those images; it's what infused my energy to become an actor, was that first Superman movie."