Show Me The Butler!

Susie Stillwell | 10/10/2013, 11:52 a.m. | Updated on 10/10/2013, 11:52 a.m.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. was born in the Bronx on January 2, 1968, but raised in Los Angeles from the age ...

SS/JC: Especially because it tackles the material from a fresh perspective.

CG: It’s interesting, too, because when Django Unchained came out, so many people were alienated by it, while others who thought it was just a really cool ride from Quentin Tarantino said, “Get over it!” If you look at the latter group, a lot of them were really young kids who had a disconnect from slavery. To them, all they saw was their hero being freed, shooting back, saving the day and getting his girl. It’s funny, I started dating my wife, who’s Caucasian with blonde hair and blue eyes, in 1987. I got hate mail when I did Boyz n the Hood saying stuff like, “I can’t believe your girlfriend is white.” But I hadn’t grown up in the South back in the days when blacks were lynched for even looking at a white woman. And when you look at what I did today, it’s elementary compared to the attention being paid to the issue of same-sex marriage. So, we’ve moved away for the better, but we just can’t afford to forget all the sacrifices and trials and tribulations.

SS/JC: How much research did you have to do to prepare for the role?

CG: Well, I’d been researching and gathering information on the subject for several years for both this script and for a Martin Luther King story about Selma. So, it’s a time period I’d already become pretty well-versed in.

SS/JC How similar are you to your character in The Butler, Carter Wilson?

CG: I AM that guy! Sometimes, I can be pretty goofy, and a bit of an exhibitionist. I don’t think I’m quite as free with the lips as he is, but I can tell a joke or two. Some of those lines I ad-libbed.

SS/JC: How emotionally affected were you seeing the film for the first time?

CG: I was a wreck. I sat and hugged Pam [producer Pam Williams] like someone had died in the family. And, to be honest with you, Susie, it wasn’t so much the history lesson, but simply that my eldest son who’s 18 was going off to college, and I couldn’t get back to L.A. to see him off when he left because I was stuck in New York. The father-son relationship just hit me, man, especially the scene where Cecil Gaines says goodbye to his son departing for college. What I experienced wasn’t a feeling of sadness, but rather a realization of this higher calling in life, and how we’re all a part of this chain.

SS/JC: How did you enjoy being on Broadway? What play were you doing, A Trip to Bountiful?

CG: Yes, sir, since February. I loved it. I actually started in theater, that’s where an agent found me in ’86, I was doing a Shakespeare festival. On the stage, if you don’t understand every word of what you’re saying, it is apparent in your countenance. So, I was always about living the character. Then I got stolen away by TV where I got my start as MacGyver’s sidekick for awhile which was easy to phone in. You know the guy, you know the peril, and you know how to save the day. So, I leapt at this opportunity to go back, and it reignited my creativity. Just to be across from Cicely Tyson on that stage every day, was great. My creative passion is back!