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Cuba Gooding Jr. Recalls His ’10 Years in the Wilderness’ — and Turning Down ‘Ray’ and ‘The Last King of Scotland’

"I felt I needed to show people that I can do more, I can do better.”

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "Manna From Heaven" Episode 109 (Airs Tuesday, March 29, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson. CR: Byron Cohen /FX

Byron Cohen/FX

Few actors have had a career trajectory quite like that of Cuba Gooding, Jr. Twenty years after winning an Oscar for his role in “Jerry Maguire,” the actor has mounted a comeback of sorts after what he describes as “10 years in the wilderness” marked by forgettable straight-to-DVD projects. Now he’s done a far-reaching interview with the Guardian to discuss how he always wanted to be an actor “who does all the parts” — and how that may have harmed his career as much as it helped it.

After admitting that he’s starred in “some real clunkers,” Gooding, Jr. is asked whether he made them for the money. “Not for me,” he says. “For me, it was always about protecting the sanctity of that golden statue… Because I felt I needed to show people that I can do more, I can do better.”

That mindset dates back to his breakthrough role: “I remember when I did ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ everybody was like, ‘Yeah, but can he do comedy?’ Then I won for ‘Jerry Maguire’ and they’re, ‘Yeah, but can he do drama?’”

The years between those two films, which were highlighted by performances in “Outbreak” and “A Few Good Men,” represented a shift for him: “Now [I’ve] moved away from the title ‘black actor’ and now I’m just an entertainer.” They also made him not want to repeat himself, which seems to be why he turned down “Ray,” “Hotel Rwanda,” and “The Last King of Scotland.” “I was offered Idi Amin in ‘The Last King of Scotland,'” he recalls. “And I said to myself, ‘I can’t do that. He’s a bad guy!’”

Gooding, Jr. has that on his mind when discussing the likes of Ryan Coogler and Barry Jenkins. “It will be interesting to see if they get put in the same box, like they did with the Singletons and Spike Lees, or if they’re accepted as just filmmakers who have their ways to tell a story.” Read his full interview here.

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