Working with, and learning from, other established actors has proved useful for Cuba Gooding Jr.
The “Jerry Maguire” Oscar winner makes a rare television appearance at 8 p.m. Sunday in ABC's fact-inspired new Hallmark Hall of Fame drama “Firelight.”
In playing Dwayne “DJ” Johnson, a counselor at a correctional facility for young women, Gooding is teamed with a number of actresses just starting to make names for themselves. It's a situation he says he knew how to handle from his experiences with such stars as Laurence Fishburne (in “Boyz N the Hood”), Dustin Hoffman (“Outbreak”) and “Jerry Maguire” himself, Tom Cruise.
“They are real artists, and they allow you to create without stifling your creativity,” Gooding says. “That was the main lesson I took from them. Making ‘Outbreak' with Dustin and Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, we really kind of sang when we were on the set together. It wasn't just about upping our game but about making sure everybody was on the same page.”
Gooding was determined to fill a similar role with his “Firelight” co-stars, including DeWanda Wise and Yakina Horn, whose characters eventually serve as volunteer assistants during fires and natural disasters.
“They were beautiful,” he says. “They just blew me away. Whenever they asked anything of me, I'd just keep talking as much as I could, to keep them comfortable. One of them would say, ‘I can't believe I'm working with someone with an Academy Award!' And I'd say, ‘Wait a minute. I can't believe I'm working with you guys.' ”
Since he's also the lead in a series pilot for Fox, a law drama titled “Guilty,” Gooding could be more of a television presence in the near future. Such a schedule wouldn't be completely alien to him, since he's had to work at a fairly fast clip on a number of direct-to-video adventures he's made in recent years (“Ticking Clock,” “The Hit List,” etc.).
“If I had come straight from ‘Jerry Maguire' to ‘Firelight,' I probably would have been unnerved,” Gooding says of the differing production schedules, “but I've done a lot of these small action movies, and they're all at a TV pace, shot very quickly with very few takes. I take as much time as I can prepping the character, so that there isn't a lack of quality in my performance.”