Cuba Gooding Jr. makes it big |


Cuba Gooding Jr. makes it big

His catchphrase-inspiring turn in "Jerry Maguire" has launched him into A-List heaven

Sometimes the ways of fame can boil down to one totally insane moment in the parking lot outside the Super Bowl.

It’s the day of the big game in New Orleans, and Cuba Gooding Jr. is walking through the jam-packed parking lot when a young woman suddenly pegs him as the fast-talking, towel-dropping, Tom Cruise-berating football player Rod Tidwell from Jerry Maguire.

And so it begins. ”Shooow me the mon-ay!” she screams. Gooding smiles his ”Thank you, ma’am” smile and keeps walking, but it’s too late. A kid hears the woman and just has to say it too — ”Show me the money!” — and so does his mom: ”Show me the money!”

And they tell two friends. And so on. And so on. ”And suddenly,” Gooding says, still pumped from the experience a week later back home in Los Angeles, ”I’m in the show-me hell of entertainment!”

But he goes with it. That’s the kind of guy Gooding is. And as he strides up the ramp leading to the Super Dome, he is hailed like some legendary toreador arriving to do battle with the biggest of the bulls. Now it’s just a matter of giving the people what they want.

”There are about 3,000 people, and it’s like a concert,” he says, ”and cheerleaders are pointing at me saying ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s him!’ and a woman comes up to me and asks if she can grab my ass. ‘Just one cheek, pleeease!’ And everybody else just wants me to say it. ‘Say it! Saaay it!’ So I just climb up on top of this wall with about an eight-story drop, and I look out at everybody and they’re all screaming, and I throw out my arms and scream as loud as I can: ‘Show me the money!!!”’ The crowd goes wild.

No doubt about it, Cuba Gooding Jr. is a very famous dude these days, and he’s loving every minute of it. His Oscar-nominated role in Jerry Maguire — and particularly all that mon-ay business — has elevated the 29-year-old Bronx native with the perpetual smile from the status of promising rookie (best known for his noble, serious portrayal of a child of the ghetto in 1991’s Boyz N the Hood) to the Hollywood equivalent of a first-round draft pick. ”With Jerry Maguire,” says its writer/director, Cameron Crowe, ”Cuba got to show people the rainbow instead of just a few colors as far as his acting is concerned. And now he’s become a peacock with those colors. The guy is on fire.” Adds coproducer James L. Brooks: ”To think that this actor was the same troubled thoughtless teenager from Boyz N the Hood is really unbelievable. The man has got the goods.”

He’s also getting the offers. A year ago, Gooding was being sent five or six scripts a month. He says he now gets 40 or more scripts every week. And they’re interesting parts, particularly for an African-American actor. ”People are starting to look at me,” he says, ”as a Cuba Gooding Jr., rather than as a black actor, and I appreciate that because I’ll always be black, thank the good Lord.”

Brooks has already put Gooding to work playing a high-powered art dealer opposite Jack Nicholson in his next movie, tentatively titled Old Friends. Mike Nichols, Steven Spielberg, and Jon Turteltaub (Phenomenon) have also called. ”It’s amazing to be able to work with great directors,” he says, ”but it needs to be the right project. Steven Spielberg could come to me and say, ”Okay, I’d like you to put a rag on your head and yell ‘Mogumbo mojumbo’ and I’d like you to do it with a little Vaseline on your lips.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, Steven, kiss all parts of my black ass. I love ya, but you can go home with that bulls—.”