JCuba Gooding Jr. Talks The Hit List

A disgruntled soldier helps a stranger create a hit list in this action thriller from William Kaufman, on Blu-ray and DVD May 10th

Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in director William Kaufman's action thriller The Hit List, which makes its Blu-ray and DVD debut May 10th. The story follows a disgruntled man (Cole Hauser) who creates a hit list with a dangerous stranger (Cuba Gooding Jr.) whom he meets one late, drunken night out at a bar. The following day, he must race to try and save those he marked for extermination as the bodies begin to pile up, and all fingers start to point to him.

We recently caught up with Cuba Gooding Jr., who elevates The Hit List into must-see territory for action film aficionados. The actor arrives guns blazing in one of his best performances yet. We had a chance to talk with him about the film, and his career in general.

Here is our conversation:

The Hit List is not your typical direct-to-DVD movie. It's really good. With all of these quick-buck action flicks that are turned out every second of the day, how did you manage find one with such a strong script?

Cuba Gooding Jr.: Good question. My career has been on a really interesting journey for the last six or seven years. After the Academy Award win, I had a lot of great meetings with a lot of great filmmakers. I would have killed to work with them. The thing that became evident is that a lot of the stories they wanted to tell, the studios weren't open to. For example, Oliver Stone wanted to make Martin Luther King. He went to the studio, the studio greenlit the project at a certain budget. But he didn't feel that we could do the movie on a scale that would do Martin Luther King's story justice. I remember the day he called me. He was so upset. He said, "This isn't going to work, we will try again later." Here we are, six or seven years later, and there hasn't been a follow-up call. (Laughs). That exemplified my frustration with a lot of the filmmakers I had met with after that time. We couldn't find the right material. I remember, Ridley Scott had said, "If I get anything in a movie, I am looking for you." Then, he finally called me one day and said, "I know it's a small role, but lets do it." It was American Gangster. My reps had come to me, and they said, "Listen, we get it. We know you want to work with these great directors. You look at the nominated pictures, they are not telling the African American stories. What do you want to do? You are getting these TV offers. What do you want to do?" My trepidation with a TV series was, "How can I do what I do as an actor, and become that character, and find success as an actor while being stuck in that same role for seven or eight years? Then ask my audience to go on the next journey, which they will only see for two hours, after they had been watching another character for ten years on whatever channel this was on?" It just gave me trepidation to even consider that idea. Not that I am not going to entertain the idea. But that was the thing that stopped me from doing that. So, my agent said, "Just work then. Find work in a play, or Off-Broadway. There are foreign movies..." I did this one in Bulgaria. Then there were a few smaller productions...And then the writers' strike hit...I think what happened with the writers strike is that all the great scripts that used to be available were no longer cheap enough for the studio budgets. What happened is, these producers started coming to me. They said, "We know you make this much...and you are used to this kind of production...But what about just telling a great story for barebones?" I said, "I'm in." That's what has happened for the last couple of years. I have gotten these great scripts that have these great roles in them. But it's hard for these first time directors not to have the resources to tell their stories on the grand scale that would justify a theatrical release. So, it's literally like going back to film school, man. I have been blessed to have worked with these new voices, like William Kaufman, who I believe is a really talented director. He came to me, and I felt like I did when I was sitting with Cameron Crowe. Who said, "With this character, I want you bigger than life. My cinematographer will help cultivate this character so it will resonate with people." And that is the same way it was with William Kaufman. He said, "Man, I want you to grow the beard. I want you to get lost in this guy." To talk with you a little bit about this character? Yes, he has given into the urges. He knows what he is. He was a trained killer, he works for the government. He knows his fate in life. I think he has succumbed to this evil thing, which he does so well. Here, he has this chance encounter with this guy. I have to talk about Cole Hauser for a second. Because Cole Hauser is someone who I have been a fan of forever.

Did you see him in Paparazzi?

Cuba Gooding Jr.: Oh, I saw Paparazzi! John Singleton and I did Boyz N the Hood together. Boyz N the Hood was a role that started a friendship between he and I. We would always talk, and I followed his filmography. After Higher Learning, I said, "That was great, it had a great statement, but you have someone that blew everyone else away in that movie!" That was Cole Hauser, which was the antithesis of the statement John wanted to make. He wanted to look at the college process, but instead you gravitated to this performance. When I got this opportunity to work with him in this movie, I was all over it. I was all over it! I think we need it! When we were looking to cast that role, we were looking for a Joseph Gordon-Levitt type. A thin wiry kid who couldn't defend himself. He would run into my character. Right? When Cole Hauser's name came up, I knew he had the chops to bring the dynamic out. It's not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. I truly believed that, even though you have this big man who would appear to be more physically intimidating, his mindset was that of an infant child when it came to aggression. And defending himself. My characters supplied those things for him. So, I knew it would be an interesting fun gig, man. It was fun to get down with him that way.

Its very true. He is a big man, but there is this weight inside of him, you can feel that he's pulled back. You expect that he would be willing to give into what your character is trying to pull off...

Cuba Gooding Jr.: Right. And here is another feather in Cole's cap. He's one of the most aggressive actors off-camera that I have ever met. We go out drinking, we are both breaking chairs. That's just how we are. We are both big personality guys. He would get on the set, and I would yell at him. I would see his reaction, and I would honestly feel a little guilty afterwards. But I knew! I'd seen this mammoth of a man running around, doing his stuff in a bar brawl. But here he is, doing the opposite. I was so impressed by his performance.

The Hit List, because it's a smaller movie, takes some chances that a bigger Hollywood movie simply wouldn't take. For you, as an actor, you are given the chance to show a different side of yourself, that we may never have seen in another project. It seems like you have way more freedom here to do what you want to do...

Cuba Gooding Jr.: Exactly, yeah. That informs it. That is my mission statement for gathering roles. That is why I pissed off a lot of filmmakers early on in my career. Because they would come at me with roles that I felt were: Been there, done that. Even if it's the same character, there has to be some dynamic to the performance that I feel I can show the audience a different side. I want to bring them somewhere else. This was that opportunity. It's just unfortunate that we didn't have the resources to make it look like we could justify it being on the big screen. Even though the production value isn't what it would be if it were a big studio thing, I think people will go on this ride. It's just a good story, man. There are so many venues for distribution now, be it VOD or streaming media. Then you have these different DVDs. It's so easy to get distracted. Its easy to go to Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor. But it's hard to find a story that you really fall in love with. Like The King's Speech. Or The Social Network. That one is a little bit of both worlds. But here, once the buzz starts, and people become aware of The Hit List, they'll see it. It's a fun ride. You have to look for it. And you have to be a little unconventional. I think people really want unconventionality. It's like the kid that comes to school wearing something odd. Sure, he's odd. But then you have another kid that goes, "That is pretty cool. I didn't think of that." Suddenly, it's the hottest thing there is. That's how films are. They have to creep around in your psyche. Yet, they are so subjective. Just look at films celebrated during the awards season. Some stay on the classics list, and some fade into oblivion. They were caught up in that high school hype. What was hip and cool.

You have picked up a gun many times in recent years, and you show such prowess in this movie. You're almost like the Terminator...

Cuba Gooding Jr.: Yeah! It is a little unnerving. Let me defend myself a little bit. I have two boys, sixteen and fourteen. I am a very strict dad. Well, I was. Now I have a five-year-old daughter that kicks my ass every day. It's so funny. No more disciplinarian, I am the big softy. But my sons know how I am about having guns, or weapons, as toys. They can't do it. These are killing instruments. So I forbade them all through their youth, they couldn't have guns. When they got into their teens? It's like an archery and shooting gallery at my house. I pushed them so the other way. They know though, that when their weapon is not in use, it's in a lock box where their sister can't reach it. They have to respect it. If I see anything just lying around, I will take it. It's so funny. In other words, I am very responsible in real life. And it's probably because of this extreme education I have gotten these past seven years, doing these movies. Even doing Pearl Harbor, with the big 50 mm, and stuff like that. I have friends who are in the military.

Did your kids ever see you on set with a gun?

Cuba Gooding Jr.: That's funny. We'll let that happen. My kid did come to the set, and they did see me play. But if you have ever been on a film set, they bring the guys off the ladder. They bring the extras over, especially if it's a street scene...And in the middle of this intersection, in the street, everyone stands there like there was just a car accident. You have between seventy-five to one hundred and fifty people grouped around one speaker. The guy with the gun is standing on a box, he is holding the weapon up, and he is explaining it. It's this big, intense thing. Its nerve racking. Then they hand out earplugs, because it is very loud. Even though they are blanks, they still have a kick. Especially a real, full load. Everyone puts in their earplugs, and now, you are really nervous. Because you can't hear. They say, "Action!" The cars slide in. All you hear is, "Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow!" It's the scariest, most disturbing thing you have ever experienced. My kid did experience that. When he went home, he wasn't so quick to want to play with the weapons any more.

Where do you go after Hit List?

Cuba Gooding Jr.: I have his movie I am so proud of. Well, first, I will say that we have the 20th anniversary of Boyz N the Hood coming out next month. But we also have Red Tails, the George Lucas movie. I can't wait for everyone to see it. I have seen it, and it is visually stunning. People are going to be blown away. I am excited for people to see it. I play Major Emmanuelle Stance, and Terrence Howard plays AJ Bullard, and we are together. We are responsible for bringing the fighter pilots together and sending them to war. We assemble an all-black fighter group, and we send them to Africa, then to a black airbase in Italy. We send these young men out into battle, and turn them into warriors. I am really excited about that.

The Hit List arrives on Blu-ray and DVD May 10th.