In Jerry Maguire, he coined a catchphrase ("Show me the money!") that spread like wildfire way before the internet embraced memes, and when he won an Oscar for that role, his acceptance speech became an all-time memorable moment ("I love you!") nearly a decade before YouTube spit live TV back into circulation within minutes of any shock emitted through the tube. But for a guy who would seem to be a prime candidate for viral glory, Cuba Gooding Jr. hasn't had very good luck with social media.
One might think that a website bearing an actor's name — like, say, CubaGoodingJr.com — would belong to said actor, or would at least be run by devoted fans. But take one quick look at that Gooding site, and it's obvious that he has nothing to do with it. The page claims to be run by an "ex-fan" of the actor, and promises to chronicle his career as it "goes down in flames."
Until it was brought up in an interview with BuzzFeed last week, Gooding says he didn't even know it existed. But instead of being angry when the site was brought to his attention, the 45-year-old New York City native, who is in the middle of promoting the new historical drama The Butler, broke out into laughter.
"At least you know it's not me and it's trash," he said, shaking his head. "Or maybe it is me! You never know, like a Batman/Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent/Superman thing."
It might seem surprising for an actor — a profession of people known to be somewhat sensitive about their public images — to be so unbothered by a slander-filled website bearing his name; logic suggests they'd be working double time to have it pulled down altogther. But Gooding is, at this point, used to some difficulty on the internet.
Last year, he joined Twitter and Facebook, so as to better communicate with his fans. The guy he hired to run his social media presence, however, had little understanding of how to properly sync up the various networks, and it became disastrous. The details are a bit hazy — tech isn't his first language — but it seems that all his various social networking profiles, impostor pages, and fan sites were funneled into one catchall Facebook page.
"It went to over 300,000 people in a few months," Gooding explained. "But it was so bad, he had no filters, you could say and do whatever you wanted there, and I didn't know that, it was not good, so I just shut everything down."
Now, his onetime Twitter handle, @JrCubaGooding, is defunct, and the Facebook page that was a clearinghouse for all things Cuba is gone too; a search for his name returns only a few fake profiles and a port of a Wikipedia page — which is in Spanish, for some reason. Gooding had a falling out with that old social media director, and he suggested that the guy could be the one behind the smack-talking website, though he can't be sure either way.
"Nothing would fucking surprise me," the actor said, laughing. After all, that wasn't even his first bit of difficulty with Facebook.
"I did a series of these direct-to-video movies in a town called Spokane, Washington, and I did so many films there, they started a page called 'Keep Cuba Gooding Jr. Out of Spokane,'" Gooding remembered, cracking up at that bizarre blitz of local activism in the Pacific Northwest, which occurred back in 2010. "Now, am I gonna spend my time saying, 'Stop saying that,' or am I going to say, 'At least they're talking about me?' So there are certain things that you just have to allow. Well, not allow, but you've got to let them happen and live your own life."
Gooding is used to criticism, both for little things like a wonky social media presence and more weighty concerns, including his career choices as an actor. After his Oscar win in 1996, he did his fair share of big movies, including As Good As It Gets, Pearl Harbor, and American Gangster; but Gooding also starred in a substantial number of B-level flicks that often never saw theaters, including the ones he made in Spokane.
"Years of that shit, which I call my going-back-to-school years. I never went to college. I was working for some independent directors; apparently my name is big in the Middle East and in certain parts of Europe, Australia. And so there was a period where I could green-light a $5–6 million movie, as long as I had this many gunshots and this many fight sequences," Gooding said, shining a light on the workaday productions that help most people in Hollywood earn an honest, if unglamorous, living. "So I did that and it taught me editing and screenwriting and shot-list making and all this stuff. I did big studio movies and eventually won the Oscar, not knowing what anybody did around me. I just didn't know."
Those straight-to-DVD movies, even with — and often thanks to — their cheesy action sequences and some paint-by-number plots, those were Gooding's backdoor "film school" lessons.
"I've had to put shot lists together and did all this crazy stuff, just to get films and cut down budgets. And it's so enriching. And I know there's a lot of criticism out there, 'What's he doing these direct-to-video for?' Well, you've got to make a living, and at the same time, it was such an education. It was my 10,000 hours of practice. Now I'm just trying to make that question about the work and nothing else."
At the moment, the work is pretty hard to argue. Gooding is in New York for a long run on Broadway — his first — in the revival of The Trip to Bountiful alongside Cicely Tyson and Vanessa Williams. And then there is The Butler, directed by his old friend Lee Daniels; Gooding starred in Daniels' first movie, Shadowboxer, back in 2005, after knowing Daniels long before he ever got behind a camera.
In The Butler, Gooding plays one of the White House domestic employees — the butler is played by Forest Whitaker — who has a front seat to years of legislative history through a procession of mid-century presidents (played by a line of star-powered cameos like James Marsden and Alan Rickman). The butlers also are isolated in large part from the bloody collisions of the civil rights era, forced to put on smiling faces even as their relatives are firebombed in Selma and jailed again and again.
"What was so intriguing about this screenplay to me is that there was so much that we learned about Nixon's administration, about Reagan's administration, through the eyes of the servants in the room who had no voice," Gooding said. "Now how would they gain that accessibility? They would have to appear to be very put together, very regal, and just very nonexistent. But at the same time we had to identify with that character, so behind-the-scenes they were cavorting and whatnot, it had to be real, it had to feel real, there had to be a camaraderie there, and I think that was the gig for me for this role. I know when we talked about doing it, I told him, 'Any of the butlers, just pick any of those butlers,' and that's what he did."