“The last thing I want to do is a sequel, following in Eddie Murphy’s footsteps,” says Cuba Gooding of taking on the Eddie Murphy role in “Daddy Day Camp,” the sequel to Murphy’s sleeper smash, “Daddy Day Care.” “But I looked at the script, which is about trying to be a better father than your father was, and it has 10 times the heart of the first film, which was a fun movie.”
Gooding, 39, has been in two comedies this year - a supporting role in Murphy’s February hit, “Norbit,” and now “Daddy Day Camp.” He had sworn off comedies a few years ago.
Daddy Day Camp
Cuba Gooding, Jr., Paul Rae, Lochlyn Munroe, Tamala Jones, Spencer Bridges
(Revolutions Studios; US theatrical: 10 Aug 2007 (General release); 2007)
“I know my stock is low,” he admitted to Stapulse.com back in 2006. “I thought people wanted me to make them laugh, but I was wrong on so many levels.”
The father thing was a tipping point. Comedy or no, sequel or no, Gooding was in for “Daddy Day Camp,” a kid-friendly laugher that has his character taking over the camp where he had both fond memories and major disappointments as a child.
“I didn’t do camp, when I was growing up,” he says. “But both my older kids do camps every summer. I’ve been the father-chaperone, the guy sleeping on the floor of a museum in a tent with the kids. There’s comedy in there. When Charlie (his character) says that he’s not into camping, the outdoors and all, that’s me. I am not a real big wilderness guy. Sleeping in the woods, just to do it? Makes no (darned) sense to me.”
Gooding was born in the Bronx and raised in LA by a single mom. His father, the rhythm and blues singer Cuba Gooding, walked out on them when Jr. was just 6. The son wanted to play a dad, a dad having issues about bonding with his son and measuring up to his own father, even if it was in a comedy.
“I did `Boat Trip’ (2002), `Rat Race’ (2001) and something else. Look, even I can’t remember the title. (It was 2002’s “Snow Dogs”). None of them were hits. I sat through the screenings, hyper-critical of myself, and just said `I need to back off the comedy thing, go back to what I know.’”
He learned his lesson. He doesn’t sit through his movies anymore.
“I listen to the audience, outside. That way I don’t sit there and wonder why I made a certain face, or tried too hard.”
Gooding won an Oscar, remember, for his heartfelt, emotional and over-the-top hilarious turn in 1996’s Jerry Maguire. He followed that with “As Good as It Gets.” He was in “Pearl Harbor” and held his own with DeNiro in “Men of Honor” (2000).
He kept working, but the movies turned worse. He did the bad comedies. He did “Radio,” a modest 2003 success that landed him an NAACP image award for playing a mentally challenged young man who becomes the motivational mascot for a South Carolina high school football team. The movie also became a bit of a punchline and landed him a Razzie nomination for his part in the film’s sentimentalism.
You either went with Gooding’s performance, “hunched into the cowering posture of a gentle, abused animal ... a mercurial blend of terror and childish glee,” as Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times. Or you didn’t.
“I work,” Gooding says, by way of explanation. “I have four films in the can. I do independent films. The good roles? They come in due time. It’s been a long 10 years since the Academy Award, but I’ve learned a little something since then.
“I’m in `American Gangster,’ with Ridley Scott, Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. That’s a big break. Because even though Denzel plays Frank Lucas, the guy who masterminded smuggling heroin over in body bags from Vietnam, the real flashy gangster and drug dealer of that era, the guy Superfly is based on, is Nicky Barnes. I play Nicky Barnes. Now that’s a cool part.”