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Theater | Weekend Chat

Like Sons, Like Father

Cuba Gooding Sr. got a taste of fame in the '70s with the soul group the Main Ingredient. But lately he's been following his sons' lead into acting.

February 08, 2001|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cuba Gooding Sr. came to fame in the '70s as lead singer of the R&B group theMain Ingredient, scoring Top 10 hits with "Everybody Plays the Fool" and "Just Don't Want to Be Lonely."

Though his career has had its ups and downs, Gooding is busier now than he's been in years. And now he's following in the footsteps of his successful acting sons, Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. ("Jerry Maguire") and Omar Gooding ("Hangin' With Mr. Cooper," "The Smart Guy").

He's about to star in the new musical, "Be Careful What You Pray For," which opens tonight at the Wiltern Theatre. The inspirational musical also stars Shirley Murdock, David Peaston and Clyde Jones.

Gooding plays a pastor whose daughter, a gospel singer, is tempted to become a pop star. The musical drama has toured all over the country including stops in New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Newark, Dallas and Jacksonville.

Gooding, 56, spoke by phone from his Northridge home about the musical, his life with the Main Ingredient and his offspring.

Question: Have you done a lot of acting?

Answer: Mostly in recent years. I was in a play called "Stop Cheating on God's Time." I did a couple of movies. I did one called "Gedo" that was released overseas and the short film "Children of a Struggle."

I also start shooting this movie the same day [the play opens]. It's called "Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles." It's the true story of how Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles was created. I play one of the gangster types that I watched growing up, which is different from the drive-by-shooting, suicidal-drug-using, murderous-type kids they have today.

I am trying to get some network cameras to follow me around between the two things just to blow up the fact that I am doing both at the same time and to prove to Cuba Gooding Jr. he is not the only one who can act! I can imagine him trying to be on stage at night and on the set during the day at the same time and come out with a brilliant performance like what he did in "Men of Honor."

Q: Did you get any acting tips from Cuba Jr. and Omar?

A: I didn't ask them because the reason I became an actor was more on a dare than anything else. I used to say to them as they were climbing up the ladder as successful actors--"If I hadn't divorced and remarried your mother, if I had been around the time you made up your mind you were going to be actors, you would have been singers [instead]." I said [to them], "I am going to take you into a studio and record you." They said, "Dad, if you can't act why should we knock our brains out trying to sing?"

I said "I am going to start acting and I am going straight to the stage with it, so if I make a mistake no one can say, 'Cut.' I have to be a perfect stage actor. If I can do that and make it in the theater, would you consider singing?" They said, "You have a deal." Now I am going to record an album next year with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Omar Gooding. We are going to call the album, "Everybody Plays the Fool."

That's also the name of my book. It's not out, but it will be completed hopefully by the spring. It talks about the family tree and my father being a West Indian and coming to America and meeting my mother and naming me Cuba because he lived in Cuba for 17 years.

Q: How long have you been involved with "Be Careful What You Pray For"?

A: This is going into the middle of the second year. We started the September before last and we went all through the South, selling out everywhere. It started out with an attempt to be a gospel play. I don't sing gospel. I was able to add a lot of my personality and question marks to the theory of the theological perception of praising the Lord unequivocally without having concern for what it may do to a young mind--that it may confuse it. We are getting ready to make some changes and go to Broadway later this year.

Q: When did you join the Main Ingredient?

A: In 1968. I joined it when I came off the road as a door-to-door-salesman. I used to sell time shares as well as magazines. We all grew up in Harlem together. Joining the Main Ingredient was really the jump-kick of my career.

Everything I have ever done has been something that I either saw on TV and felt like I could do just as good or maybe better than someone who is getting paid for it. It was just a natural thing for me.

Q: Are you still touring?

A: We still tour. It's called Cuba Gooding and the Main Ingredient, as a matter of fact. We have a tour scheduled during the summer that I may have to bow out of. I may just send the group because we have to go into summer rehearsals for "Be Careful What You Pray For."

Q: Do you have any other children in the entertainment field?

A: I have an oldest boy named Thomas. He was born when I was 17. I only met him about 18 years ago. He's given me six grandchildren and he is now my bandleader, bass player and music director for the Main Ingredient.

* "Be Careful What You Pray For," at 8 p.m. today-Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Wiltern Theater, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Tickets are $25-$34.50. For information, call (213) 380-5005. To purchase tickets, call (213) 480-3150.

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