The last time Gooding was onstage he was a teenager, winning a monologue competition arranged by the Los Angeles Unified School District with a speech from "Twelfth Night." An agent was impressed and "the rest is history."
He went on to do a string of guest spots and commercials — he got his Screen Actors Guild card with "Hill Street Blues" and played the sidekick of "MacGyver" for a season. His first film part was a small role in "Coming to America" — "my lines were cut so I looked like an extra," he laughs — and then he got the lead in 1991's brilliant coming-of-age drama "Boyz n the Hood."
"I didn't know how important that movie was until I looked back on my career a few years into it," Gooding says. "I went, 'Wow, not all of my movies are going to be received like that?' It was a rude awakening."
Besides the Broadway role, Gooding has three movies he's very proud of that are coming out. There's "The Butler," Lee Daniels' story about a black butler who worked in the White House for over three decades; Jake Goldberger's "Life of a King," about an inner-city chess club that Gooding calls "my answer to 'Boyz n the Hood'''; and an untitled film about runaway slaves that he calls "emotionally raw." He'll also be in Robert Rodriguez's "Machete Kills."
"I realize the older I get, when I'm not being creative is when I'm frustrated," he says. "If you have talent, that's all that matters. And if you focus on your craft, your talent will show."