The hilarious new series Big Time in Hollywood, FL is Comedy Central’s first serialized comedy, and it tells the story of what happens when two delusional brothers (Alex Anfanger, Lenny Jacobson) and self-proclaimed filmmakers set out in pursuit of their American dream. Over 10 episodes, the pair will be forced to fend for themselves on their wild and dangerous journey to success.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, Academy Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. (who plays a heightened and outrageous version of himself) talked about how he got involved with the show, why he was initially hesitant about signing on, until his sons gave him the thumbs up, fully committing to this role once he signed on, why he just tries to keep working, and why he enjoys doing projects that also have a societal weight to them. He also talked about what made him want to play OJ Simpson in Ryan Murphy’s next anthology series American Crime Story, the approach that the show is taking, and why it’s important for him to take on the role without judgement.
Collider: How did you get involved with Big Time in Hollywood, FL?
CUBA GOODING JR: My agents called me and said, “We have this offer for you to do this 10-part comedy series on Comedy Central.” And they said, “Here’s the thing, we know you don’t like to play yourself.” I said, “I don’t play myself.” And they said, “We get it. The character is Cuba Gooding Jr., but will you at least watch the pilot.” So, I watched the pilot and signed on, right afterwards. I didn’t even know what they wanted me to do in the series. I felt that these two guys, Dan [Schimpf] and Alex [Anfanger], had such an affinity to comedy. And then, when I heard that they wrote it, and Dan was in the editing room and Alex was going to be the actor in it, I knew that these guys were a real triple threat who did everything. Every day on the set, we laughed. I felt like I was on the set of Jerry Maguire, all over again, with Cameron Crowe yelling out things for me to say and do. I think that’s why it was such a powerful experience for me. I think I did the right thing.
Have you always been against playing yourself, or versions of yourself?
GOODING: Always. My insecurity was that, if you play yourself and you do something that someone else doesn’t like, they’ll take that with them to your next role. But, this is such a far-out version of myself. I’m a crazy crack fiend. If people really think that’s me, there’s nothing I can do to help them. I knew it was one of those things that was just a reflection of the character, so I had to just roll with it.
Is this very much your sense of humor?
GOODING: It’s funny you ask that because I said to my two sons, who are 18 and 20, “Sit down and watch this pilot, and tell me if you think anything is there.” They did, and they laughed. I laughed, watching them laugh. I knew, if they thought it was funny, it was actually funny.
Once you got in there and were doing this, did you just have to go all-out and put your faith in the comedy?
GOODING: Yeah. When I commit to a role, I always tell myself that role is king. That’s the bible. If I start to judge my character, than it’s going to influence my performance, and I don’t want that. I want to find the truth in the character.
Do you enjoy doing physical comedy?
GOODING: Oh, sure. I started off as an athlete first, doing gymnastics and playing football, and I was always a lover of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
You work in so many different genres, on film and TV. Is that what you intentionally strive to do?
GOODING: It is golden. It’s how I always looked at myself, as an artist. I’m a character actor. When I was in school, I would do Twelfth Night in the morning, and then Hamlet in the evening. It was the change of characters that really impressed people. I was known for being one way, and then flipping the script. And [my career] is like a reincarnation of that. It’s a manifestation of that work.
You also seamlessly go back and forth between comedy and drama. Do you feel like people really see you as capable of doing both now, without having to constantly prove to them that you can do the other?
GOODING: The older I get in this business, the more I realize that the less you do, the less people know who you are. So, I just try to keep working, to be honest with you. Thank god, I’ve had the opportunity to do both comedy and drama. It gives me more opportunity.
When the opportunity came up to play OJ Simpson in American Crime Story, what was your reaction?
GOODING: Well, in this specific situation, I am such a fan of Ryan Murphy that when I heard he was doing a new anthology series, I was like, “I’m in! What is it?” When I heard it was OJ, I said, “Okay, great, let’s build that character.”
Everybody on the planet knows the outcome of the OJ Simpson trial, so how do you keep that interesting for a TV show?
GOODING: I love (writers) Larry [Karaszewski] and Scott [Alexander]. They’re putting the trial on trial. They’re putting the Los Angeles Police Department on trial. You’re going to see the minutiae of the events surrounding that case. That’s what’s so intriguing, and what I found so interesting, reading the scripts. It was Ryan Murphy, so I would have done whatever he was doing, but it was refreshing to learn that those two writers were signed on. I knew that they were going to turn in some scripts that were mind-blowing.
And then, you found out who was in the cast.
GOODING: Sarah Paulson and I were the first, so as the rest of the cast fell into place, I got giddy. Ryan is the maestro, and he’s pulling together his orchestra for his vision. I knew he was going to do that. It’s feeling a sense of validation to know that I’m on the right path to greatness with him. There’s so much stuff I want to tell you about these characters, but I can’t.
Everybody has their own opinions about what really happened. Was it weird to backtrack and strip all of those opinions away, in order to do this?
GOODING: No, it’s my job. That’s how I feel about it. It’s not my job to judge. It’s not just my opinion of him. It’s my opinion of all those characters from that time. It’s my opinion from that time period that I experienced. I remember where I was when that verdict was dropped. I remember where I was when that White Bronco went down the 405.
Do you enjoy doing projects that have more of a societal weight to them and that can really help educate people about a certain topic, along with just being entertainment?
GOODING: When I was 22, I got offered an HBO film called The Tuskegee Airmen. I read through it and when I finished that script, I was angry and I was ashamed that I didn’t know there were African American fighter pilots in WWII that actually helped turn the tide of the war. It angered me. I made a note to myself that every script that came down the pike, that gave another page of African American history, would be put on top of the pile of acceptance.
I felt the exact same rush of anger when I read about this document, called The Book of Negroes, that had in it roughly 3,000 names of slaves, and every name in that book was granted his freedom to Nova Scotia. I didn’t know about that, so it jumped up to the pile of projects that I wanted to be involved in. Then, when I heard Louis Gossett Jr. was going to be involved, forget about it. We had just witnessed Twelve Years a Slave, told from the male perspective. Now, we had the female perspective in the Aminata Diallo character, who was enslaved again and again and again, not just from Africa to the United States, but from the United States to Canada, and Canada back to Africa, and then eventually to London.
I knew it was going to be an epic story, and I knew it was going to be one of those things that hopefully the youth of today would find some empowerment in. That’s why we have such a civil unrest in America now. There isn’t justice with our judicial system and people are tired of feeling like second-class citizens. It’s stories like this that wake people up to the fact that our collective voice is stronger than our individual voice. Selma was another one of those scripts. When you get these scripts sent to you, you don’t say, “Let me meet the director.” You say, “When do I get on the plane? I’m in!”
Big Time in Hollywood, FL airs on Wednesday nights on Comedy Central.