Cuba Gooding, Jr. thinks he knows exactly why film’s biggest creative geniuses are flocking to television nowadays, because he’s done it himself.
Gooding, Jr. stars in one of the most talked-about series of the moment, the Ryan Murphy-produced “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” on FX. And he plays the accused himself, Simpson.
The Oscar winner for “Jerry Maguire” says the opportunity to really build a character in a way that’s unique to TV versus films (save something like “Boyhood”) can be seen as the true-crime series progresses to its end.
“When we started shooting, we only had the first episode. So I could be 160-some-odd pounds, I’m tan, I’m O.J. as you knew him,” Gooding, Jr. recently told Business Insider. “And when you get to the 10th episode, I went on that mental journey for six months — I’ve gained 20-some-odd pounds. You see that transformation.”
Over the past year, the actor has added to his TV resume, appearing on Fox’s “Empire,” BET’s “The Book of Negroes,” ABC’s “Forever,” and Comedy Central’s “Big Time in Hollywood, FL.”
But to do the small screen at this point in his career probably wouldn’t have made sense to a younger Gooding, Jr., who was appearing on shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “MacGyver.”
“When I started in the business, you did television and then when you got lucky you got a prestige project of a film,” he said of getting to work with directors “who were all about attention to detail.”
But then the movie business became swamped by event movies and comic-book adaptations, which he believes shortened the public’s attention span for storytelling.
“People’s patience to sit through the narrative of character development waned,” Gooding, Jr. explained. “They want to see an explosion, or they want to see something fantastical if they’re going to pay all that money to sit in that theatre.
“So, you had the next Scorseses and the next Coppolas, who still had things to say and do. They write these scripts and go to the festivals… You had the big sale, $11 million at Sundance, and it’d come to the theatre and eight people would see those movies. And the filmmakers said, ‘F–k, well I still need to keep telling my stories.'”
As Gooding tells it, that’s when TV entered the picture and offered filmmakers, along with actors, a pretty good alternative.
“Starting with the HBOs, starting with the cable networks, they said to those filmmakers, ‘Listen, I like your story. Tell it here and take your time. Develop those characters not over two hours, but I’ll give you 10,'” the actor said.
Then the movie stars followed. Gone were the mandatory long seasons. TV started making shows that last just one season (“American Crime Story” is an anthology, tackling a new true-crime story every season). And it was making seasons shorter to accommodate actors who still wanted to fit in movies.
“And we as actors said, ‘Wait, I don’t have to do 22 episodes. I can jump in and jump out in 10, or eight? What?’ And they would get the same filmmaking team, like ‘The Knick’ with Steven Soderbergh, and the first season of ‘True Detective,’ directed by Cary Fukunaga.”
In addition to directors and actors, writers are moving to TV, from “The Butler’s” Lee Daniels (“Empire”), and “12 Years a Slave’s” John Ridley (“American Crime”).
“People v. O.J. Simpson” is a great example of the talent TV can now pull together. Gooding, Jr. stars alongside an impressive group: John Travolta, Connie Britton, Sarah Paulson, and Nathan Lane, among many others. Plus, John Singleton, who directed a young Gooding, Jr. in “Boyz N the Hood,” helmed one of the episodes.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” premieres Tuesday, February 2, at 10 p.m. on FX.
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