Gooding Feels No 'Dirty' Shame

The road from the Oscar podium to "Snow Dogs" and "Boat Trip" took only five years for Cuba Gooding Jr. The likeable star is only beginning to map his course back.

"The last two years have been really back-to-basics for me and my career," the 38-year-old actor admits. "Winning the Oscar 10 years ago and putting myself on such a high pedestal and saying 'I can only do work of this pedigree,' I lost out on a lot of great opportunities and alienated a lot of filmmakers and, in the process, realized that it's just about work."

Gooding continues, "At one point, for a year, I went without an agent, a manager, I fired everybody and was sitting at home just going, 'You know, I'll just chill.' You can't... What it did to me was it enabled me to find the new voices in Hollywood."

One of those new voices is Chris Smith, writer-director of Gooding's new film "Dirty," a gritty procedural following to morally compromised cops (Gooding and Clifton Collins Jr.) as they navigate the dangerous streets of Los Angeles.

"This guy was a gangbanger and then reformed himself to the point where he became a cop to do right by the community, but then realizes that he was the only one with this mentality, he was swimming against the grain, so he started to revert back to the basics in his mentality, and ultimately, through the on-the-job training he got, became this thing again," says Gooding, charting the arc for his character, Officer Salim Adel.

"Dirty" is drawing thematic comparisons to "Training Day" and Adel certainly has some similarities with the part that earned Denzel Washington his second Oscar. Although Gooding roles his eyes at linking the two films, he understands why the corrupt cop genre is such a draw for both filmmakers and audiences.

"It's two-fold: You have the people who live in the environment, who identify with it and say it's easy for them to get caught up in the reality of it," he begins. "And then you have the people who don't know that world and find it very informational. It's like watching the lion at the zoo and not having to be standing next to him without the bars between you."

Although Adel isn't the villain of "Dirty," which drew its inspiration from the much-publicized Rampart scandal, he's a character with few admirable traits, an obvious departure for Gooding.

"I'm at that place of stripping away all the bulls*** and finally just saying, 'Just do the role and bring the reality of the role,'" he says. "People ask me, 'What are you better at, comedy or drama?' And I'm like, 'I don't know, but I know the juice I get out of acting is bringing a truth to the character and putting him in any situation.'"

He notes, with a big smile, "I'm just glad I didn't start my career off like this, because it's easier to be the nice guy than to be a prick."

"Dirty" is now in limited release.

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World