Published on August 6th, 2019 | by Percy Crawford0
Omar Gooding on John Signleton: “He Took Relative Unknowns…and Made Them Stars and Icons!”
Omar Gooding reflects on working with legendary director, John Singleton.
If you have had access to a television set over the course of the last 30-plus years, at some point you have seen, Omar Gooding on it. From Nickelodeon shows like, “Wild & Crazy Kids,” to sitcoms like “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper,” “Smart Guy,” and, “Touched By An Angel,” all the way to the big screen, “Ghost Dad,” and “Baby Boy.” Gooding has been shoulder to shoulder with some of Hollywood’s best and at a very young age proved he belonged. Coming from a family of entertainers and musicians, both his father and brother, Cuba Gooding Sr. and Jr. played a part in grooming the multi-talented, Omar. Currently channeling both his acting and rapping ability simultaneously, Gooding stars in Bounce TV’s “Family Time and dropped his first solo rap album, “The Excuse” earlier this year. With over 15-films to his credit, at age 42, there seems to be no slowing down the west coast native.
Gooding talks about avoiding the “child star” curse, power of prayer and the impact of both Nipsey Hussle and John Singleton’s passing.
You have been in the public eye for over 30-years. Many child stars didn’t far so well. What would you attribute your success to and the fact that it didn’t end horrible for you to? Was it your upbringing or you simply learning from other’s mistakes?
Omar Gooding: It’s definitely a combination of the two. My mother is a born-again Christian, which is very specific. She wasn’t necessarily raised in the church. She didn’t go to church every single day. She does now because she was saved at one point. Her and my father were up the street. My father remained that way. His upbringing was totally different. His mother went from Christianity to Muslim, so he had a lot of different things going on as a child and into his life and then he moved on. With my mother, it was funny because I think she got saved right before I was born. So, my brother and sister grew up how they grew up. Kind of, “Hey, let’s get it how we get it.” All of a sudden, your mother gets saved… it’s very funny because people who see her now is like, “Wow, she’s really strong.” She’ll pray for you and it’s a very powerful prayer. I was raised in that. It was kind of like a thing, even at a young age, I could see a lot. I had a problem with authority.If you couldn’t explain it to me then I couldn’t respect you. So, in school I would get into arguments with teachers because, I wouldn’t say I was smarter than them; obviously I wasn’t. I was a student. But if I asked a question and they couldn’t answer it, it’s like, “What do you mean just be quiet or just sit in your seat. Raise your hand or what are you talking for?” I would ask somebody else. That was some of the time, other times I was just acting up (laughing).
With my mother, she was raised by parents who was raised by slaves, so it was physical. I wouldn’t call it abuse, even though when you were raised by people that was raised a certain way, that’s how it is. But you have to change the cycle. I’m raising my son now and I’m kind of trying to figure out how it’s going to go. I know that me personally, I didn’t get a lot of ass whooping’s because I realize after the first couple that I didn’t want that anymore. I was pretty sensible as a child. My brother and sister, they were idiots. They were doing all types of stuff. They would say, “You’re spoiled.” And I’m like, “What the hell you mean, I’m spoiled? She say don’t do that and I don’t do that.” They were messing up constantly. I heard all the stories of the stuff they did. When we were homeless and moving all over, I was the sensible one. I was telling her how to drive and where to go. I was very blessed with common sense in a lot of situations, thinking and ways to figure things out. She would say, “How do you know that?” I see a lot of that in my son. If he has any of my genes in him, he probably just wants to know. He wants to know why and figure things out. We do a lot of talking and I specifically being a 40-year old parent, I think I have a lot more patience than if I had him in my 20’s. It would be like, “No, shut up, do as I said,” you know what I mean.
So, with me, not to get too religious, but I have seen my mother pray things into existence. With positive thinking and praying, “Look, we’re going to say goodbye to this car and hello to an apartment, and goodbye to this apartment and hello to a house and goodbye to this job and hello to a better job, goodbye to that job and hello to a series regular role,” where she could quit working. Every day I would watch these things prayed into existence. Seeing God and how he works when you call upon him, that helped. That helped a lot just staying levelheaded when getting involved with things.
It sounds like you were more grounded opposed to trying to be out in it like that.
Omar Gooding: Absolutely! I wasn’t drawn to the Hollywood life at all. I don’t have a lot of Hollywood friends. I don’t go on the set and make new friends and they are Hollywood guys. I didn’t get into the Hollywood hype and go do all the Hollywood things. I didn’t fade on peer pressure either. I was never easily influenced. I was more of a leader than a follower, always. I think that had a lot to do with me having to step up at a young age. I would be with someone’s parent and I would suggest things and they would be like, “That’s a good idea.” And I was like, “Okay.” It helped me lead as opposed to, “I don’t know you tell me what to do.” So, when I would be with my friends, they got their own house and own place or whatever and it was like, “Okay, what are we going to do next, O?” I’m looking like, “Why ya’ll looking at me?” That’s just kind of how it was for me. But definitely having someone that teaches you how to pray when things get too heavy and I talk about this in my lyrics, give it to God. People will say, “What do you mean, give it to God?” Get on your knees and pray. It does a lot in terms of calming you down, quiet yourself and listen. It doesn’t mean a burning bush and commandments falling from the air. But if you listen and quiet yourself, you’ll hear him. I do it now. If I’m in an argument with someone and it’s not making sense, I walk off, just let me get a moment and I breathe, and I talk, and I pray. It’s just how I’m wired.
I didn’t have the most patient mother and father at all times, but they evolved as well too. I am definitely the type of person that learns from other people’s mistakes. I’ve seen it done the wrong way, but with good intention. My father used to always say, “Do as I say and not as I do.” That helps me understand myself when I make a mistake. If I make a mistake and say, “How the hell did I do that?” The crazy thing about a mistake is, immediately or the next morning you say, “How the hell did I do that?” It’s because you’re still perfecting yourself and trying to figure out the right and wrong way, or the signs or God speaking to you. Whatever you want to call it. You say, “This is not a good idea.” And then you’re either going to do it anyway or just go home. And eventually I hope we all figure out how to read the signs and the writing on the wall and make correct decisions, so that we’re not in the news, or TMZ or in a situation where we’re not fighting for our livelihood or career because of one bad mistake or wrong decision.
I wanted to get your thoughts on the impact of the deaths of Nipsey Hussle and John Singleton; especially on the west coast.
Omar Gooding: Woof, that was a crazy time. I had never met, Nipsey Hussle, but I was directly connected and close to a lot of people that have. When I got the news, I had plans of going to a rap party. A rap party means, red carpet and cameras and smiling and this and that. I canceled all that shit. It hit me like I knew him personally. It made you just want to reflect on the town, the city, you felt the sadness and the overall sadness here because it showed us a lot of things. It showed us how far we still have to go. It also was a cautionary tale for entertainers and people that make it out, but then try to do better in their community by staying there. It’s like, “Damn, you’re still able to be touched.” Then it kind of opens your eyes to a lot of other things. Immediately it was conspiracy theory. Then it was, damn, you can’t just say, it’s “the man” because you gotta look at us as a people. That debate can and will go on forever until we find a way to be better as a people. I don’t want to get too racial. I have a biracial son, my wife is Caucasian and Asian… for all intent and purposes, she’s white and all intent and purposes, my son is black. I don’t want to get all, “It’s the man,” and all that.
We all, as a culture and every culture, we have to figure out a way to do better and how to treat each other better. It’s never going to be solved. It’s never going to be perfect. We have to figure out a way to eliminate mistakes and lapse in judgement. The brother, Nipsey did so much good in the community, it’s bittersweet because most of us didn’t know until he passed. We didn’t know, “He was great, he did this for the city,” and it’s like, “He did, really?” Well, people with power and money need to do more. I speak more, I talk more and give as much time as I can. I do it. You have to give back and that helps with your legacy and making the world a better place. It’s not just about getting a lot of money and you go buy a chain. No man, it’s much more you can do with money to help the people around you. It makes it easy on yourself as well. I never understood when someone makes a lot of money and then someone asked them for help and it’s like, “Get out of here. You gotta do what I did for it.” Why don’t you help some people that would help you and take some stress off of you and things like that.
Of course, with, John Singleton, it was sudden, and it was definitely a loss to the culture. He did a lot for us. It was another time to reflect and to celebrate his life, but 51-years old, man. Come on. For Nipsey, 33-years old is awful and 51 is considered young to where you’re like, “Come on.” That hit us hard as well.
I know you teased and were joking on Instagram of a Baby Boy 2, I’m sure with John’s passing, that eliminates anyone taking the script and making that a reality.
Omar Gooding: I know you’re asking a serious question and not to get all defensive, but of course not now. I used to tell people, for one, the movie was made in ’99-2000 and it came out in 2001. It’s 2019, the time for a sequel has passed. At the same time, the way he did his movies, he’s very hands on. He’s a writer/director. So, even if he was still here, very slim to none. He would have to make that decision. I don’t think he has ever made a sequel. What he did was, he had kind of a hood movie trilogy, “Boyz N The Hood,” “Poetic Justice,” and “Baby Boy.” I believe that was that. Even though, “Baby Boy” as the story goes was written for, Tupac. Tupac passes, he puts it on the shelf and then he decides to revive it. I’m grateful for that, not for Tupac’s death, but the fact that he waited so long and decided to still do it. The way he worked was fascinating. The way he motivated. He took relative unknowns… people who were unknown in the acting world and made them stars and icons.
He took a kid in myself who was just known for sitcoms and turned him into a gangster. How do you do that? He didn’t know my personal background and that I used to run with the elements that I used to run with and still to this day. The guys that said, “We got your back if you need anything,” but then they became my brothers. If you do the research, I was pulled over with guns in the car and all that stuff. Nobody was perfect, but he didn’t know that. That wasn’t public consumption. It’s like, “How did you know?” I even had an altercation right before I went to film in the streets. I went to a house party with a very close friend of mine who was attacked. We were all jumped by some “little niggas,” and it was… without exaggerating, 10 of them and 3 of us. We were all back to back doubled up ready to square off and everyone starts yelling like, “Ugh!” I turn around and my man is on the floor leaking. Someone blind sided him with a pistol and cracked his head open. It was like a movie because I’m holding him and waiting for the ambulance to come and… that’s about as far as I’ll go with that. All type of stuff happened to those guys. But for me, even with who I was then, it’s not like I was like, “Give me the gun. Let’s go ride and find these guys.” That never happened. That “Baby Boy” superhero, let’s find these guys, we’re going to line them up and whoop their ass, get our redemption and move on with life. That never happened. In the gang world, yes, this happens you’re going to retaliate. But I couldn’t do that.
I grew up in L.A. I know when you gotta get down, I know how this thing works, I’ve been in plenty of fights, so I get that, but I couldn’t avenge anything. So, when I’m getting ready to film this scene, it was another one of those, “Damn John, this is hitting close to home. How did you know this?” I had people come up to me like, “Damn man, that seemed real. I was asking if you were really a gang banger.” It was just a lot in me that I wanted to get off and I was able to channel it for that film. He had an uncanny way of knowing what’s in people and bringing it out of them. I haven’t come across anyone as talented and gifted and a motivator like that.