Published on April 22nd, 2023 | by Jimmy Star


Cuba Gooding Jr. Joins “Athena Saves Christmas”

Cuba Gooding Jr., one of Hollywood’s most elite, essential and effervescent actors on the planet will be starring in the new family holiday movie “Athena Saves Christmas.” The film is directed by Josh Webber and produced by two-time Grammy winner/music publisher Tony Mercedes, Webber Films, Henry Penzi, Christina Cooper and Michael Girgenti. Executive producers include Mercedes, and Tamara Johnson.

In a true to life Cinderfella story, Cuba Gooding Jr. was discovered while starring in a High School production which segued into a unicorn marathon of blockbuster motion pictures including “Boyz in the Hood”, “Men of Honor”, “A Few Good Men”, “Pearl Harbor”, “Outbreak”, and a cascade of others along with “Jerry Maguire” that he won an Academy Award for. His art is rooted in the heart, and carries him away, irresistibly to seek his own flight orbit like a spiritual quest, and God himself propels his chariot of fire.

Aside from his phenomenal acting career Cuba Gooding Jr. has a heart of gold. During the darkest time in recent history when frost was fingering its way under the door and every inch of heaven was engulfed in flames, during the Pandemic, Cuba took the time to thank the nurses fighting Covid at Anaheim through song and stories of his own tenacity. He also supported the Mommy’s Heart Gala, a benefit for abuse victims. He also courageously extinguished the flames of a guest who caught fire at a Hamptons party…. All in all, a sacred fit for a heartwarming family movie.

The film “Athena Saves Christmas” is an adventure of a lifetime for Samuel (Paxton Kubitz), and his friends, Kylie Marshall, and Santiago Ramirez and of course Athena Sam’s trusted dog. The young team is challenged by the mob while attempting to solve several riddles that will save Christmas for their town.

Alongside Cuba, the motion picture features, Robert Miano (Fast and Furious), Richard Portnow (Hitchcock), Mars Callahan, Glenn Plummer, Caitlin Raymond, and up-and-coming popstar Kylie Marshall. Cuba Gooding Jr. is represented and managed by attorney Peter Toumbekis. Composer Randy Edelman (Last of the Mohicans, My Cousin Vinny, Ghostbusters ll) will be writing and performing the movie’s score.

With the essence of a kaleidoscope of vibrancy we had a conversation filled with eloquence, and enthusiasm as the actor couture spoke of what is most passionate to him, his career, and his future endeavors…..

What inspired you to get involved in Athena Saves Christmas?

Here’s the funniest thing, here I am 55 years old, I won the Oscar when I was in my twenties. As careers often do, I had highs and lows. One of the films that I did that I got ridiculed for was the movie called “Snow Dogs.” People thought “you are very serious actor why are you doing this children fluff”? And I said “because I have kids.” To this day half of the people that walk up to me tell me they loved “Snow Dogs.” They were all children when I did that movie. They asked “when are you going to do another “Snow Dogs?” And seriously, this script came to me and I figured that’s about as close as I’m going to get to doing another “Snow Dogs,” so I did. That’s really why I said yes.

 I thought it was cute. I thought it was quirky. I loved the fact that it was an interracial family in a small town with a sheriff. I thought the dialogue was very engaging. At the time I was offered another very violent action sci-fi movie that I think is again going to be another great film. But it was one of those companion piece scripts that I thought well if I’m doing that, I should do this to give those kids another one like “Snow Dogs.”

What was it like working with all those kids? Was it fun, was it annoying? 

It’s funny you say that because I only worked with a group of kids. I worked with the boy that played my son almost every day, but I didn’t work with a group of kids until they finished the filming. So my thing was the family, and the mobsters and the FBI agents and then the dog. For me it was literally like a replay of “Snow Dogs.” I heard the kids were phenomenal, but I didn’t get to see a lot of their stuff except for that end scene where we all sing together. There is a big town hall scene that they shot all of my green screen in one day, so when they actually did that Town Hall scene I wasn’t there. I was already back in Miami.

Have you seen the movie all the way through?

No, not yet. I wanted to wait until the very last moment to see it all polished. Your first impression is always your last. Unless I’m directing it.

That was my next question. Have you ever directed a film?

So, I did this super no budget movie. I was told I had 17 days to shoot and I finished it in 6 days. Because we didn’t have all the funds we were promised. It is a film that you can watch on Hulu called “Bayou Caviar.”

I had a wonderful cast with Richard Dreyfuss, Famke Janssen and a couple of newbie actors. We literally just shot it in New Orleans. It gave me the director bug. I want to do another big budget movie where I can really direct and find my vision. Directors don’t always feel like surrendering a film if you don’t finish it, but I literally surrendered that film. I was supposed to have by the DTA 8 weeks, I had two. In that respect I felt bullied. But the movie sold. They sold it to Gravitas. It was in the theaters and then it went to Hulu. It trended during the pandemic. Top 10. So, I think it was a good effort, but I want to have a shot to really have my vision. I’ve been writing scripts now for about 10 years. I have a proper stack of a bunch of different genres. I teamed up with an established writer that has done a lot of great work. We wrote a big action movie, a $70 million movie. We sent it around town, and it got really positive feedback. So, it is something I absolutely want to do as my next step. To sit back behind the camera in the director chair. Directing is just too enticing.

What prompted you to pursue an acting career from the beginning?

It was one of those stories. I was in high school in a play in the afternoon, “Little Abner.” And then the “Twelfth Night” for the grown- ups in the evening every weekend at North Hollywood High school. One of the kids, who wasn’t even an actor in the play, he was a sound expert….and his mom came to see the show and came backstage. She was this quirky older lady with crazy white hair. She said “hi what’s your name?” “I say Cuba”. She said “oh, that’s a great name.” She said “I’m Corley of the Corley Junior agency and I think you’re great. I think you have what it takes.” I went to her office in North Hollywood. I read and I played a 50-year-old man. She said “you are phenomenal, I want you to get a resume and your headshots and we’re going to get you out there and I’m going to submit you on all the casting calls”. Well 3 months passed. And she called me and she said “what the hell is your problem? Why haven’t you sent me headshots?” “I said I don’t have any money.” She said “come to my office.” She told me what to do with my resume. She said for commercials you put list upon request. I had only done theater in high school. For film she said you put “Batman,” as the boy who crossed the street. You put “Forrest Gump” you know she’s naming all these things that no one ever checks. And then she says for theater you put all the stage plays you do and for the production you put LAUSD. That’s historical Los Angeles Unified School District. And sure enough I went on my first few auditions and they were like wow this is an extensive resume. And I wound up booking with this crazy old lady “Hill Street Blues” thug number one.

From there my career took off. I did the barbershop scene in “Coming to America.” And then she finally got me a little film called “Boyz n the Hood.” And the rest was history. That’s how it started.

Oh and the woman Corley Jean, she passed away. She was my heart. She’s the reason why I am the actor I am. She was Shirley Temple’s only competition as a child. She was doing all of these movies and finally Shirley Temple’s star took off and she was like well, this isn’t going to work for me and she was walking around the lot in Culver City. There are all these munchkins standing around. They were shrieking and being treated horribly because they were all the munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz.” She went to the head of the studio and said it wasn’t right and I represent the munchkins and those were her first clients. So, when I walked in her office there were sword swallowers, female impersonators and contortionists and I was one of two normal sized actors.

I’ll tell you how I got “Boys n the Hood” too real quick. I went to this audition for a 50-year-old white guy. This little black 18-year-old boy walks in. And Jackie Brown says I’m sorry sweetheart you must have got the wrong call. I said well, I’m here why don’t you let me read. She said okay, sure come in. I went in there and I did like I did in the theater. I became this old 50-year-old guy. Smoking a cigar, hunched and after the whole reading, she said that is the most brilliant take on this material I’ve seen all day. I’ve been auditioning guys all day. She said obviously you’re not going to get this part but I’m going to remember you. And she remembered me and brought me back for “Boys n the Hood.”

Now you are one of the leading actors on the fucking planet. You’ve done so many different characters. Have you had your Ultimate Fantasy role yet?

It’s so funny. This is another long-winded answer, but I play ice hockey, 30 years. I’m a forward right-handed shot. All over the world. We used to do a tournament with Jerry Bruckheimer’s tournament. We would play, I would skate from Germany to Russia. I’ve been all over. Did you know that the NHL based their rules on the maritime Negro League in Canada? The slaves would go up through New York, New England all the way up into Nova Scotia and migrate to avoid slavery. Like any group of people, they got acquainted with the customs of Native Canadians, who taught them their game. And they started a league in 1820 something, an all black hockey league.

So, I have always wanted to tell that story. But obviously one it’s hockey and it’s not very popular. And two is black hockey players, so you have alienated both audiences. But I hope that one day that story will be told in the right way. I’m going to send you two pictures. I was going to approach the actors in these but then the pandemic hit. I was at a Blackhawk game in Chicago. And they came to me and asked if I would participate in this shot for charity, where if you make it in the hole you get $10,000 for your favorite charity. So, I said sure and I went down to the locker room between periods and they asked me if I wanted to practice and I said no. They thought this guy is going to make an ass of himself. So, you watch the video and people are booing because I’m not taking it serious. Watch the video.

I think that this will make a really cool movie.

Especially today, because you see  everyone’s so WOKE and politically correct, but anyway the good news about it is now you can tell these diverse multiracial stories and there is an audience for it. I’m done with the slave movies. I’ve done those movies and now let’s move ahead. I’ve done that movie, probably my favorite movie is “Men of Honor” with Robert De Niro. People come up to me and say that was my favorite movie even though it only made like $42 million in the box office, it made $250 million on DVD. But nobody talked about that. They just said you know if you have one more flop it’s going to be a problem. Because that’s how things worked back in the day. Movies are forever. When you buy a property, you have to change the drapes and repaint it. A film goes on and on and on. People are still paying for Lucy episodes up until this day. So, to judge a movie on opening box office is ridiculous. I started a new company called it’s going to rival Netflix, Instagram, YouTube. We are blockchain based and when you watch something on our platform because it’s blockchain, the money goes into everyone’s wallet. From the filmmakers to the studio to all of the people involved in 6 seconds. That’s the way the true artists are going to be able to monetize their creativity.

Tell me about your production company.

Mars Callahan and I did a movie called “What Love Is.” Mars came to me and he said I’ve been developing this technology with a gentleman by the name of Joe Callahan (no relation). He developed this coding about 25 years ago. If you know anything about coding 80% is the back end, and 20% is the average American user. He said I’m almost finished with this coding. By January we’re going to launch, but we’re traveling to Columbia and I want you to come as the face of the company. He showed me his mock-up of his version of Netflix. But not just where you go and watch television and films, he has influencers from Instagram and YouTube. And how people upload all of their information for free. For us, we have users that have followers and can monetize those followers by having them subscribe to the channel and they can see the money instantaneously. I thought that was amazing and we did that. We did a tour for about 2 weeks. We started Ikea and met with the governors and the prime ministers and then we get to Cartagena, Bogota. It cultivated at the palace in Bogota and a meeting with government there. And now we’re negotiating for them to implement the viewer technology. For the entire country. We’re trying to set up these little test countries to implement the coding so that when it works, and you can see it working then we can introduce it to bigger markets.

So that’s what you’re doing with your production company?

That’s what I’m doing as an artist as a face and as a businessman. Running the film and television side of the company. Now my production company side of things I have my producing partner Peter Toumbekis and I who we are always looking for financing, but right now my focus has been so much for viewing and with these co-contractor jobs. So, the production company hasn’t or isn’t really doing anything right now but we’re always looking.

Have you ever said no to a role because the message wasn’t right?

Yes of course. It’s funny because it’s been documented in the press that I said no to Steven Spielberg for “Amistad.” “Amistad” came to me through Dustin Hoffman first, before the outbreak movie. I was approached by Dustin and he took it to Warner Brothers. It was about the relationship between the slaves and the lawyer representing them in court. It was a beautiful take on the story. When I read “Amistad” it was diluted, it wasn’t about the slaves as much as it was about this court process thing. And I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought that the story should have focused more on what these Warriors from Africa were subjected to and how their instincts overcame.

So, when people come to me with again I’m saying the slave movies, I’m too over that shit. We got Barack Obama’s now. We have the Carl Brashears and the Bass Reeves of the world. He was a sheriff in the Wild Wild West who took out more white outlaws than anybody. He took in his own son. These are Warrior black men. Those are the stories. The Jamaican Warriors in the Hills that expelled the British from Jamaica. I mean that’s a story. Those are the stories I want to tell. Those are the ones I want to champion. “The Color Purple” musical I passed on. They want to revisit these slave stories. I’m over it, I want to move on. I want to show that we are warriors.

Which brings me to my next film. A companion piece, Angels Fallen Warriors of peace. It’s one of those roles that you wait a long time to do.

I was in traditional Japanese Shinto in the ’90s. I’ve been a boxer for 30 something years. As you know the ice hockey thing. I’ve got all this martial arts training and combat training from my military movies and it all kinds of services me to that role. I’m excited for people to see. I play an archangel where God is sent to protect the soldiers that are deployed in Iraq. So, it’s a spiritual thing but a Sci-Fi thing. I’m really proud of it.

If you could have me ask you any question on the planet what would it be?

I’ve covered all the things I’m passionate about right now. I think if I had to make a statement on where we are going as an entertainment business, I think the control needs to be shifted back to the creators. It is literally the reason I got back involved. When I was with Corley doing commercials, they sign you for a 13 week schedule. They’d send you money and release you from your contract. I can’t tell you how many times someone would say to me hey man I’m still running your commercials. So, I called my agent and my agent will call the company and they send us our check. That is just wrong. These Studios they do these huge movies, and they cross collateralize their books so that they say there is no net profit. It needs to change. Now with the new technology that’s available that day is coming. And the fact that people can have followers and the followers can support financially their creators creativity that’s a place I want to get back to, that’s what I’m looking to do. That disruptive energy from Hollywood is here. And we were locked away for almost a year and a half, two years of the pandemic. Now it’s like everyday is a good one, and we’re pushing ahead and moving forward.

Photo Credits: Julian Duque

Interview by Eileen Shapiro

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