Cuba Gooding Jr. Dives Into Drama

Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character in the new film Men of Honor is based on the real-life experiences of Carl Brashear, a naval hero who refused to let racism or the loss of his leg stop him from becoming an elite diver, reports CBS News Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel.

Where did Gooding find the motivation to portray Brashear's intense determination?

"You personally draw from your experiences," Gooding explains. "But you also have...advisers. There's not only Carl Brashear, but three technical people who worked with...veteran amputees. I had the prosthetics and all these things put on me...physically, you have these things to work with that keep you in the mind-set."

For instance, Gooding sees some parallels between what Brashear went through to become a diver and what happens in Hollywood for African-American actors.

"There have been situations that you have to kind of fight tradition, so to speak, and overcome it," says the actor. He isn't getting as many roles as he'd like, but he points out that most actors don't get as many offers as they'd like.

Overall, Gooding adds, he feels his career "has been really blessed."

"Lately, I've been involved in some of the greatest roles," he said. He portrays Dorie Miller -- the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross for his acts of bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor -- in an upcoming movie.

The fact that he has won an Oscar for his supporting role in Jerry Maguire has increased Gooding's cachet in Hollywood. But that didn't stop him from accidentally damaging the little statue.

"It was an Oscar party, and I didn't know the damn thing was--" he begins, half joking. "We have a little dent in the head," he sheepishly admits.

Gooding had originally turned down the offer to do Men of Honor, until his co-star, Robert De Niro, persuaded him to take it.

"I got this call from Robert De Niro," recalls Gooding. "And he cussed me out."

De Niro said to him, "Do you know how important this movie is? Are you stupid?"

"I thought it was funny. I was like, 'You're absolutely right.' And here I am," said Gooding. "I'm more proud of this role than any I've ever done."

In the movie, De Niro plays a racist commander. Gooding said in theory he was intimidated acting opposite De Niro, but he tried not to think about it.

"You feel like what he's saying is happening. If you're not paying attention...He's coming at you and saying the lines and saying what he feels, he's doing all of this stuff. It's so real you're just in it," Gooding said. "If I sat and was like, 'Wow, I just did a scene [with De Niro],' I'd be blown away."

Playing the role was physically demanding for Gooding. Although he could swim like a fish, he had never dove before.

He trained every day for three weeks. "We were under water for about a month in a tankbuilt in Long Beach. We were also out in the ocean, for the most part, in this tank," said Gooding.

The movie is set in the 1950s and '60s, so Gooding had to wear an old-fashioned 240-pound helium gas diving suit with an old metal helmet.

It took 45 minutes for Gooding to get in the suit and another 45 to get out.

"You knew you weren't going anywhere, you know what I mean? You walk in this thing, labor to the stairs and once you get under water, every move -- when you get to the water, the suit is so heavy, but the water...pushes the suit onto your body... It's funny. When you get in water, if the suit's not on proper, it will, like, lift up and you're, like, whoa," said Gooding.

Gooding, who was born in the Bronx in 1968, is the son of Cuba Gooding, lead singer of the 70s pop group, The Main Ingredient. After his father's group had the hit single Everybody Plays The Fool in 1972, the family moved to Los Angeles.

Although his father abandoned the family, Gooding Jr. was a high achiever in high school. While performing in a high school play, he was discovered by an agent and began getting work doing television commercials. He took acting lessons and had bit parts in the TV show Hill Street Blues and the movie Coming To America.

His first big break was playing Tre Styles in Boyz 'N The Hood in 1990.

A partial list of Gooding's films, according to

  • What Dreams May Come, 1998
  • As Good As It Gets, 1997
  • Jerry Maguire, 1996
  • Losing Isaiah,1995
  • Outbreak, 1995
  • A Few Good Men, 1992
  • Boyz 'N The Hood, 1991