Cuba Gooding Jr. & Dennis Haysbert in ‘Life of a King’
*Cuba Gooding, Jr. is Eugene Brown in the remarkable film, “The Life of a King,” based on the real life of the Big Chair Chess Club founder. In prison 18 years for bank robbery, Brown learned how to play chess.
After his release Brown’s motto of “Teach the un-teachable, reach the un-reachable, and always think before you move” saved the lives of many doomed youths.
The Film Strip caught up with Gooding and writer/director Jake Goldberger recently at the Soho Grand in New York City. Gooding gives a lowdown of his newest release, the Oscars and the ‘Blacks don’t sell overseas’ stigma.
Cuba, what makes this character special to you?
CUBA GOODING, JR: There are a few criteria on which I choose for the roles I gravitate towards. One would be military. I like military movies but I also like real life people that reflect how America became the great nation that it is today. Just look at ‘Men of Honor,’ Chief Carl Brashear, and the Tuskegee Airmen movies. I think the third thing is the father and son nucleus in the family. You look back at ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ with Tre and Furious, even ‘The Butler’ there’s that relationship with father and son. When I was growing up my father was on the road and all my other buddies’ fathers were gone. It was the mom that raised us and turned us into men, but it pushed me to wanting to be in the life of my sons. All of those things coupled with the fact that when I was going to high school I didn’t know about Tuskegee Airmen or the other [black heroes] in the pages in Black history. And I damn well didn’t know about prison inmate Eugene Brown who taught some kids in the inner city how to play chest hat became Grand Master chess champions.
What were some of the challenges?
CG: Money to shoot it, to sell the script. [Enacting the negative responses of some studios and financiers]‘, so what’s it about?’ It’s about this Black guy who teaches kids how to play chess. ‘Right, good luck with that.’