Hollywood Legend & History Making Actor, Louis Gossett, Jr. Keeps On Working His Magic in The Cuban
Louis Gossett, Jr. is an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Emmy winning actor who has entertained audiences for decades with his impressive range and versatility. Whether he's playing a drill sergeant, a futuristic alien, or an enslaved servant, the Brooklyn, New York native always provides a nuanced performance with rich complexity. Gossett's latest role as an elderly Cuban musician who befriends a young employee, is masterfully crafted into a fully recognized persona.
The (musical) drama, The Cuban is opening in Los Angeles and select cities July 31st. Gossett (An Officer and a Gentleman, Roots, Watchmen), stars in the title role, opposite Ana Golja (Degrassi: Next Class, Full Out), who plays a naive pre-med student named Mina working at the nursing home where Gossett's character lives. Their unexpected friendship reignites her love of music, as well as her dreams, and changes the course of her life.
Although the set up sounds all too similar to many other films with May/December friendships, The Cuban departs from this well-trodden plot line by depending on a unique Cuban flair, supported by sumptuous cinematography, exotic nostalgia, bracing musical sequences, and exceptional acting. You'll quickly forgive the use of the creaky, cliche story line (complete with estranged children and doctors who don't understand the old man) once you've been drawn into the emotional atmosphere of the culture of an under appreciated music genre and the people who celebrate it. You can watch the trailer here.
Gossett is well known for being the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his astonishing role in An Officer and a Gentleman. Since his historical win, he has consistently maintained the reputation as a ground breaking performer, portraying one astonishing role after another (he was the first man to give birth in a film, etc.). He's also an accomplished writer, producer and director. Off-screen he is a social activist, educator and author dedicated to enriching the lives of others. And he gives a great interview!
I was fortunate to speak by phone with Mr. Gossett recently. Besides discussing his upcoming movie, we talked about his career, his art, his passions, and the two or so personal connections we share behind the scenes. His work in Watchmen was directed by a classmate of mine from NYU. Miracle at Gate 213 (a television Christmas movie made in 2013) was written by the chair of the Film department where I teach. And I actually met him on the red carpet at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF) in Hollywood a few years back where he says he asked me to marry him, and claims I turned him down. How could I possibly forget that, and more importantly, why did I say, "No?" Perhaps it was because I was married, but still!
I reminded him about the very hearty welcome he received from the crowd along the street, and asked him if he's surprised by the adoration he still commands. He answered in all modesty, "I'm very pleasantly impressed my name is in their minds and in their hearts. That's what keeps you going". He says he attributes his current high demand to "Keeping it simple. Letting God stay in charge and being prepared. Energy flow. And whether you work or not, if you stay on that energy flow, eventually, it catches." His prolonged career and consistent body of work is certainly a testament to that philosophy.
Seeing the finished product, it's easy to assume that Gossett is the natural choice for the role of Luis Garcia. But how does "kismet" like that find its way? When I asked how he came to the role, Gossett explained that, "They followed me half way round the world; the very talented and very beautiful young lady [the director] and the producer, Sergio. I saw them everywhere. And they spent money, and they followed me almost for a year. So, finally I said, okay, show me what you got." The persistence of the filmmakers paid off when Gossett agreed to do the film.
Gossett spoke of the joy he experienced working with the film's cinematographer, Celiana Cárdenas. "She's just wonderful. We had this romance on the set. Just eye contact." When I suggested the relationship with the process of cinematography is like dancing with the camera, he enthusiastically responded by saying, "There you go, that's the perfect phrase. That's on my list in acting 101." And in fact, he has the craft of teaching on his list of things he'd like to do, but has yet to accomplish. I have a feeling if he asks any institution for that privilege, it will happen.
Regarding the influences in his work, the answer may surprise you. Without hesitation Gossett emphatically said, "What inspired me for The Cuban was Robert De Niro's performance in Awakenings. When he goes in and out of his disease. He would go in and out in front of the camera without a cut. I was very impressed with his ability to that. I've always wanted to do something like that. He's my favorite actor. Him and Pacino are my two favorites. I've watched them grow. They never disappoint me."
In regards to the impact the corona virus has had on the distribution of the film Gossett is hopeful, believing, "It's more positive than negative. It [The Cuban] opened in the largest Drive-In in the world. Now people are getting to see this and they're talking about it. It's a word of mouth film. I think it's one of those sleepers people will keep talking about. If enough people see it, then people will seek it out and it will be in people's homes."
As our time together came to a close, I shared with Mr. Gossett my memory of watching him receive his Academy Award. I was just a young girl, but it made a great impact upon me when I saw how the audience exploded with applause upon the announcement of his name. Regarding his Oscar moment, Gossett said, "I was amazed [and] I got to shake Superman's hand [Christopher Reeve was a presenter] and kiss Susan Sarandon - and that was progress!" The night was certainly one for historical firsts and recognition of the talent of a man who has gone on to inspire generations of many actors from diverse backgrounds and cultural influences that's another significant accomplishment in the life of a true icon.
Directed by Sergio Navarretta, written by Alessandra Piccione, and with music by Juno-winning pianist Hilario Durán, the film sports an impressive music resume, which is particularly important given the atmosphere portrayed. Durán worked seamlessly with composer Roberto Occhipinti, and the Oscar Nominate sound team from Shape of Water to create a well-crafted experience for the senses. An added bonus is star Ana Golja performing her own vocals. The supporting cast includes Oscar nominee Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog, Star Trek Beyond), the engaging Lauren Holly (Dumb and Dumber, NCIS) and a sexy young Giacomo Gianniotti (Grey's Anatomy, Station 19). So far, the film as collected a large variety of awards including an "Audience Favorite", a "Best Special Program", and of course, "Best Cinematography".
The Cuban opens virtually in theatres this Friday, July 31.