Cuba Gooding Jr. won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as an football star Rod Tidwell in 1994’s Jerry Maguire, and the actor says that experience and getting to know several real-life NFL players actually helped him prepare to play O.J. Simpson in FX’s new miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
“There’s something about the dynamic and the majestic confidence and the egotistical attitude these guys have talking about themselves in the third person,” Gooding Jr. tells EW. “So there’s something that was easy to relate to and get back into this mindset with these guys. When these guys see a situation that they have to tackle — they tackle it like a warrior. They go at it emotionally, aggressively, and they don’t accept weakness, and if they see weakness, they attack it with strength. So that’s how I feel O.J. came at it. He had a very magnetic personality. He was very boisterous and big and he came into the room and he commanded attention.”
But Gooding Jr. thinks there was almost a stunted maturity when it came to Simpson’s behavior due to his success in sports. “When a professional athlete shows an ability, he’s probably not gonna have developed his psyche, his mindset, his social skills,” says the actor. “There’s that coupled with the desire for all the people around him — especially at a young age — to make sure they shield him from that and focus on whatever that skill is. So if you can throw a football or if you can run, that’s all they want you to do.”
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Continues Gooding Jr., “So, if you throw a tantrum or if you do something that isn’t socially acceptable, they tell you, ‘That’s okay, don’t worry about it. Just focus on your gift.’ So when they finally drain this gift for all the money they can and, and they spit that guy out, he’s not really socially developed the way he should be. There is that basic childlike quality of O.J. I wanted to make sure that people understood that people had problems telling him no. They had problems even bringing negative things to light to him. I’m friends with a lot of professional athletes and this is just this reoccurring theme with these people.”
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story debuts Feb. 2 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.
For more on American Crime Story, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now.