Radio: Michael Tackett
August 14, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

From a 1996 Sports Illustrated article (via the rookie screenwriter Mike Rich) comes ”Radio,” a true-life take on a high school football coach (Ed Harris) who befriends a mentally challenged African-American man nicknamed Radio (Cuba Gooding Jr.) in the racially charged ’60s South. ”It’s a movie I can take my [10-year-old] daughter to, which is really nice,” says Harris. ”There’s not a lot of those in my bunch. It’s about something positive without being corny.”

Gooding relished the opportunity to play a real person, as he did in 2000’s ”Men of Honor” — though this time the role required more of a physical transformation. ”The first day of filming, coming out of my trailer, I stayed in character until I got back in the trailer and took my makeup off,” he says. ”The second day I was comfortable enough to take my prosthetic teeth out and hold a conversation with people. By the fourth week, I had to do some off-camera dialogue, and I would just bring my teeth in a box, looking like Cuba, then put the teeth in and do my dialogue. Because I knew the guy by then.”

But even though Radio himself, now 56, visited the South Carolina set, he couldn?t understand that his life was becoming a movie. ”He doesn?t have that capacity,” Gooding explains. ”It’s just a childlike attitude toward everything. He walked up to me and I was in character and I was like, ‘Hey, man! How you doin’?’ And he’s looking at me going ‘Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am? I’m Radio!’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you are!”’

For Gooding, an Oscar winner for 1996’s ”Jerry Maguire,” ”Radio” is a chance to prove he’s award-worthy again — but the actor says the challenging role didn’t frighten him. ”It’s all good, brother,” he says. ”If I didn’t want to get scared, I’d never walk out of the house.”

The Killer Moment ”When Radio graduates in life,” says Gooding. ”Don’t take it too literally, and you’ll see.”

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