Editor’s note: Thursday, Academy Award winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. visited ESPN’s Bristol campus to promote his new movie “Red Tails,” opening today nationwide. Gooding won the 1996 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in “Jerry Maguire.” The movie about a sports agent’s struggles, also starring Tom Cruise, featured many cameos by dozens of sports figures including ESPN/ABC personalities past and present. Here’s ESPN reporter Tom Friend’s unusual story about how he made it to the big screen.
The residual checks come in every other month or so, in paper-thin envelopes.
Sometimes they’re worth $4.78; sometimes $8.74.
No, it’ll never make me rich.
But, in every other way, Jerry Maguire has shown me the money.
You can’t put a price on being in an Oscar-nominated movie. I’m not in there for long; I’m not in there full view. But I was in a scene of Jerry Maguire with Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding and, uh, Mel Kiper. And no one can take that away from me.
People ask all the time how I landed a movie role — if you want to call it a “role’’ — and I tell them it really is who you know in Hollywood. Or who you do lunch with.
Back in 1994 when I was writing for the New York Times, I met Chris Connelly at an ESPN audition in L.A..
At the time, Chris was the editor of Premiere Magazine, and we spoke about writing and sports and acting. I told him I’d love to write a Hollywood piece for him someday, and, about a year or so later, he called to offer me an assignment.
“I want you to write a cover article,’’ he said.
“On who?’’ I answered.
“Well, it’s a guy who likes sports and is sort of a guy’s guy,’’ Chris said. “I think you’re the perfect writer for it.’’
“On who?’’ I answered.
“Tom Cruise,’’ Chris said.
“Done,’’ I said.
I had written about almost every prominent American athlete at that time — from Magic Johnson to Cal Ripken — but the thought of profiling an A-list actor seemed infinitely more exciting.
As soon as I met Cruise, we hit it off. I wanted to talk about his career; he wanted to talk about mine.
He thought covering sports was “the best job ever,” and I told him, “OK, I’ll trade jobs with you.’’
He spoke in exclamation points. His laughs broke the sound barrier. You talk about commanding a room; he commanded L.A.’s entire west side.
But he was also just a guy who liked the New York football Giants, who used to have tapes of their games over-nighted to him when he was shooting movies overseas. In the interview — much of which was focused on his first Mission Impossible movie — I felt I could ask him anything.
So I did.
“What’s your next project?’’ I asked him over lunch.
“A film called Jerry Maguire,” he answered. “It’s about a sports agent.”
“There’s got to be role for a sports writer in it,’’ I said, basically kidding.
“There is!’’ he said. (Yes, another exclamation point).
I honestly thought nothing of it, because from what I’d always heard, Hollywood actors were all talk.
But about four months later, I received a call out of the blue from the film’s production company.
They asked me if I’d come to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel the following week to be in Cruise’s movie.
It was kind of hard to believe.
I reported to the set early, where all we did was hurry up and wait. But eventually, I was introduced to director Cameron Crowe, who I was a huge fan of (Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Singles).
Cameron explained the movie to me. Cruise was a sports agent named Jerry Maguire, who was holding onto his career for dear life. He had one client left, a receiver named Rod Tidwell – played by Gooding.
And on this day, Maguire was going to be at the NFL draft, accompanied by Tidwell, trying to sign the top-rated quarterback Frank Cushman, otherwise known as “Cush” (portrayed by Jerry O’Connell).
Cameron told me that, in my scene, Jerry Maguire would leave Cush for a few moments to parade Tidwell through the NFL Draft lobby, hoping Tidwell would get some love from the media.
And it was my job as a reporter, along with Kiper, to rush up to them both, ignore Tidwell and ask Maguire a question.
It would go like this:
Maguire: “Hi Mel, how are you doing? Hi Tom, how’s it going?’’
Me: “Where’s Cush?’’
Maguire: “He’s upstairs.’’
That would be it. Two words: “Where’s Cush?”
But it wasn’t just the words.
I would first have to shake Maguire’s and Tidwell’s hands, I would have to fantastically snub Tidwell and I would have to deliver the line naturally.
We did a number of takes, and on one of the first takes, Gooding (who I had enjoyed in Boyz N the Hood) shook my hand so fiercely, I almost fell over. I was honestly afraid they were going to use that in the movie, but all of the other takes went well, and after almost five hours of shooting one 15-second scene, we were done for the day.
Of course, there was no guarantee our scene would even make the movie.
I heard a number of NFL people ended up on the cutting room floor, such as quarterback Kerry Collins and 49ers exec Carmen Policy. But I was invited to the L.A. premiere, and, sure enough, I was in the flick. I had incredibly long hair at the time, which almost obscured my face, but “Where’s Cush?’’ had resonated after all.
Actually, I’m not sure where Cush is now — he was supposed to go to San Diego or Denver, surf or ski. But the movie was critically acclaimed, Cuba won the Oscar for best supporting actor and now, 17 or so years later, I still get those $5.34 residual checks.
All I can say is: Exclamation point.