Omar Gooding – Growing Up Gooding

Words + Interview By Tyrone Davis

There is a meme floating around of Omar Gooding that has multiple photos of him from different TV shows and movies he has appeared in.  It says, “Bruh…this dude been around my whole damn life.”  This rings true for majority of us who were born after 1980.  At almost 30 years in the entertainment business, Omar has appeared in quite a few of the biggest sitcoms and films within our community and has played a huge role in a lot of our childhoods, giving us the feeling that we’ve grown up together to a degree.  

As a big fan of Omar myself, I tried to cover as much as I could including his start in the business, his older brother Cuba, John Singleton’s “Baby Boy”, his sitcom “Family Time” and more.  There was a lot to cover and it looks like he won’t be slowing down any time soon.

You have a pretty lengthy career and I grew up on quite a bit of your work. I was first introduced to you via “Ghost Dad”, which was your first major film. How did you land that role and what was it like working with Bill Cosby, being that he was on top of the world during this time?
I landed that role the old-fashioned way which was via audition, a call back and a screen test.  The one interesting thing I will never forget about that particular audition process is that I was told that I wasn’t moving forward.  This came after an unusually long time in the room with casting.  They had me crawling over desks and doing the scenes over and over.  When I left I felt that they must like me because of all the time they spent with me in the audition room.

My mother was also my manager at the time and when my agents told her that I wasn’t moving on to the screen test, she called casting directly for further explanation.  I swear it was something out of a Godfather film because after she spoke with them, they called me in for a screen test after all and I later booked it.  Bill Cosby was awesome.  He walked right up to me on the first day, greeted me warmly and treated me kind.  I felt at ease and comfortable right away and had a terrific experience.

Was working on Nickelodeon’s “Wild & Crazy” kids fun for you or was it just work? Describe that.
Wild & Crazy Kids was a dream come true!  It was the job that allowed my mom to quit working multiple jobs and become my personal manager full time.  And talk about Fun!  After the huge success of the show, we went on tour around the country.  I visited every major city, signed millions of autographs and even did a scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the White House. Nuff said.

Which of your brother Cuba’s films is your favorite and why? “Gladiator” is slept on, by the way.  
His best performance was the obvious Oscar winning performance in Jerry McGuire. The second time I watched it I was just as emotional as his character was at the end. Overall, his best movie to me was Men of Honor, which is another tear jerker. My personal favorite is indeed Gladiator.  That’s my big bro right there.  We are ten years a part and THAT character was the guy that had my back when I was a young knucklehead myself.

John Singleton’s “Baby Boy” is one of my favorite films.  I was impressed with your performance as Sweet Pea in particular because it was the first time I had seen you play a character that was the opposite of the roles I was used to seeing you play.  How did you land that role and was there anything in particular that you did to prepare for it?
I got a call from a man I had only met maybe one time on the set of Boyz N The Hood. His name was John Singleton.  He explained that he saw a film I did called Freedom Song for TNT.  I had a small role as one of the kids that took part in the first sit ins in Mississippi.  He said he saw something in my face that lead him to believe that I could possibly be one of the leads in a film he wrote called Baby Boy.  He knew I knew and had worked with Tyrese before and wanted to make sure he had a strong actor along side him.

When said strong he also meant that literally because he told me to hit the gym and he would see me in 3 months.  He sent me the script and I was floored.  He may have heard about my run in with the law (gun possession) a few years earlier but there’s no way he knew about my personal journey (that story is an interview for another time) so I was completely in shock when I read the script.  The role hit very close to home on many levels.  So I hit the gym, lost 30 lbs, packed on some muscle and read for him in his office in LA.  I didn’t hear that I got the role until almost a month later.

Breakdown the scene with Sweet Pea and Jody (played by Tyrese) in the park after Jody’s bike got stolen in reference to creating it. Who’s idea was it to line the guys up and punch them and did you improvise at all?
That scene in particular was one of the scenes that hit very close to home.  I was in a similar situation in real life where my best friend was hospitalized by a blindsided attack.  They were close to our age but young enough to be considered “some lil n*****” as my character put it.  I was there but we were out numbered by a lot so we couldn’t see it coming.  They ran off and we never ran across them again.

When I read this scene I was at a loss.  It was like I would be able to act out the act of retaliation that I never got in real life for my boy.  It was deep but God had other plans for us and them and I’ll leave it at that.  This scene, as was the case with the whole film, was entirely written by John without improv.  We did hours and hours of improv before principal photography started but we were instructed not to veer from the script whatsoever during filming, except for the occasional slur here and there.

After that film, you appeared in a few projects where your characters were more serious. Conscious effort? 
Certainly.  I had done comedy and sitcoms my whole life but after Baby Boy I was offered more dramatic roles.  Some I had to turn down but some were too good to pass up and became some of my fondest experiences like Deadwood on HBO and Playmakers on ESPN.

Tyrese was going through it not too long ago but he seems to be doing ok now.  As a veteran in Hollywood, how do you maintain your sanity and how do you help your friends/peers regain control when they seem to lose theirs?
My faith keeps me grounded and my family keeps me on track.  My friends are mostly “day ones”, people I’ve known most of my life.  The actors and entertainers I have worked with have been friendly for the most part but I keep business and personal life separate.  I try not to do the Hollywood life thing.  That has rubbed some people the wrong way at times but it works for me.

I was watching reruns of “Smart Guy” a few years back and I remember recognizing Taraji P. Henson in an episode.  Describe how Hollywood works in regard to getting work because it seems a lot of actors end up crossing paths quite a bit in one way or another.  Do actors refer each other as openings for new projects become available, do you have some of the same agents or is it a combination of all of those things?
It’s definitely a combo of all the above.  People who do the hiring generally lean towards people that they believe they will have a pleasant time with, especially if the job lasts months or years like on a TV show.  So, a good personality and strong character goes a long way.

Snoop Dogg is also someone you’ve been in more than one project with.  Tell us about the stage play “Redemption of a Dogg” and working with him.
I will always have love and respect for Snoop.  When we met on the set of Baby Boy, he was the first person to approach me and tell me that he has been watching  the dailies and that I was doing my thing.  To me, that was the validation I needed and the motivation to really lock in.  He said It looked very believable and authentic and to keep it up, so I did.  He also joined me in Toronto and played my brother in the series Playmakers for ESPN!  That role was a dream come true because I wanted to play football in high school but my acting career would not allow me to commit.

Snoop was awesome in that role and he is absolutely brilliant in Redemption of a Dogg!  It is a stage play that chronicles the life of Snoop himself from early years before he made it to present day.  I play his DJ, beat maker and one of his closest friends coming up.  The play takes you on a journey that is both comical and spiritual with a very strong message of redemption at the end.  The cast that Je’caryous Johnson assembled is phenomenal because each role feels tailor made to their/our strengths as entertainers.

From the acting to the singing to the masterful blocking and visual effects to the rapping and dancing with a few of Snoop’s greatest and current hits.  Plus, you never know who will make a special appearance in each city.  Erykah Badu, Carl Thomas, Twista, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Duval all joined the play when we hit their hometowns.

Are you still making music at all?
Absolutely.  I am currently working with one of Dr. Dre’s producers and one of my closest longtime friends, Bernard Edwards Jr. aka Focus.  We have something real special that we are putting the finishing touches on.

How has Hollywood changed being that you’ve been active for almost 3 decades? Are things getting better or worse in terms of business, opportunities, etc.?
Hollywood had definitely evolved for the better in regard to opportunities for African American actors/actresses.  We are now being trusted in lead roles for both blockbuster box office films and in television.

What do you think about Atlanta becoming a 2nd Hollywood over the last few years?
I love Atlanta and am very proud of the progress made there in the entertainment industry.  I feel comfortable telling people that may not be able to afford the cost of living in California that they can head to Atlanta and have a real shot at breaking in the business.

Can the internet/social media help or has technology advanced so much at this point that too much content is being released to keep up?
Internet and social media are definitely a huge help in not only staying current but showing people that you are still alive, working and well.  I run my own social media because it isn’t really that complicated and I like to stay connected.  I encourage people to follow me and to comment.  Don’t be surprised when I respond.  I like it because it cuts back on the questions when I am out and about like “What are you up to these days?”  When I hear that now, I know that you aren’t following me on social media because I keep my followers posted.

How do you feel about the resurgence of black sitcoms/films and how are they alike/different from works in the 90’s? 
I think it’s awesome.  It continues to provide more opportunities to actors such as myself to continue our longevity.  It has a different feel only because of the lack of live studio audiences but that allows us to be more efficient in the sense of getting more shows done in a shorter period of time, freeing us up to do other projects without conflict.

Tell us about Bounce TV sitcom, “Family Time”. What is it about and how did you two get involved in the project?
Family Time is a black sitcom about the Stallworth Family.  I play Tony Stallworth and Angell Conwell plays my wife Lisa Stallworth.  We have two children, played by Jaylah Calhoun and Bentley Kyle Evans Jr.  From cast to crew, it is very much a family affair so the chemistry we all have carries over to the screen.  The show is filled with non stop laughs due to the amount of talented comedians and actors/actresses both in the cast and on our writing staff.  

In the pilot episode, Tony hits the lottery and buys his family a house in Windsor Hills, which might as well be Beverly Hills considering where they moved from.  From new neighbors that we now have grown to love over that last six seasons to relatives and family friends that stop by regularly, it’s always family time!

I got involved in the project because I was offered a role on Bentley’s current show at the time, Love That Girl.  After a guest appearance on that show, Bentley called me in to read for Family Time.  After one session, I was offered the role and then the rest of the cast was auditioned, we all met up two days later and the journey began.

Angell Conwell played your girlfriend Kim in “Baby Boy”.  Was that your first time meeting her?
Angell and I met before the film through a mutual friend but that was our first time working with each other.

You two seem to get along quite well, considering you used to be a couple.  I don’t think most people understand that it’s ok to remain friends and/or work together without issues just because you are no longer an item.  How do you maintain and what advice can you give to those who may not be as mature?
It is tricky but thankfully we did remain friends.  I believe that since we were so close that once the bond was made it became unbreakable other than the fact that we did break up, lol.  But, us both being in the same field made it impossible to not run into each other over and over again.  We really connected on a human level from our very first meeting.  We were meant to be friends so that is what God’s plan worked out to be, which is good since we have to work together as pretend husband and wife on a series that has no end in sight, Lol.

Bentley Kyle Evans has produced some of my favorite sitcoms and is executive producer of this show. What is it like working with him and what does he bring to the table that other producers don’t? 
Bentley is awesome, straight up.  He produced Martin and The Jaime Foxx Show. Nuff said.  He brings authenticity, unmatched humor, wit and battle tested professionalism with a resume that gives us as actors the needed confidence to perform at our best.  Also, as one of the producers/writers on my show I’ve been able to learn so much about the other side of the camera that is allowing me to grow in all aspects of the business.

Any last words?
Follow me on Instagram @OmarGooding and on Facebook and Twitter @TheOmarGooding.  I also have a live streaming network where we feature indie films, music videos and even have a day dedicated to my body of work called Growing Up Gooding.  It is available on all live streaming platforms and it is called ModoTV.  Also, stay tuned for the Big O album coming very soon.  Be well, stay safe and God bless!

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