STAGE TO SCREENS: Cuba Gooding Jr. and Vanessa Williams, Taking a Trip to Bountiful
By Harry Haun
Playbill chats with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Vanessa Williams about reinventing The Trip to Bountiful, Horton Foote's classic play about home, family obligation and clinging to the past.
The second-generation co-stars who are escorting Cicely Tyson back to Broadway after a 30-year absence in Horton Foote's play, The Trip to Bountiful, at Broadway's Stephen Sondheim Theatre are a handsome pair out of television and film.
In the role of her manipulative, controlling daughter-in-law — played by Oscar winner Jo Van Fleet on Broadway and by Tony winner Carlin Glynn on film — is Vanessa Williams, who became, in 1984, the first African-American to be crowned Miss America. Pursuing a career in entertainment with more success than any other Miss America winner, she has earned multiple Grammy, Emmy and Tony nominations. Maybe you saw her in Sondheim on Sondheim or Into the Woods on Broadway, or on TV's "Ugly Betty" or "666 Park Avenue."
Making his theatre debut at age 45 as Miss Tyson's son is Cuba Gooding Jr., whose acting career has been centrally located in cinema since he arrived on the scene in John Singleton's 1991 critically acclaimed inner-city crime drama, "Boyz n the Hood."
His breakout role came five years later in Tom Cruise's "Jerry Maguire," playing a hot-shot football star on the brink of a career-ending injury. Desperately hocking sports-agent Cruise for the big bucks, he created the national catch phrase of 1996 — "Show me the money!" — and became that year's Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor.
Their roles require indifference toward Miss Tyson's character, driving her seventysomething matron from their crowded Houston apartment into a long cross-country road trip to the childhood homestead in Bountiful, TX.
The couple accompanied Miss Tyson — along with fellow players Condola Rashad and Tom Wopat — to a press meet 'n' greet at Sardi's recently. We grabbed a few minutes with them.
Y'know, you'd been on Broadway a lot sooner if you hadn't kept saying, "Show me the money!" all the time.
How old are your kids now?
Have you been looking for a Broadway role?
I would love to know what that was.
Is that Streetcar related to the one that was just on Broadway?
(Williams joins the interview-in-progress after finishing some TV chats. She turns to Gooding.)
Vanessa Williams: What have you said? I hope I have a voice by the end of this interview. I'm already hoarse. It's way too loud on the [press] line.
CG: Oh, so you were yelling.
VW: Yeah, yeah. You gotta take care of your voice now. Eight shows a week.
Do you get to show some of your "Ugly Betty-ness" in this role?
VW: Wilhelmina — that was her job. This is another interesting, spunky, fiery, frustrated gal who loves her man and would like her life back — without in-laws for the past 15 years.
Do you like that character?
CG: And they're there every day.
VW: They're there every day, and they share stories with us. We'll ask something, and they'll tell us what reference was what — what this town was like — so it's not just like we're doing a revival. They're taking some of the dialogue from the teleplay, some from the screenplay, some from the original Broadway show and getting a chance to say, "That didn't work. Let's try this." It's really nice to have that kind of adaptation for our new production.
What is it about the play that speaks to this generation of audience members?
VW: Also, it's an approach. Some people relish the past. Some people don't talk about the past. People can't wait to get home. Some people can't wait to leave home. So it's a nice juxtaposition to see two different points that are valid. Is one better than the other? Who knows?
Have either of you seen the movie?
CG: I'll wait till after we finish. It's my own thing. I could watch it and go, "Oh, that's how he did it," or I could just see it after and go, "Oh, that's how he did it."
VW: You are so different — it wouldn't make a difference with that actor [John Heard].
CG: You know what I mean. It's, like, I deliver one line every day, then I see him do it that way and go, "Ooooh! I really screwed that interpretation up!" It helps, like she was saying, this director gives you so much information, the minutia of everything. Between him and Hallie — they're in the rehearsal hall — we had an issue with some line, and she was, like, "No, no, no. Say that. He'd like that," he meaning her father.
What is your particular Bountiful? Do you have a Bountiful?
CG: Good Lord!
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