01 August, 2020
ScreenPicks' Paul Hansen recently had the privilege to speak with Louis Gossett Jr. about his moving new film The Cuban.
Gossett plays Luis Garcia, who fled to America from Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power and is currently in a hospital suffering from dementia. Luis is being treated by a nurse, Mina (Ana Golja), who discovers that her humming and the playing of music reawakens Luis mentally and he begins to reveal his past as a famous Cuban musician.
Gossett, of course, has had a distinguished film and stage career spanning many decades. He won an Academy Award for his performance in An Officer and A Gentlemen and an Emmy for his portrayal of Fiddler in the legendary TV series Roots.
The Cuban was written by Alessandra Piccione and directed by Sergio Navarretta. Below is an edited transcript of Hansen's conversation with Louis Gossett Jr.
Q. How did you become involved with The Cuban and what in particular interested you in the story?
Louis Gossett Jr.: I was very impressed with something in the script – [a role similar to] Robert De Niro’s performance in Awakenings. Let’s see if I can do something like that. Among my most favorite actors are Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. So let’s see if I can catch up with those guys. And so I had a chance to do that with my performance…
And my favorite music – Afro-Cuban music, which in my high school age was the music – it is a very soulful beautiful music – the Afro-Latin connection. The Merengue, the Cha Cha Cha, The Two Step Mambo – that was my high school stuff. Great stuff.
To play the character from The Carabana - which is the name of the club - and he left when Castro came in because they stopped partying at the time. He left and came to the United States. Here he is persona non grata sitting in a wheel chair when this young girl wakes him back up. What a wonderful thing for an actor to find – a great big beautiful sandwich to sink his teeth into and do the best work he can.
It’s the combination of the cultures which I love. That’s something that we need to do these days especially.
Q. How do you look back on making An Officer and a Gentlemen and working with Richard Gere and Debra Winger?
Louis Gossett Jr.: I worked with them very well. But the leading character in that movie was the United States Marines – they should have the Oscar. They made sure that you did not lie about what they do and how important they are to this country and to the military. I am very close to them and they made that a real movie. It could have been just a movie but the Marines would not allow that to happen... The Marines should have their own special Oscar.
Q. How do you recall your involvement in the epic TV series Roots?
Louis Gossett Jr.: Well, I did the story of Roots for my own personal growth and information. Roots was very special to me because I was raised by the elders of my family and a great grandmother who lived to be 117. She was a slave and she had stories to tell me. And I have a lot of affection for the elders, because there is something to do for the family while we are still alive for the benefit of the whole family.
The elders are honored – they have stories to tell you. It’s not in books – it’s in their hearts and in their minds. Whenever I get an opportunity to open my mouth for young people they seem to instinctively put the cell phone away and listen.
Q. Can you describe what it was like to work with Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun?
Louis Gossett Jr.: Sidney Poitier taught me a great deal. He taught me how to romance the camera. You have to dance with the camera. I see very few people doing that but Sidney was very good at it. I got a chance to work with a wonderful cinematographer - to dance with the camera, to sprint with it, to make points – and it makes you alive – it makes you want to come to work.