MEDIA: Your role as Officer Salim Adel seems quite a departure from the characters audiences typically associate with you. Would you say this is a sort of reinventing of your career?
CUBA: The last two years has been really back to basics for me and my career. Winning the Oscar ten years ago and putting myself on such a high pedestal and saying, "I can only do work of this pedigree," I lost out on a lot of great opportunities and alienated a lot of filmmakers, and in the process, realized that it's just about work. You just gotta work. Work, work, work. My advice to all these new Academy Award winners: just don't pass on anything. Let the filmmaker figure out the statement he's making. But you're like a tool in a toolbox...You know, at one point, for a year, I went without an agent. I fired everybody and was sitting at home just going, "I'll just chill." And you can't.
What were some of those missed opportunities?
I was on the lists of the studios. I had agents saying, "You're the next Will Smith" and "$20 million a film." I was trying to fit into that, "Oh, I can do the comedy. I can do that. Oh, drama? I can do drama." I realized after years, self-revelation, and getting off these lists, and the movies not doing the box office that they thought they were going to do, that, to me, it has to be about the truth of the character. If you look at my strongest performances, I feel, from Men of Honor to Boyz n the Hood to Jerry Maguire to Radio, it's the characters that you get caught up into, and the emotional through-line with the characters, not me doing a comedy to make people laugh, because when I do that, it's pushed, or a drama to move them, and then it's sentimental. I think to me, it was a hidden blessing to finally be let alone by Hollywood and that cavalcade of groomers, and finally me finding my own as an artist again and [being] able to make strong statements.
What does acting do for you?
The juice I get out of acting is bringing a truth to the character and then putting him in any situation. Like this movie, you could say, is [my] darkest movie. Not to me. This is Jerry Maguire to me...I'm doing the same stuff I did on Jerry Maguire. It's just in Jerry Maguire, my motivation was different. But Cameron Crowe would let them scenes go on and on, and I just kept going because I was in the character, and so did Chris Fisher. It helps when you have a great co-star. In that, I had Tom Cruise and he was doing his thing, and we both connected. The chemistry was there because we were both so caught up in who our people were. And now I have it again with Cliff Collins. He's a brilliant character actor. He was in his thing and I was in my thing, and we didn't need any more dialogue from the script. Once you're in the mindset, you're locked in, it's easy.
Chris Fisher said a lot of the dialogue came from the actors and what they knew rather than the script. How do you know people like your character?
Part of it is personal experience. I grew up as a break dancer before I was an actor in Los Angeles, so racial profiling was the call of the day. I remember one time, we were waiting on a bus stop in all our gear, and a cop car pulled in the middle of the intersection. And I was like, "I know this is a problem." And before you knew it, there were eight cop cars. "Put the radio down, stand up, put your hands on your head..." There was a bank that was robbed two blocks up the street, so they grabbed the group of these kids. I was 16, and most of the kids [were] from 14 to 19. So there's that personal thing that everybody goes through. But I think even more important than that, we have advisors on the set. Certain police officers that worked with us are dealing with scandals within the precinct right now as we speak. And they observed the scenes that we were doing. They got billions of stories. They would start telling me their stories, and I could just see their demeanor change, and then the vernacular started.
With Denzel Washington winning an Oscar for Training Day and Michael Chiklis winning an Emmy for The Shield, what do you think it is about the corrupt cop drama that people enjoy so much?
It's so funny. It's the first time I've heard that question with a Training Day similarity with this movie put that way. And then you through The Shield thing in. I mean, those are like...That's three questions. Because The Shield...I'm sure he gave an amazing...You know, let me leave that alone for a second and make my statement on awards. Because when you win an award, it is for the celebration of your work at that given time. I mean, these great filmmakers--the Alfred Hitchcocks and the Scorseses--that don't win awards...They're celebrated against the work at that time. Has nothing to do with where they are as filmmakers. Even when I won my award, that was great, but I'm a better actor now than I was then. So I think those statements are made because those actors are doing something that connects with society at that time. See, so you're saying either the awards, or you're saying those specific roles, or you're saying why are they accepted...So it's like I want to go off on this tirade, but the questions have got me so split...I think I said enough on that. [laughs] Unless you want something else...
Okay, how about this: what do you think is so popular about the corrupt cop drama?
I think it's twofold. You have the people who live in the environment who identify with it and say it's easy for them to get caught up in the reality of it. Because when you lose somebody from a movie, it's because they're pulled out of it. Either they don't believe it or they're bored by it. And people who live that lifestyle, and they connect with that, that keeps them intrigued and now they're in the movie, in the world. And then you have the people who don't know that world and find it very informational. It's like watching the lion at the zoo and not having to be standing next to him without the bars between you. I think it's that element of danger. Like in our movie where the white couple get harassed. Some people are so emotionally moved by that, but they're just so intrigued by it because it's at a safe distance. They can observe something that could happen to them, but at a safe distance. I think it's the allure of badness without having to do the crime. Or the time.
Your character wears his name badge upside down. Did you ever question what that was all about?
No, not at all. Because to me, it was a real metaphor for where he had gone as a police officer. Because even though he was a police officer, he had reverted back into that gangster mentality. He didn't want anything to remind him of the goodness about why he became a cop.
Did you have to walk the figurative tightrope to make sure your character avoided the extremes of being too likable or too dislikable?
It's not my job, man. It's not my job. It's my job to put the reality into the moment. You know, there's certain dogs you don't put around children because they bite. But you don't ask that dog, "Don't bite now." And that's my mentality with the character. You put him in a situation, I have to be true to the character. That's why actors argue with directors, because they say, "My character wouldn't do that." I think that's the basis behind that.
Thanks for your time.
All right, see you later.