Catching up With: Omar Gooding

Coming from a family of talented, well-known entertainers can be a bit of an adjustment, but Omar Gooding has always done a good job of establishing his own identity. The 38-year-old actor has starred in a number of roles, ranging from Taj Mowry’s best friend Mo on the hit ’90s show Smart Guy, to Tyrese’s hotheaded homie in the cult classic Baby Boy alongside Taraji P. Henson.

Gooding, who’s like a chameleon when it comes to acting, is showing no signs of slowing down. JET caught up with Mr. Gooding recently. During our conversation, the star spoke candidly about his very humble beginnings and what the third season of Family Time will bring. 

JET: You have a pretty extensive history in the acting business. How did you become an actor?

Omar Gooding: I have a brother, Cuba Gooding Jr., who was already an actor for a couple of years before I started. We have a nine-year difference between us. He’s older, so as a youngster, I picked up a script for him from his agent. His agent saw me and she thought that I had the look. I didn’t do any auditioning for her per se. But I came in there as this grinning, happy little child and she said, “Have you ever thought about being in the business?”

And honestly, I had just watched an episode of Star Search Kids, and I distinctly remember watching the two kid performers sitting side by side reading whatever script they were given as their performance piece and literally thought, “I could do that.” I went to my mom and said, “Cuba’s agent asked if I would like to go on some auditions and try acting.” And initially, she was like, “No. Stay in school. That’s your brother’s thing, blah blah blah…” I stayed on her about it, kept my grades up, and in a few months time, she let me go out on a couple auditions. It took me about two years to land my first regular role, which allowed my mother to quit her nine-to-five and become my full-time personal manager. She is still my manager and we’ve been going 30 years strong.

JET: That’s fantastic. So at just 9 years old, you knew what you wanted to do for the rest of your life.

Omar Gooding: Well, I wouldn’t say that. At 9 years old, I knew I was on to something. My mom said, “Look, you have a lot of personality.” We prayed and she said, “Now go out there and smile.” My dad always said, “Smile when you make the movies.” My mom always told me, “You live as long as you laugh, you laugh as long as you live,” so I was a happy child. Even though we had a tough time growing up, you know I was homeless, living in cars…

JET: Wait, you were homeless?

Omar Gooding: Absolutely. My mother and father divorced. I was around 7 years old, and we moved from the high desert. We lived in our vehicle. My brother, my sister, myself and our Great Dane and my mother. She packed us up and we drove to Hollywood. [We] stayed in a couple of homeless shelters. I was living in hotels and she landed a job on Broadway after working at Nordstrom’s for a few years. We lived in an apartment in Riverside [when] I got my big break and then my brother got his.

JET: Very very humble beginnings. Seems like something that you can never forget and that it might influence the way that you view your fame to this day.

Omar Gooding: Absolutely.

JET: So you’ve played a lot of different roles. What’s your favorite one?

Omar Gooding: I always wanted to play sports. In high school, I tried out for the football team and at the end of the first day, the coach said, “When you do a sport and join a team, it’s about dedication. I don’t want anyone on my field that’s not dedicated. So understand that it’s the first day of school and practice begins now. I want you here immediately after school.”

I said, “Coach, I have to be on set tomorrow. I have an audition today. I can’t make practice.” He said, “Gooding, get out.” So every time I was able to attend practice I was there, but he never gave me any playing time. Fast-forward to 2003. I landed a regular role on a show called Playmakers. It was based in Canada and we filmed with CFL players. I got to play the star running back Demetrius Harris, and that to me was the dream job. It was the role of a lifetime. I got to live out my dream as a football star. As a fan of football movies, I thought [the show] was brilliantly produced; it was groundbreaking and ahead of its time.

JET: Dope. Let’s talk about Family Time. You’re entering your third season. For those of us who may have missed the first two seasons, catch us up on your character and what the show is about.

I play Tony Stallworth [and] my wife is played by Angell Conwell, who also played my girlfriend in the film Baby Boy, so it was like a reunion, but on the comic side. Our chemistry is really good because we also had a relationship after the movie. After playing boyfriend and girlfriend in the film, they said “cut” and we just kept going for about four years. The show is about them.

In the pilot episode, you see my character coming out of the liquor store. He wins the lottery and they move out of the ’hood. All of the funny situational things that go along with that are on the show. I think what we do on the show is, we try to tackle pretty much every issue of a young couple raising kids. And it’s a real fun show, so it doesn’t feel like work.

JET: Sounds good. What else do you have coming up? I know you’re a feature in quite a few films slated for release soon.

Omar Gooding: I like giving new filmmakers a chance to expand and get their shot. I always get a number of actors on social media that respond to me. I have a lot of filmmakers that are coming up like, “Look give me a shot. We don’t have the budget to afford you, but if you can give us a break, you know give us a chance, down the line we’ll take care of you.” So basically, I’ve just been doing a lot. I’ve been staying busy doing a lot of these films and television as well. It’s something every year, and when I’m not doing that, I’m doing music. I’m writing. I’m also one of the producers of Family Time. Busy life, but God is good!
Keep up with Omar via social media by following his Twitter and Instagram accounts. Catch the season premiere of Family Time on Bounce TV October 6.