Cuba Gooding Jr. says role as drug dealer-turned-Christian reflects own redemption story: 'Time to get back to God'

The Firing Squad
The Firing Squad | The Firing Squad

Over his decades-long career, Cuba Gooding Jr. has played a wide range of characters, from disgraced athlete O.J. Simpson to Rod Tidwell in “Jerry Maguire,” earning him an Academy Award. 

But according to the  56-year-old actor, his latest role — a drug dealer-turned-Christian in “The Firing Squad” — is one of the most impactful he’s ever tackled. 

“After living through the pandemic and all the wars that we're going through, it's like, it's time to get back to God,” Gooding Jr. told The Christian Post. “I got the script sent to me for this film, and it hit me so powerfully that these men had nothing to live for, but found faith in the darkest times in their lives, in a jail cell. They were able to face the inevitable with dignity and pride.”

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From Christian filmmaker Tim Chey and starring Kevin Sorbo, Gooding and James Barrington, “The Firing Squad” is based on the true story of three men facing execution. As the moments leading to their deaths unfold, a series of unexpected events begins to reveal the profound impact of faith and its ability to offer hope in the darkest times. 

Their path to redemption extends beyond their own salvation, sparking a spiritual awakening within the prison camp. The influence of their faith touches even the most hardened inmates, leading them toward the compassionate embrace of Christ.

Gooding Jr. plays Samuel Wilson, an inmate facing imminent execution. His “moth to the flame” moment, he said, was the conviction that the “world needs stories of redemption and faith at a really crucial time.”

“I just wept,” he said of reading the script. 

He noted that the pandemic led many people to shift from theaters to streaming, resulting in a decline in theater attendance. But the consistent turnout at screenings for faith-based movies, he said, is a sign that Christian audiences could be the last dependable audience for theatrical releases.

“Interestingly enough, a lot of films that you see today go to streaming websites, and the theater-going audiences kind of stayed at home,” he said. “We were trained during the pandemic, and now we're afraid to go back to the theater. But what is the audience has never wavered? The congregation. They go to church every Sunday, rain, sleet, shine. And here we have a film, like ‘Sound of Freedom,’ like these other faith-based movies that are saying, ‘Here's your story in the theaters,’ and they're showing up. We're having these screenings and people come like crazy because that's the last real audience available to fill going to the movies.”

The actor described the emotional response from audiences who have screened the film: "They sit quietly, they laugh, and then they cry," he said. "It's like I haven't seen this reaction since 'The Passion of the Christ.’”

Gooding's personal journey mirrors the themes of his latest film. Raised as a Christian, he drifted away from his faith during his Hollywood career but recently rededicated his life to Christ. Several years ago, the actor admitted he went through a “dark time” in his life after his father died — “and then one day, I literally I woke up and God said, ‘Alright, you ready to come back? Remember me?’” he recalled. 

“I start off every morning and I go to bed every night with the same prayer of, ‘God, thy will be done. God's will be done in my life,’” he said. “A lot of times, I've been in situations and scenarios that I know are dark. And I go, ‘I don't, I don't know why I'm here and why I'm doing what I'm doing. But I know it's God's will.’ And every time, I come out the other end, even stronger.”

Looking back over his career, the actor admitted he hasn’t always played the most redemptive characters — but drawing a comparison to a professional athlete, Gooding stressed how each role — regardless of its emotional or physical toll — has contributed to his journey.

"Do you wish you broke your arm? Do you wish you dislocated your hip? Did you wish you popped your Achilles? Yeah, but would you have still played as hard in that moment during that game? 100 percent," he said. "I've got scars, bruises, physically and mentally. But would I have played any differently during the game? No.”

Still, Gooding said he is exploring more faith-based projects and has already taken on roles that align with this new direction. According to the actor, his transition to films with strong spiritual narratives underscores a larger transformation in Hollywood; the days of categorizing these films as niche or even stigmatized, he said, are fading.

“You can't deny the shift that is happening with faith-based movies,” he said. “Hollywood isn’t going to come and say, ‘What are you doing?’ They’re going to say, ‘Let’s see if it works. If it works, then we know it’s the right way to go.’ That’s how Hollywood works. Right now, everybody is as quiet as a church mouse, but it's because of the reactions that we're getting from the audiences all across the country from Hawaii to New York City. So, we’ll let the film speak for itself.”

Gooding also cited the growing star power in these films — for example, Kelsey Grammer’s starring role in “Jesus Revolution” and Hillary Swank in “Ordinary Angels” — which he said has helped elevate their profile. 

"There were stigmas behind movies like this, but now any movie that works, that people come see, everybody supports them," Gooding reflected. "So I think that line is blurring, and we're in a changing time, a new direction."

For the actor, “The Firing Squad,” has reignited his desire to impact society positively and, according to him, marks a direction that prioritizes depth, redemption and meaningful storytelling.

“Every day, I have a prayer list that I pray, for not just individuals but groups of people,” he said. “And I think what this movie did is really reawaken that attention to society and how my journey can be a positive impact on a lot of people.”

"You know, everybody's dealing with a page,” he said. “Everybody's got their own page, and on that page, there's highs and lows. Never go too high. And never go too low. Just stay steady and God's will be done. Don't give up the faith, no matter how dark it seems. Never give up.”

"The Firing Squad" hits theaters on Aug. 2. 

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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