‘Probably a third of our house is the kitchen’

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Cuba Gooding Jr, 39, found fame through the 1991 film ‘Boyz N The Hood’ and went on to win the best supporting actor Academy Award for his part in ‘Jerry Maguire’. Married with three children, he has recently finished work on the quirky comedy ‘Harold’, about a pubescent boy who suffers from premature male pattern baldness.

When you’re not on location, where do you live?

In Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles. It was originally just a three-bedroom house but it had a big property so when we bought it we said we’d add on another part to accommodate our entire family. Six months later we got the plans all drawn and put in the permits to the city and everything. That was in 2000.

But it didn’t go according to plan.

No. The foreman comes back and says: “There’s a problem. The soils report for the foundation is incorrect. We need to tear the house down, dig the dirt out of the ground for 40ft and recompact it before we can do any construction.” That meant we kept one wall of the basement and basically built a new house.

That’s a major project.

We were devastated but we got our dream home out of it. We’d planned no more than nine months of remodeling but in the end we moved in just shy of three years later. I always said there was no way I’d ever build – people say it ruins marriages – and this was a big testament to our relationship.

Any hard-earned tips for other couples?

My wife and I made every decision together. The foreman, interior designer, architect, landscape designer, the whole team of people try to overwhelm you – because the longer it takes, the more money they make and they love it. So [my tip is] be decisive.

Did you both oversee every aspect of the house?

Well, when I met my wife in high school she had ambitions of being an interior designer. Now, I am fanatical about details when I’m acting – the backstory of a character – and my wife does the same thing when it comes to anything in our life. So we built this house and I’d find pages from magazines stuck next to the bathroom. One time I found this magazine in France that had this particular wallpaper and she had arrows pointing to the part of the wallpaper she liked.

What are your favourite details in the house?

We live on a street where there’s a lot of traffic. My wife did her research and found that leaded windows with double-glazing were the best way to block out sound. And it’s true. If there’s an ambulance coming down Sunset, going “Waaaaaahhh!”, we close the window and damn near don’t hear it. I didn’t appreciate it at the time because of the expense but now I’m more proud of these damn windows than anything else.

But you also have your own hockey rink, don’t you?

Yes and that’s my favourite part of the property. It’s a National Hockey League standard rink with a locker room but when you walk on to the property all you can see is big oak trees; you go down this stone walkway by the trees and – boom! – you come upon the rink. We had to get a proper permit through the city and from our neighbours to do it.

That’s a major project, too.

The rink is next to a 60ft retaining wall the city built in the 1930s. So we had to build a foundation that could hold a building 10 storeys high because if there’s an earthquake you don’t want this structure to compromise that wall. My foreman said: “You could build a building on this structure and all you’re doing is rollerblading!”

Building a home like that must have been very anchoring. I know you moved around a lot as a child.

I was born in the Bronx, New York, then my father [lead vocalist of soul group The Main Ingredient] moved us to Orange County, Cerritos, California. When my parents divorced we moved in with my grandmother. Then my mother and I, plus my sister and my younger brother, moved into a house in Apple Valley and lived there for a year and a half or two years.

You still weren’t settled, though.

My mother wasn’t working and she was on welfare. We had to move because we couldn’t pay the rent. We went back to Orange County and didn’t have money for a down payment so we moved into a hotel. Eventually, though, we moved back to North Hollywood.

What about when you were starting out as an actor? You must have lived in quite a few sketchy places.

Yes. I moved in with a few of my buddies. There was one place that was supposed to be the guesthouse on a bigger property but it was really just a garage. There wasn’t really a bathroom but we made it work for six months. We were living in a garage in 110°F heat and literally hosed down the floors to cool the place.

How awful. I hope it got better.

Yes. By 1993. I had asked [my wife] Sara to marry me and paid for this mansion on 2 acres. It represented my last blowout with my roommates before moving into a house as a married man. It was me and my three buddies and we put Sara and my buddy’s fiancée in the guest house. It was like our compound. One of my buddies bought a horse but we didn’t have a corral so the horse would just wander the property. We had a trampoline and everyone got drunk and tried it. My buddy Sean tried to backflip on the trampoline and instead landed on the springs and shot into the cactus bush.

That sounds like party central.

The house was so magical but the earthquake of 1993 destroyed it. We were living there when the earthquake hit. I was breeding Great Danes at the time and we’d just had 11 puppies. The formal living room had a big majestic brick fireplace and we kept the puppies in a bin next to it; the mother stayed with us on her own bed in our bedroom. When the earthquake hit we ran into the living room with a flashlight and the fireplace had collapsed. We looked in the bin and there wasn’t a single puppy there. But in the corner we found all of them huddled together except one; then, with the flashlight, searching by hand, we found the last one too.

It sounds like you entertained a lot. Is the Gooding house still where everyone hangs out?

Well, I still know a bunch of the kids I grew up with. And the one thing that always happens when anyone comes over is that they never get farther than the kitchen so we decided when we built this house we’d have an abnormally large kitchen. Probably a third of our house is the kitchen.

Is that your favourite place inside the house, then?

No. At the foot of our bed there’s a bench in front of the TV that has a dent in the middle because that’s where I always sit to read scripts and books and watch the Biography channel for research. It’s not comfortable unless you sit perfectly where I sit because there’s an indentation from my sitting there all the time. I can look past the armoire, through the leaded windows, to see the trees. And when we remodel the house the one thing I’m going to do is put a light that shines directly down on that bench.

Do you have a dream home, aside from the one you’ve just built?

Well, my whole thing is I love horses, the wilderness, doing things with my hands. I’d love to live anywhere I can still get to work and yet be away from anything that has to do with the city. I would say Hawaii but it’s too far away to be practical for getting back to LA for a meeting. Maybe Santa Barbara or Ojai, where you can fish but still get back into town.

You’ve lived in quite a few different homes. Do you have especially fond memories of any particular place?

When I lived in North Hollywood with my family in an old house on an acre and a half. That’s where one Christmas my father and mother gave my sister and me every gift we ever thought of – including a moped. The one thing my mom loved about it was that it had 52 rose bushes out front; and in the back there were trees lining the yard, then a forest behind the trees. We would go though there and make forts. We even built a go-cart track one year, though they weren’t go-carts but bicycles with cardboard on them to look like go-carts. I drove by the lot 10 years ago and the house was gone. There were two homes there instead. But I always think back to that house as the magical place of my childhood.

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