When it comes to eco-living, Cuba Gooding Jr. has no choice but to follow his wife's house rules. "Everything in the house has to be green, properly thrown away, recycled, and if we can repurpose we do. We grow rutabaga and carrots and onions in our garden. I've still got my Suburban, but I don't know how long she's gonna let me keep it," Gooding confided at a screening of his ABC/Hallmark Hall of Fame movie "Firelight," which premieres April 22.
Based on a real person, the movie tells the story of Dwayne "DJ" Johnson, who started a program for young incarcerated women that changed their lives. "He was such a positive influence. He enabled them to get out and fight fires, and work earthquake and flood relief, and he helped them empower themselves, find hope and inspiration," Gooding said of the redemption tale. "I hope the audience takes away the fact that no matter what your situation is in life, you still have to keep the faith. These women are locked away in this prison, seeking a positive influence. This man was willing to wear his heart on his sleeve and help these women."
Gooding didn't have to go through the firefighting boot camp his female co-stars did, but he didn't escape the conditions on location in Georgia. "It was humid and there were a few mosquitos, I won't lie. But I'm a working actor so I didn't complain too much," laughed the actor, who has the action film "One in the Chamber" coming up ("I've got two guns blazing," he said) and shot a pilot for Fox tentatively called "Guilty," a dramedy about a disbarred attorney he described as "perfectly tailored to what I can do." He was admittedly reluctant to sign on for a TV show "because I didn't want to play the same character for five years, but it's a great role, and a great cast." And as the father of three kids, he also finds the idea of staying put in Los Angeles attractive. He has two sons, 17 and 15, and a 6-year-old daughter, all of whom have inherited his show business leanings. "The oldest wants to direct, the middle one wants to act, and the youngest sings and dances. But first they have to get an education. I say, 'Go to college, and if you still have the bug I'll help you.'"
His to-do list also includes directing, writing a script, "and outside of my career, I just want to be comfortable and appreciate the moment, because my life moves very fast."
Q'Orianka Kilcher plays Caroline, a young woman led astray by a bad-news boyfriend who gets caught "and has her whole life turned upside down. What drew me to the role and the story is that it shows the importance of mentors. DJ helped a lot of people and changed their lives." She was so affected by the experience that she founded the Action Hero Network, "which is about finding everyday heroes in the community and linking them with young people to help them find their voice and take action instead of retracting from the world around them," said Kilcher. With the long-delayed crime drama she produced and stars in, "The Power of Few," awaiting release, she'll guest star on the May 6 and 27 episodes of AMC's "The Killing," playing a maid who may have ties to the investigation. A farmers market shopper who composts for her vegetable garden, "I've started to go vegetarian," she said.
For Sianoa Smit-McPhee, playing the bad girl of the bunch was a fun change of pace from previous projects like HBO's "Hung." "She's a b*tch; she's naughty. I get to fight people and be a badass. Tammy's not allowed to get out and fight fires so she's jealous of the others and beats them up," she explained. "My dad was a professional wrestler so the fight scenes took me back to going to training with him. And I loved working with girls my own age." She also loved the themes of believing in yourself and that change is possible. "Just because you're in jail doesn't mean you're a bad person; maybe you made a mistake. A lot of people come out better because they've had so much time to think." A singer who's currently writing songs she plans to record, Smit-McPhee will next shoot an independent movie called "Mall," playing a girl "who works at a movie theater. There's a murder and explosions. And Linkin Park is doing the soundtrack." As for green living, "I'm bringing my own bags to the store. I feel bad when I use paper or plastic — both are bad. I eat organic foods. I shop at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, where I spend the most money because everything is amazing."
Emily Tremaine plays Amy, whose job at a CPA firm gave her access to funds she embezzled, landing her in jail. "Through the firefighting program she learns that you can do things to make it right, you don't have to be a criminal for life," said Tremaine, who had firefighting training with the other actresses, all of whom had fire and stunt doubles for the most dangerous scenes. Nevertheless, she was eager to do as many of them as she was allowed. "They kept trying to pull us back, saying 'watch your face!' It was a very sweaty, dirty business." During filming, Tremaine toted her own water bottle and coffee mug to set and avoided using Styrofoam takeout containers. "I hate the amount of waste on set," she said.