Louis Gossett Jr. returns to the big screen this week, a rarer occurrence than you might think for an actor who owns an Academy Award.
It's been almost three decades since Gossett won that Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor in 1982's An Officer and a Gentleman). It's also been almost three decades since Gossett has been in anything one would call a blockbuster, save for a small role in 2007's Daddy's Little Girls, a Tyler Perry film. And all of Perry's films are guaranteed box office hits.
Gossett, now 74, stewed about his plight for years, wondering how an Oscar winner (and multiple Emmy winner) could never land another good gig. He thought racism might be an issue; indeed, when he first arrived in Hollywood in the 1967, he took a stroll on the grounds of the Beverly Hills Hotel only to be nabbed by police and chained to a tree for hours. He wondered if he'd stepped on any toes or burned any bridges over the years. He had no clue, and it tore him up inside—and out.
He has been married and divorced three times. He had a longtime cocaine habit, and did plenty of drinking too. He once was so sick, he was told he had six months to live. It wasn't till 2001 that he learned that a toxic mold growing in his Malibu home was part of the problem, though he admits drugs and booze were the main culprits. He checked into rehab in the summer of 2004, and has been clean since. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in early 2010, but after a series of radiation treatments, he is now cancer-free.
Gossett has also found God in recent years, and has played roles in a number of faith-based films, including 2005's Left Behind: World at War, opposite Kirk Cameron. (Gossett played the President of the U.S.). His most recent faith-based film, The Grace Card, opens this Friday in some 400 theaters nationwide. The film, made by a church in Memphis, addresses issues of racism, forgiveness, and reconciliation—topics near to Gossett's more recently softened heart.
He is founder of the Eracism Foundation, whose mission is "to eradicate the systematic impacts of all forms of racism" through various programs and interventions. Gossett himself says he has committed "the last quadrant of my life to an all-out conscious offensive against racism, violence, and ignorance."
We spoke with him about The Grace Card, his career, and faith-based films.
Why did you want to make this film?
It's a very important film. It's about something that's happened in my life, and it's a story about forgiveness and healing that everybody should take to heart. It's the best film I've ever participated in that says that. It's a healing film.
What do you mean when you say it's about something that happened in your own life?
I figured when I won the Oscar and an Emmy, I'd get some great [movie roles], but it really didn't happen. It's not happening at all. So I have a choice of being very upset or letting all that pressure go and doing the best I can and being a fine example. It's an easier way to live. The worst resentment that anybody can have is one you feel justified to keep. And I think maybe it's a time to heal, to try to get this country together as one country. But there are some things in the way, and racism is one of them.
Do you feel like we've made some strides and erasing racism?
I think we've made some great strides because now it's out of the closet. It's on prime time television. But we need to get rid of [racism] as much as possible. We say it's one nation under God, indivisible, but it's not quite there yet. But it's so close. We have an opportunity here. We have a window.