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Diving in: Gooding plays Navy's first black master diver

Cuba Gooding, Jr. suits up in an old diving suit for "Navy Diver"  

January 5, 2000
Web posted at: 5:50 p.m. EST (2250 GMT)

From Dennis Michael
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

LONG BEACH, California (CNN) -- Now that he's been shown the money, Cuba Gooding Jr. is leaving cinematic football behind and diving into the deep blue sea -- or, at least, into a tank in Southern California, outfitted in an antique Mark V diving suit.

The suit is like the one worn by Carl Brashear, the first African American to achieve master diver status in the Navy. Brashear's life is the subject of the upcoming film "Navy Diver," and Gooding has the starring role.

After growing up as part of a Kentucky sharecropper's family, Brashear enlisted in the Navy in 1948 and eventually became a deep-sea salvage retrieval diver. In 1966, he was injured in an accident during a mission to recover a nuclear weapon off Spain, and he lost his left leg below the knee.

However, he resisted attempts to force his retirement for medical reasons. After proving that he could still dive, he went back to work, becoming in 1970 the first African-American master diver in the history of the U.S. Navy.

Gooding says he found Brashear's story appealing from the start but was drawn in after reading the screenplay.

"I saw how involved his life was and the history behind it, and all the wonderful things he accomplished, getting the Medal of Honor and whatnot -- saving the sailors who were on the deck of the ship when his accident happened.

"I said, this man's life is amazing."

Gooding says being in the suit underwater makes it easier to act  

Movie's subject advising production

As a key adviser to the production, the real Carl Brashear is a daily presence on the film's set.

"I see in Cuba Gooding Jr. a God-sent man," says Brashear, now retired from the Navy. "He is fantastic to play the part as a deep-sea diver. His attitude, his physical condition -- he's strong. And I think he could adapt to be a real Navy diver."

Coming from someone who's done it, the comment is high praise. The Mark V weighs more than 200 pounds dry. In the water, it keeps its occupant alive in a hostile environment. Cuba Gooding Jr. says the suit makes the acting part easy.

"It's easier," he says, "because you're already stressed and all the points that we want to explore in his life, especially underwater, are the most stressful situations, like when he was looking for nuclear bombs, or when he was training in the dive school.

"And it's all real stuff. When you see the stress in my face or the tone in my voice, it's because I'm really in an environment I'm not used to."


The U.S. Navy is taking an active interest in helping the production of "Navy Diver," but it was a difficult decision.

"It's a very sensitive area," says Lt. Darren Morton of the U.S. Navy Office of Information. "It's the '40s and the '50s, a time period in our history the Navy wanted to kind of keep closed. They didn't want to open it up and rehash some of the old racism and the some of the things that happened.

"But the story was so inspirational, such a great story, they couldn't deny it."

And, Gooding adds, "It's black history that I'm proud to show onscreen."

The film is scheduled for August 2000 release. George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food") is directing the film, and Bill Cosby is serving as executive producer. Hal Holbrook and Robert DeNiro co-star in "Navy Diver," but the real star is an amazing story and a real hero.

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Internet Movie Database: 'Navy Diver'
US Naval Institute, History Division: Carl Brashear
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