Drama Actor Roundtable: Rami Malek, Cuba Gooding Jr., TV's Top Talent on Arrogant Career Mistakes and That Golden-Shower Scene

Six stars — including Bobby Cannavale, Paul Giamatti, Forest Whitaker and Wagner Moura — open up about the lines they will and won't cross, how Oliver Stone broke a couple of them down and the parts they'd love to land.

Cuba Gooding Jr. was the most forthcoming of the six top actors who gathered on a Saturday afternoon in early April, but then his trajectory — from an Oscar winner for Jerry Maguire to barely hirable to co-star of one of TV's hottest offerings, FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story — is among the more unusual and thus ripe for explanation.

"I didn't want anything that could parody the fact that I was [best known for] a tagline in a movie, so I was saying no to all of these things," said Gooding, 48, as fellow Academy Award winner and current Roots star Forest Whitaker, 54, encouraged him to continue. "I wound up offending a bunch of great directors, and what happened was … I went into the wasteland." During the course of an hour, he and Whitaker, along with Paul Giamatti, 49 (Billions), Bobby Cannavale, 46 (Vinyl), Wagner Moura, 39 (Narcos), and Rami Malek, 35 (Mr. Robot), opened up about the lines they will and won't cross as actors, the A-list director who broke at least a few of them down and the parts they'd love to land — if only someone would give them a shot.

The industry often locks into viewing actors in certain roles and is not always interested in seeing them stretch. What parts have you found yourselves getting tired of being approached about?

CUBA GOODING JR. After I did Boyz N the Hood, I got every street-kid offer. I chose one, Gladiator, which was a boxing movie, but still a street kid. Then after that I told myself no more, and I wound up playing a deaf-mute in a Western called Lightning Jack only because it was different than anything else. I just didn't want to be the go-to street-kid guy.

RAMI MALEK In the breakdowns, I'd always just look for someone quirky or weird — that's what I'm going to go in for, surely. I resented it for a while, and then I thought, "This is something to be proud of, that you can be that kind of outsider in anything." But at first I was like, "Here we go again."

FOREST WHITAKER I've played a lot of detectives.

PAUL GIAMATTI I've played a lot of guys sitting in vans with headsets on, watching reel-to-reel tape. I did a lot of this (puts hands to his ears): "We lost him." I was that guy. Or this guy (typing): "Get out of there, Mike. Mike? Get out of there, Mike. Oh my God, he can't hear me!" (Laughter.)

Are there doors you feel remain closed to you? Parts you just can't land, despite interest on your end?

BOBBY CANNAVALE White guys. (Laughter.) Cowboys. I'm always getting the ethnic roles of some kind, like a mob guy or an Italian-American pizza guy or some shit like that. I never get, like, doctors.

GIAMATTI I'd love to play an Italian. I am Italian, and I never get to play Italians. I've had people tell me I'm not Italian enough. It's hilarious.

MALEK We get all the Italian guys. (Points to Cannavale.)

GIAMATTI I'd love to be in a Western, but I know if I'm in a Western I'm going to have to play this guy (wiping the table), "What'ya havin'?" I'm going to be that guy. Or I'd be the corrupt mayor, the guy who's building a railroad through somebody's farm. (Laughter.)

CANNAVALE I had an audition for that movie Starship Troopers, and there was no script. They were like, "It's just going to be improv." What I had to do was react to a big bug and scream, "Buuuuug!" I did it, and they were like: "Uh, OK. Thanks." I could hear the sigh. And I remember not wanting to leave the room, just going, "I could do it better; I could do it better." I refused to leave and just kept doing it over and over again: "Bug! Bug! Bug!" I didn't get it.

MALEK I used to do that a lot: Stay in the room until you wore out your welcome. "Another one. I'll do another one." And they're like: "No, I think we've seen enough. It's time to go." Now, I'm out of there as quickly as possible.

How often do you think you've nailed an audition and then don't get the part? Or think you blew it and then do?

MALEK I never feel like I'm definitely going to get it, but I'll be like, "I've got a good shot at that one," and then it's like, "No, you weren't even close."

CANNAVALE When I was first auditioning, the readers were always terrible, and I was like, "F—, man, I want to try to be a reader." So when I was much younger, I got a job as an audition reader — and I got a movie and a play from being one. Two jobs and my SAG card.

GIAMATTI I'll do stuff with great readers, and I'll be like: "Why don't you just put that girl in the movie? She's great." I always think that about my stand-in, too. When I see him on the monitor, I'm like: "That guy looks great in the part. He looks fantastic." (Laughter.)

If we had your agents sitting around this table and we asked them how you react when they present you with projects, what would they say?

GIAMATTI Just the idea of my agent being here is funny to me — like he's probably here lurking around. (Laughter.) No, I think my agents would say they never know how I'm going to react because I never know how I'm going to react. Part of what I enjoy about this [job] is not knowing what's going to happen to me next or what's going to suddenly be interesting to me. And sometimes they'll be like, "Why the f— do you want to do that?"

CANNAVALE My agents are always afraid to bring me things that are, like, a detective or a mob guy 'cause they know I'm going to be like, "Ugh." (Shakes head.) Or making pizza! (Laughter.)

GIAMATTI Have you done a lot of pizza makers?

CANNAVALE Oh, yeah. I actually got a pizza mob guy once. (Laughter.) Yeah, a mob guy who liked making pizza who was on the run in witness protection. And they were like, "But he's in witness protection, and he's in Arizona!" I'm like: "Yeah, I could go to Arizona. It's not that f—in' crazy."

OK, final question: If a gun was to your head and you couldn't act anymore, what would you do?

CANNAVALE I'd own a bar. I'd call it Bobby's.

GIAMATTI I'd be at Bobby's — a lot. (Laughter.)

GOODING Yeah, I think we all would. If I couldn't do anything artistic, I'd get a job to pay my bills. I'd probably do something physical — construction or something.

GIAMATTI I have no other viable skills. I really don't.

MOURA Yeah, I don't know. There's nothing.

MALEK I think construction, too, for some reason. I'm drawn to [the idea of] building something. What do you got, Forest?

WHITAKER Not to be a downer, but I would probably be working with the U.N. or with some NGO somewhere in the field. I do that now.

CANNAVALE F—! I want to change my answer! That's what I'd do, too. (Laughter.)

More roundtables featuring actors, showrunners and reality hosts and producers will continue rolling out in June in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables, with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.