'Cool Runnings' Cast Reunites 30 Years Later to Reflect on Movie, Cheer on Jamaican Bobsledders

Doug E. Doug, Leon Robinson, Rawle D. Lewis and Malik Yoba celebrate Jamaica's current bobsled team, and reflect on their fictional one in a PEOPLE interview

Cool Runnings
Cool Runnings. Photo: Everett Collection

Jamaica, we have a bobsled team — again.

On Friday, for the first time in over 20 years, a four-man bobsled team from Jamaica will compete in the Olympics. When the team's qualification for the Beijing Winter Games was announced, it set off a wave of headlines around the world. But why were other countries so excited about another crop of competitiors in the popular sport?

Well, the team may have a little 1993 comedy to thank. The first-ever bobsled team from the perenially-warm country competed at a Winter Olympic Games in 1988, inspiring the beloved movie Cool Runnings. Featuring comedy icon the late John Candy, the film about the bobsledders also brought together young, rising Black talent including Doug E. Doug, Leon Robinson, Rawle D. Lewis and Malik Yoba.

Now, with Jamaica preparing to take on the ice track in China and Cool Runnings streaming on Disney+, the film's cast is reflecting on their bond, the movie's lasting impact and working with Candy.

"[John] was very kind to us," Rawle says. "He was very open — you didn't feel like it was John's movie, you felt like it was our movie. He was very good at making us feel that way."

And it was their movie, as well as all of Jamaica's. Says Robinson, "I think we always had that sense of pride [for the country.]"

More from the conversation, below.

PEOPLE: Let's start from the beginning. Can you walk us through any fun casting and audition stories and how you got involved with the film?

Robinson: When the film first came around it wasn't Jon Turteltaub as the director, it was Brian Gibson. And, at that particular point, I had already met with them and I got cast in the movie. And next thing you know, Brian fell out to do [1993 Ike and Tina Turner biopic] What's Love Got to Do With It and I didn't know what was going to happen with the movie. But, the next year, it came back around and with Jon Turteltaub attached to it.

Doug: I actually met two directors: Jeremiah S. Chechik, who was attached, and Brian Gibson, and they just didn't call a brother back. I was like, "What happened?" And I heard it went into turnaround. An at the time it was called Blue Maaga.

Robinson: Yeah, I remember [producer and studio executive] Dawn Steel calling me and asking me about the possibilities of John Candy playing the coach. And I just went silent. She said, "What's wrong?" I said, well, "It's a drama, right?" So I didn't get it.

Cool Runnings
Cool Runnings. Everett Collection

Lewis: It was you and Wesley Snipes, wasn't it at one point? I remember Wesley Snipes was trying to do it. That's how serious the film was back then.

Robinson: Everybody was trying to do it. I think the audition process, I saw everybody.

Robinson: Then we lucky enough to find even some people that were newcomers, like my man Malik Yoba.

Yoba: I went to an open call. I found out about the audition from a dear friend named Jamal Joseph, who wrote a film that I did called Seriously Fresh in '89. And he called me up and said, "They're doing a movie about the Jamaican bobsled team." I was the last person on the last day. And I got up and they asked me to do some improv and said, "Act like you're part of a track team, you guys just won a race. Celebrate." So knowing that every Jamaican has a song in their heart, I wrote a song before I showed up: "Folks saying oh they can't believe, Jamaica, we have a bobsled team." And when they asked me to celebrate, I pulled the song out and just started performing it.

Two months later they tracked me down and they said, "Can you fly to L.A. tomorrow to screen test?" And I was like, "I have a job. I got to call my boss." I called my boss, and she's like, "You idiot. Get on the plane and go."

As soon as I finished the audition, Dawn Steel pulls me to the side and says, "You got the film." Then the film got dropped. And then eight months later, they called and said, "There's a new director," which was Turteltaub at the time, "He saw your tape. He'd like to see you."

Robinson: When it came time to come back around with Turteltaub, I wouldn't screen test. That was the whole deal. And so Dawn called me and says, "Leon, look here, it's a formality, please. You gotta do this." At that particular time, I was just starting to pop. I had a lot of things going on. So I was just like, "Is this really happening?"

Lewis: Well, I screen tested and I tap danced. I did whatever I needed to do.

Yoba: Rawle has the best story.

Lewis: I had just lost my job and then I started doing this bad, Shakespeare-in-the-hood kind of play. I had like a few lines — I had lied and put all the stuff on my resume cause I had no experience, so like I said I did all this stuff in Trinidad, because who's going to check? This is before Google, right? I wrote all this stuff on the Playbill. And so this casting assistant Phaedra Harris, afterward she came up to me and I was like, "How'd you like the play?" She goes, "It was awful. But I see that you're from the islands. ... We're doing this movie and the accents are horrible. We need someone who's really from Jamaica." I go, "You know, I'm from Trinidad," she goes, "It's good enough."

So we came in and I was just reading with all the people. And Leon, like you said, it was like Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. All these people were coming through.

Robinson: If you were Black, you got an audition.

Cool Runnings
Cool Runnings. Everett Collection

Yoba: Tupac even auditioned for this.

Lewis: Exactly. Everybody was coming through doing these bad accents, and I was reading with them, trying to say like, "No, no," like trying to pronounce it so they could see. ... I started reading with them and when I got into it, the director and the producer were like, "Hey, this guy actually sounds good ... but he's just a reader." And I think Leon, you might have said something like, "Hey, I think the reader sounds pretty good."

Robinson: Yeah. A couple of people sounded like they were from Spain trying to do the accent. I didn't know what was going on. I couldn't figure it out, so I was like, "Yo, he sounds all right."

Lewis: But they didn't tell me. ... When I went to do the screen test with Malik, I actually didn't know. I said, "I brought everybody's [scripts]." Like in case I had to read with other parts. And that's when Jon Turteltaub and Dawn Steel were like, "What are you doing with all that?" I said, "Oh, well I don't know which parts you guys want me to read," they go, "No you're screen testing."

Doug: I heard the rumor was that you didn't know that you were in the movie until we got on set.

Yoba: Even when we were on set, he still didn't realize we were even in the movie.

PEOPLE: You brought up [late actor] John Candy before. A comic legend. Once you realized this movie going in a slightly funnier direction, how did you guys approach that? And what was it like working with John?

Robinson: John was fantastic. I mean, he was just very generous, very funny. One of the stories I always remember to this day, you know, he was part owner of our hockey team Toronto Argonauts. Cause he brought us to the game. Doug E. Doug and I decided that we were going to call the game as commentators. But, in our style — brother style. John was on the floor cracking up.

Doug: He really enjoyed it.

Lewis: What I realized is that John was a lot like his persona when you see him in movies, where he has a lot of pathos and a lot of heart — that was pretty much him. That was who he was.

Doug E. Doug

[John Candy] was very much interested in the whole project, It wasn't just a showcase of his comic talent, although it's there too, you know?

—Doug E. Doug

Yoba: Definitely generosity. One of the biggest takeaways besides his kindness and generosity was he said, "Make every scene count." And that, as a young actor in film, that's something I've always taken with me, and just try to be as gracious as possible and generous with actors throughout my career because of that with him.

Doug: Also, he was very generous just from a comedic point of view, because someone who was just like known for comedy, for them to kind of, play with you and to make room for you as a comic persona, that's a very rare thing. And so he was also very much interested in the whole project. It wasn't just a showcase of his comic talent, although it's there too, you know?

Robinson: He was very invested in the movie as we all were. And I think that that has a lot to do with how it came out.

Cool Runnings
Cool Runnings. Everett Collection

PEOPLE: It seems like you guys still have an awesome dynamic. You can pick up more or less where you left off the last time you saw each other. What was it like on set? Were you guys having a lot of fun?

Yoba: Leon actually definitely took the role of the leader of the team seriously. I mean, as a young dude coming up, I remember I really took this stuff to heart. He said, "Disney has never done a film with four black actors. And so let's not screw this up for anybody that's coming behind us because this is the first time."

Lewis: [It was] a lot of people hanging out on set. Malik and I got to hang, he played his guitar, Doug and I got to joke around. Even John Candy would joke around with us. He loved doing Sammy Davis Jr. impressions and stuff like that on the set.

Robinson: One of the things that helped us bond was, yes, we're doing a movie that's a comedy, but it's also inspirational. But the one thing I think was very clear: We always felt that we were representing Jamaica. From the people that are working on the set, to the people that are bringing us patties and stuff during the day, we always felt like, "We must represent Jamaican well."

Lewis: For that being my first movie, I have to say the balance of everyone's personality was perfect. You know, Malik playing his guitar, Leon being the leader. And Doug was like, I remember it was just so much laughter with Doug.

Yoba: I'd never forget how much Doug used to make the crew laugh. So much to the point where the cameras would shake. And that was an early lesson on the power of what we do on film. Because you know, if you're on set and you move the crew, whether to laughter to tears, whatever it is, you know that it's going to translate.

PEOPLE: Were you aware, or did you think about at the time, how the movie would carry forward into the future and how inspirational of a film it would be?

Robinson: When you make movies and I had made a couple before that … you just don't know. One thing I had learned when I started making studio movies, is that it's not about the movie. It's about how much they believe in it and how much marketing they put into. And no matter how good a movie is, if they're not behind it, it's not going to pop. And so you just never know what the studio's going think. And I don't know if Disney really even knew what they had until it just kept staying at the top of the box office.

But as far as how important the movie could be, I don't know if you guys felt this, but I definitely felt this, I think Malik and I, we talked about this. At the end of the movie, when we carry that sled across the finish line, for me, that moment, it just gave me chills.

Doug: I knew it was going to be [big]. I went to a theater to see it when it came out with Dawn Steel, our producer, and [producer] Susan Landau. We saw it with an audience and I was shocked.

Leon Robinson

At the end of the movie, when we carry that sled across the finish line, for me, that moment, it just gave me chills.

—Leon Robinson

Robinson: I went with Turteltaub up to the Montreal Film Festival to see it. And then people, they lost their minds. And I mean, people like were in tears, practically.

Doug: The stories I've heard from people that have used it as a means by which to cope with grief, or in school settings and prisons. And I mean all over the world, I can't even describe. I've heard some incredible things.

Yoba: Entire families. Oh my, like I was in Jamaica a couple of years ago. This entire family said "we have watched this movie a hundred times as a family."

2022 Jamaican bobsled team
The 2022 Jamaican bobsled team. Team Jamaica Twitter

PEOPLE: One more question: Any words of advice for the Jamaican bobsled team at the Olympics right now?

Robinson: I did Kevin Hart's Olympic Show two days ago with him in the studio. I just told them, "Just when you're at the top of the hill, feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it's bobsled time."

Yoba: Oh, in the words of every Jamaican, "All da best."

Lewis: We're behind you one hundred and a thousand percent.

Robinson: But it is not just us. It's not just Jamaica. Everyone loves them.

Stream Cool Runnings now on Disney+.

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, now, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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