Mason Gooding: "I just want to make art for other people and to make them feel"
Alice Gee | 11/7/2021
Mason Gooding is a charmer. As he bursts into our Zoom interview full of excitement the first thing he does is compliment my British accent. He’s won me over. In a few hours, he’ll be getting styled up for our cover shoot in sunny LA with our amazing on-location team while I’m sat in miserable London wearing my trusty and well-worn lockdown tracksuit. But hey, it’s not pyjama bottoms right. Mason points out that is exactly what he is wearing from the waist down “It’s a lifestyle now”.
As we talk about our last holidays before lockdown, coincidentally talking about mine to LA and his to London a couple of years back, it’s clear we both have ants in our, incredibly comfortable, pants to get out of our usual routine and fly the nest. Another coincidence - both of us were in the middle of moving house when we were doing this interview. “I’m actually in the middle of moving. I figured I spent enough time collectively in one place to last three leases. So once this one was up, I was like I should probably get out and find somewhere new. About halfway through the pandemic. I was blessed with a dog. His name’s Iggy, He’s a French Bulldog. He likes to have attention so I had to put them in my bedroom while we chat, otherwise, he’d be going nuts. But he’s been the biggest change, and motivator to sort of making it through the pandemic, obviously alongside my loving family and friends.”
As someone who struggles to keep house plants alive, as much as I’d love a dog, for now, it’s a responsibility I don’t need although he tries to persuade me otherwise. Mason is convinced house plants are harder, pointing out to me his suffering one in the background. Whilst on the topic of change we speak about when something tends to go wrong in life, how we end up making changes, especially in the way we express it. “For me, it’s tattoos, definitely. There’s something about body art and self-expression through that, that makes me feel both fulfilled and artistically kind of satisfied. When I work as an actor, obviously one of my first jobs aside from giving the director what they want is becoming this character, embodying their roles, their ideals, who they are as people, their upbringing, it’s best to have a blank slate or at least as much as possible. So I decided I’d make that as hard as possible by basically covering myself in tattoos. But my thought process has always been despite the inherent selfish decision to want my body to look my own when I sit in a makeup chair and the lovely makeup community on Love Victor - her name’s Kathleen, she’s amazing at her job - cover me in makeup and they dissipate all the tattoos and ink on my body it helps me mentally kind of step into the idea that I’m now becoming someone different. When I look in the mirror and I no longer see the body art that I have, it allows me to make a cognitive switch between Mason and I guess in the case of Andrew or whoever else I portray.”
I asked what his favourite would be if he had to pick one. “I’ll tell you, I have to pick the one that would be the most meaningful. It probably varies every time I get a new one. My most personal which was my first would be a ship and in the compass, circling it, instead of north, East, South, and West it says C S S P standing for Cuba, Spencer, Sara, and Piper, my father, brother, mother and sister. I wanted to get something to commemorate the family dynamic that I have and how much I love them because they are everything to me. I’m a big Anime fan, and I frequently get these tattoos of artwork from Manga, mostly from a source material done by Raman, and he’s brilliant. He does these really fine, meticulous ones. You got me talking about them now. I have another one of my back by Shlomi The Homie on Instagram, he does such great shading and detailed work, especially with white ink on black, and I have a lion on my back subtle, you know, nice, streamlined. That’s usually the one that gets photographed the most. It’s hard because I love them. I love them all."
With Mason’s dad, Cuba Gooding Jr., being a household name I wondered if Mason felt any pressure to live up to his example when he started his career. Although he’s earned his roles in his own right, you do wonder if being the child of a well-known face is more a help or hindrance.
“He’s done an amazing job, in tandem with my mother, who is my rock and my foundation, both of them. When it comes to my personal life he’s never made me feel as if there was pressure to live up to anything, and I think that’s just carried over and echoed throughout my professional life. He is an impeccable actor, and he’s found a way to convert general charisma into character study, finding every nuance of a character’s emotion. He always said, it starts with a walk, you got to find out how they move their bodies and then the insights for the rest of their character. I hope aspects of what makes him so talented and amazing come through in my performances, but I think I am a different type of actor or a different type of performer or artist than he is, so the pressure to me is mostly attributed to my desire to uphold what is a storied legacy of a great performer. He’s always said, for better and for worse, all you have is your word and your name and that’s something I take very seriously, I want people to hear the name Gooding or Mason Gooding or anyone in my family or my circle, and think of it only with the utmost of respect.
Any pressure I feel in my career is just to make sure that when people talk to me, or they interact with me, or they see my work, it reflects positively on the rest of my family and the people that I associate with so that at the end of the day, I know that I’ve done my little part to make sure that people are entertained, they feel seen, happy, appreciated, because that’s all I care about. I just want to make art for other people and to make them feel, that sounds altruistic, but I feel like if I did do it solely for myself I’d have quit long before I got my first rejection. The best motivator is to make sure people enjoy it. At the end of the day, you can succeed on your own all you want but if you don’t have other people to share it with, and embrace that success, then to me it doesn’t mean as much. Don’t get me wrong, being self-motivated is important as well. My dad’s good at doing that, he’s good at teaching. I hope I can do some stuff on my own at this point. He does do a great job of allowing me to find my way through my career and navigate the industry on my own. He would say at the end of the day, no matter what people assume, having the name of Gooding doesn’t mean you can be a puppet while you’re on set, you’re gonna have to carry your weight. Knock on wood, but I certainly try my best, and that, at the end of the day all that I can do.”
Now horror is a genre of film I have actively avoided in the past, but I find myself promising Mason I will (bravely) tackle the latest instalment of the Scream franchise to catch him take on his latest role. It will probably be something I think twice about closer to the time but will all the hype behind the 5th outing I figure it may be worth not going anywhere in the dark for days afterwards.
“Production wrapped in November of last year. I really couldn’t be more excited for people to see it. Scream and Wes Craven, who originally made the first one, had something to say about the entertainment people so readily consumed at the time and for those who aren’t a big horror fan a lot of that satire maybe go over their heads. What Wes pulled off so effortlessly with the original Scream, was a marriage of new concepts. Something fresh that people hadn’t seen, some things that played on those familiar tropes that allowed people to feel comfortable, a more nuanced sort of setting, while also working to subvert those expectations and scaring the sh*t out of them. This is why I’d say if you aren’t a big fan of the horror genre, Scream is a rough one to get stuck in with, because it’s scary, but it’s also why I’m telling you there’s a lot of comedy in it. I don’t think you’ll regret watching it because it is in equal parts horrifying, as well as exciting, engaging, interesting, and compelling. And I feel like, regardless of your thoughts on horror, and how that makes you feel, they all lead with this level of confidence in entertainment first that makes the story engaging, as well as scary, as well as hilarious. And you’ll have to let me know if we pull that off.”
I’ve always ascertained that comedy and horror are much closer in terms of genre conventions than any other genres or mediums considering the level of care and thought that has to go into timing, either for jokes or for scares. It is very closely related. The way that you set something up has a payoff. And in the case of great comedy and great horror, that payoff either grows or carries throughout an entire sequence. Wes and the amazing writing team pulled that together and that has remained throughout all five iterations. He’s taken horror and comedy and he found a way to marry them both and make it this double whammy of exciting, hilarious, horrific content. I can’t speak highly enough of the people that have made this next movie, it speaks for itself. They are brilliant. And Scream Five is just another notch on that belt of brilliance.”
Mason is one of these individuals that have the power to making you feel at ease instantly. So we got on to the conversation of our struggles with mental health over the years very easily. “It’s a loaded statement, as it is, considering the pandemic we’ve had. I feel like the idea of isolation and loneliness that people subject themselves to simply based on a social perception that they need to suffer in silence, or they need to do things alone... I feel you have a generation of all ages, who have shared trauma that I certainly wasn’t subjected to. And while I would consider myself at the base a very positive and happy-go-lucky guy, when faced with such prolonged periods of isolation or social ostracization, through social distancing and whatnot, I discovered that I have this proclivity for I’ll call it like a negative self-reflection and anxiety that I hadn’t been privy to before the year 2020. And now, through an understanding of a shared experience that many people have had, I’ve realised that talking about those things, especially with people that have experienced similar trauma, or similar experiences can benefit greatly, especially if you find that you feel a certain way about yourself about your circumstances and don’t necessarily know the root cause of it.
Either talking to a professional or someone that you trust, for me at least did leaps and bounds for my mental health in my sort of personal situation. Beyond that my most memorable, I’ll say, moment in terms of understanding mental health is, I noticed when I interact with people, specifically, in vulnerable settings, maybe one on one, that people are so willing to enact a level of self-deprecation or self verbal self-harm to themselves, in a means to connect with other people as if putting themselves down. Interestingly, people feel that they need to put themselves down to connect with others as if that’s the shared experience when I feel rather than allowing other people to speak negatively about themselves and attend in an attempt to connect, I’d rather start a conversation on a positive foot. That’s what I love and it’s rare on social media, but the moments you get where people leave with positivity and compliments to one another or speaking highly of someone that they’re interacting with that they maybe haven’t, all that often, to me is so much more uplifting and beneficial than what I think has been pretty rampant that people will bond over this mutual negativity.
I’d love to see a switch in the social dynamic that rather than normalizing hurtful or negative rhetoric, that people are much more comfortable complimenting one another. And that also plays into receiving compliments because I can’t tell you how many times either in a dating setting or an amicable social setting a compliment will throw someone off way more than an insult. Whereas people nowadays know how to combat an insult but when you say something about someone’s hair, or how lovely they look, it can catch them off guard to a point where it’s like, I don’t have a response to that. I don’t know what to say. That’s my hope just that after a prolonged period of isolation and loneliness that people will take from this time, despite their potential anxieties or social discomfort, that to lead with positivity is way more fulfilling than to allow a negative thought about yourself and other people to elude in the beginning stages of relationships.”
It’s an interesting approach that I must admit I had never thought too much into, but I think Mason has a point, he’s not knocking empathy and connecting through mutual experiences, but we have become a society that romanticises self-depreciation and mistrust positivity. It seemed fitting to talk about Love Victor and the role that the show is playing in understanding the idea of ‘finding ourselves’.
“Similarly, I think there’s a big difference, dissonance, between understanding oneself and then having to present yourself, especially in a high school setting as your true self. For Victor, the protagonist of Love Victor who’s dealing with the idea of sexual identity and coming out both to his family as well as in school, he feels this pressure to know exactly what and who he is. It’s something I hope we hit on with both narratives in season one and season two, that there is value and positivity in not necessarily knowing exactly who you are, and instead allowing yourself to have the time to figure it out.
For example, Victor makes a point to go on dates to figure out his feelings for a girl in season one and ultimately realises that he is gay and he would like to pursue a relationship with a guy. And although how he goes about fulfilling that desire may be a little morally grey, or just objectionable in general, I think it is a good example of how if he had just allowed himself to the time and the space to consider who he is and his identity, that he maybe would have been able to make a more informed decision that wouldn’t have led to so much heartbreak. But to that same token, specifically, as it relates to coming out and being true to yourself, and who you love and how love influences you and your decisions. It’s also incredibly understandable that you wouldn’t necessarily be able, to be honest with yourself in that way. If there’s one thing I can commend ourselves for on our show is it’s taking an honest look at that high school setting and that social dynamics and how being yourself and honest with yourself benefit you in the long run, rather than being deceitful or trying to hide any aspect of yourself that you maybe think is unsavoury or unpopular. But I love love love it, if you’ve watched it, it’s super cute and everybody’s incredible in it I speak at length of the amazing talent Michael Cimino, who plays Victor is a force. Rachel Hilson, who plays alongside me, with whom I have most of my scenes with is unbelievable and overshadows me in every scene we have. Anthony Turpel, who plays Felix, is my best friend and I love him dearly. And of course, Isabella Ferreira, who plays Pilar his little sister is a light. We’ve got new actors this season, Anthony Keyvan, and Ava Capri who just blew me away in every scene that we got to work together, and I honestly can’t wait for people to check it out.”
Mason just oozes positivity and has so much authentic love for all those around him it was hard to get him to talk about himself for more than a few minutes before he shone praise on another coworker. I wanted to pull the spotlight back on him and what he’d like to see in his acting future, in particular a role he’d like to play.
“See, I have two answers to that question. One potentially obnoxious, one that is maybe self-promoting. I love to write and I love to direct, I’ve finished directing this short film that hopefully will get finished soon to the circuit. I would love to star in something I’ve created to write and perform alongside actors that I trust. I didn’t want to gas myself, but I would love to create a persona and then see it come to life alongside actors and talents that I trust. A more concrete answer would be to star alongside Henry Cavill, he’s quite nerdy and pretty incredible. I would love to be anything opposite Henry Cavill and just to have time with him either acting or to speak with him about video games. I would like to see in my career in terms of his level of dedication to a role and also to his loved ones and his fans that I, I can only hope and dream that I can.”
Mason is eloquently spoken, humble to a fault, and a loving and loyal friend, but do not think these qualities overshadow his downright impeccable talent. Even if he won’t admit it himself, his future is a bright one.