Mason Gooding has that magical talent for looking like a cheeky high schooler one minute, and a smoldering leading man the next.
And that fluid appeal has stood him in good stead for roles in some of the best coming-of-age stories of recent years, including the wonderful 2019 movie ‘Booksmart’, and ongoing Hulu series ‘Love, Victor’.
Next up Mason, the son of ‘Jerry Maguire’ star Cuba Gooding Jr, stars alongside Cole Sprouse and Lana Condor in romantic comedy ‘Moonshot’, released on HBO Max on March 31. It’s a young adult love story with a timeless message set in 2049, as humans colonize Mars. He also wrote, directed, and starred in his own short film, ‘Alone, Together With You’ during the Covid lockdown. That story about navigating loss and sadness shows a side of Mason that he is keen to continue to express as his career progresses, offering fans the benefit of his experiences and perspective as they figure out their own path.
And here the actor, 25, tells us about the importance of young people sharing their own stories with professionals, or just with trusted friends, as they navigate the plot twists of life.
I love coming-of-age movies. What is it about these type of stories that you think is so appealing? I suppose it’s because we’re catching people in such a transformative moment of their lives…
It’s just so ubiquitous to the human experience, being a young adult and suddenly having these responsibilities thrust upon you, as you try to navigate who you are in the world. Movies like ‘Moonshot’ and others in the YA genre allow everyone, no matter how old you are, to either look forward to that time in your life, reminisce on that time in your life, or if you’re currently experiencing it, to look at another perspective. I’m 25 and I’m still figuring myself out, but that’s par for the course. And I’ve always loved feel good movies. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’ve always felt most at home in stories that perpetuate following your heart and doing what makes you happy.
How was working with that talented young cast on ‘Moonshot’, and what did you learn from each other?
Cole Sprouse and Lana Condor were just so kind, welcoming and lovely. I had no idea Cole was such a big anime nerd. I am as well, so from the moment we worked that out it was a match made in heaven.
Cole has literally been working in the industry since he was two months old. And similar but different, my dad’s an actor, and because of that we have similar experiences of growing up around the industry. So we were able to bond over the notion that we’ve basically known nothing but Hollywood our entire lives, and it’s been about adjusting to how that affects us as adults. It’s nice to know there are people like Cole who could be so close to the industry for so long and be so unbelievably kind, thoughtful and lovely. Working with someone who has been doing it for so long and is so inherently good at it is a comfortable experience. There’s a lot to learn from him, hence I just gravitate towards him every time he’s around.
‘Moonshot’ is set in 2049, what does the film have to say about what the world might be like in 27 years time?
Well, fittingly for Mr Feelgood, it’s nice to have some movies set in the future that don’t paint such a bleak outlook of what the future will be. As a big science fiction nerd, I have not seen many stories placed in the future that are set in such a positive environment. As scary as the future is, it’s exciting to think about what’s round the corner.
You made a short film about navigating loss and sadness, called ‘Alone, Together With You’. What made you want to tackle those themes?
‘Alone, Together With You’ ultimately allowed me to navigate certain thoughts I was having, or certain experiences I’d had. Rather than offering definitive answers on mental health, it’s more examining what it’s like to feel sad, and how I found a way to sort of circumvent that by talking about those things with people. While I don’t have the answer of how to feel better, the film deals with things that have worked for me.
So it’s about navigating grief, but also those general negative thoughts we all have. My character is really the only one in the film that had a main point in his sadness, he lost his wife and the grief had been eating his psyche for a long time. But I did want to mention that people oftentimes are sad, sometimes fatally so, without really knowing the reason why. They live their life being depressed or upset without any catalyst for being so. So the story is supposed to blur the line of what it means to seek help for mental health. If you feel sad, it is worth seeking out help and seeking out safe environments in which you can talk about those things, and it doesn’t require you to have a reason.
A lot of times as young men, we’re told that a lot of things need to be shouldered and struggled through so that you get to the other side without really understanding why you felt that way in the first place. And for me, as I get older, I’ve noticed that discussing things leads to a healthier understanding of who I am, not just why I’m sad, but also what happened to get me to where I am now. So if I can impart any lesson to a younger me, or young people in general, it’s that it is worth investigating those things, those foibles you might have questions about, because the alternative does not look pretty.
I read an interview with the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently, who said he thought we were getting too self-reflective in the West, and was saying to some extent we should realize how lucky we are and get on with it. And to an outsider, you have come from a particularly privileged background, growing up in Hollywood. But of course that doesn’t mean you don’t experience these issues we’re discussing, and the fact you’re lucky in some ways shouldn’t mean you have to bury any issues you have. What do you think is the right balance between examining these feelings when it’s helpful, and trying to move on when it’s not?
I hope people understand that feeling sadness, loneliness, and isolation is not specific to one type of person or walk of life, it’s inherent to the human condition. And yes, people in more privileged circumstances can think, ‘What are my problems in the grand scheme of things?’ And on the opposite end of the spectrum, people who maybe can’t afford therapy can think they can’t find ways or means by which to make themselves feel better. I will always advocate for therapy, especially for young Black men, but it could just be talking to people you trust.
Specifically on the subject of self-reflection, there is this implication that the answer is within you, and that implies it is something you can find on your own. And that could be the case, but therapists and people whose job it is to understand the inner workings of the brain can navigate those things in a way that is proven to work. And there are doorways in lieu of therapy if that is not something you can afford — just talking to people who understand you can be equally as valuable.
So tell us a little about your journey to this point, and becoming an actor. I read your parents wanted you to go to college first.
I went to college for writing, mainly because my dad made it a point to say that, as an actor, a lot of times the best things you can do for yourself is just learn everything but acting, surrounding yourself with a wealth of experiences divorced from your craft, so that you can have things to draw upon in your performances. So I went to NYU for Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, and minored in psychology, mainly adolescent psychology. I think it was in school, talking to professors and other writers, that I allowed myself the space to sort of recognize what it is I really love to do.
I love when Black actors get cast in roles that don’t necessarily require them to look the way that they do, for example I played a surfer in ‘Ballers’, and then the role in ‘Booksmart’. After I booked ‘Booksmart’, my mother was like, ‘Ok that’s great, but when are you going back to school? I want you to be prepared you could be giving up a degree for the most unstable career imaginable.’ I said to her, ‘I love you more than anyone, I hear you, I’ll think about it.’ But I never went back to school!
I understand your mom’s advice, but think you probably chose the right path! What about your dad, did you look at him and think, ‘I want to do what he does.’
I’m sure at some point I did, because he was so happy and loves what he does. But we had more conversations geared around, ‘Hey, if you want to do anything else, please consider that over acting.’ The biggest validation for me was that if my dad was able to talk me out of acting, then I wasn’t meant to act. I’m grateful for that environment he and my mother created that meant I could do anything I wanted, and that allowed me to find the thing I truly love doing.