On acting, rejection and defying odds, the rising actor has plenty to Scream about.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” exclaims Mason Gooding as our WhatsApp call finally connects. An understatement for myself, having waited two weeks to speak with the Scream star — a day for each time his character, Chad Meeks-Martin, is stabbed during his debut in the horror franchise.
But just like Chad, Gooding himself has managed to surpass impossible odds. “Last year was both my first time working outside of the country as well as my first time working on a sequel movie, which I didn’t know would be possible so early on in my career,” he offers. He went from being branded “not very bright” by his teachers to landing a job with a written essay. He found his own two feet in an industry flooded with his family’s success. Perhaps it had something to do with his raw talent or his palpable passion for his profession. Maybe it’s because of his patience and determination. But at the crux of it all, Gooding states, “It goes understated how often you get back from the universe what you put into it.”
To give me an idea of what that looked like, Gooding takes me back to the beginning. Spending his childhood across Los Angeles, New York and Miami, he soon found “a general understanding of entertainment as a business.” Balancing school with a constantly shifting home base, Gooding was swiftly introduced to the fast-paced nature of an on-screen star. “I’m getting older and having to navigate that for myself now. I think that that education was invaluable and something that I still have to call upon.”
Fast forward a decade, Gooding has already accumulated his own bandwidth of credits, booking roles in HBO’s Ballers, Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart and Hulu’s teen comedy drama Love, Victor. But what set him on that path? Was he born to follow in his family’s footsteps? “I’ve never asked myself that directly because I’m afraid of the answer,” he laughs. “My mother has always been a huge creative advocate for me — she always put me in painting, drawing, writing and comedy improv classes as a kid. She was the foundation for me learning that art is a form of self-expression,” Gooding finally answers — simultaneously confessing he is “a big Mumma’s boy”, in case that wasn’t obvious.
Yet despite his efforts and the unrelenting support of his family, it would be a mistake to assume things were always smooth sailing for Gooding. “One of the best scripts I’ve read was Regina King’s One Night in Miami. That movie is so special, and I wanted to play Cassius Clay so badly, but it went to Eli Goree and certainly, no one could have done justice to the role quite like him,” he states earnestly. Quizzing him on his own perception of rejection, the actor continues, “I think now my understanding of acting has developed. You realise a piece is constructed from a director’s vision of what makes the most accessible and best form of art possible. And if that doesn’t happen to involve you, it’s not necessarily to say that it was down to something you did or didn’t do, it just wasn’t in their vision.”
As luck would have it, however, it was Gooding’s philosophic musings which piqued the interest of Matt, Tyler and Chad — the faces of production company Radio Silence, looking to recruit the cast for their rendition of Scream. “It was a little unorthodox,” Gooding begins. “I met with them a few months before filming, and we spoke about everything from life to horror movies. It lasted for around two and a half hours during which I had mentioned I’d written an essay on Scream in college. I sent it to them, and then on a random Monday afternoon four weeks later I got a call from my agent with an offer to play Chad. I screamed, fittingly. I was so elated to be part of a franchise that means so much to me.”
Though the contents of said essay are under strict interviewer/interviewee confidentiality, Gooding makes no secret of his adoration of the horror genre. “The medium has such a visceral and pure ability to elicit such strong emotions from an audience,” he imparts. “But what I love specifically about Scream is that it loves its audience. And though horrific things happen to its characters on-screen, it’s done in a way that is set up honestly and pays off so that you feel excited and empowered by the end.”
Chad Meeks-Martin was certainly not exempt from these horrific happenings, finding himself one on one with Ghostface in an attempt to meet his girlfriend at night. “Listen, I think Chad had a lapse of judgement and felt too much security having his phone on him. But what a fool he was because he was certainly eviscerated pretty swiftly.” Receiving 14 stab wounds to the abdomen, Gooding assumed his time on the beloved franchise was over. “I remember meeting a father figure of mine, Will Sherak who exited his scene and said to me,‘Hey, did you read the new draft?’ I was like, ‘No…’ And he said I should go back to my hotel room and read it. It was in that moment I realised I would be surviving my fight with Ghostface and make it for the sequel.”
The sequel, set to release in the US on March 10th – according to Gooding – “is significantly more violent and grisly than it was in the first go around.” Pressing further on what we can expect from the sixth instalment, the actor teases, “You can expect a new setting for the same cast of characters that most candidly pulls them out of their comfort zone and gives them a closer walk with danger and potential for violence.” Placing Ghostface in the depths of a metropolitan area, Gooding notes, “I think it makes Ghostface more lethal, and the dynamic that the characters have from a friendship/familial standpoint is heightened. I would definitely say the fright levels have been turned up several notches,” he adds nonchalantly.
Pinpointing his friendship with Jasmin Savoy Brown, his on-screen twin, and being allocated a hoodie and converse from the wardrobe department as some of his main highlights of filming the sequel, it can be said that it doesn’t take much to please Gooding. For him, his passion has and will always be his craft. “I’ve had such a fortunate experience with my audiences. I know so many artists who say they aren’t doing it for anyone other than themselves, but I feel the total opposite. I do it for the people, I do it so that hopefully – say, if I were to play a superhero – a young Black boy will be able to see me on-screen and realise that the sky is their limit,” he reflects. From new auditions to contemplating a return to college, thrilling sequels to moving house with his dog, Iggy, Gooding affirms, “More than all of that, I am just so fortunate to have so many loved ones in my life, both within and out side of my career. It’s genuinely going to be the most crucial part of my existence going forward.”