Mason Gooding was a breath of fresh air on an otherwise gloomy recent afternoon, as we opened our exclusive one-on-one phone interview by discussing my hometown Toronto a little bit. Gooding shot the movie Let it Snow in the city, and we assured him that it wasn’t as cold here now as it was in winter. Gooding in particular has always fascinated Brief Take with the career path that he has carved out, and we were also extremely keen to chat with him after we spoke with his close friend (and Love, Victor co-star) Rachel Hilson a couple of days earlier, (as well as friend and co-star Anthony Turpel, via Zoom). While Gooding’s naturalistic performance as Andrew in Love, Victor was a starting point, we soon went all over his career path, and, of course, we had to ask about Booksmart. In sum, Mason Gooding came to chat and as such, this is a bit longer than a typical interview piece, but please stay with it until the very end of the piece, as it has a message to be found.
The following is a condensed and edited version of my candid conversation with Mason Gooding of Love, Victor.
Brief Take: You are not messing around with the projects that you’re choosing. They’re funny, interesting and boundary pushing. Is this a conscious choice that you’re making in your career path?
Mason Gooding: Oh, thank you for saying that first of all. Second of all, it’s much less my discernment and my picking in that I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by many talented and creative people. The projects in which I find myself are really a product of a bunch of creative people getting together and trying to make the most entertaining or thought-provoking or at least just the most fun project that we can make. Booksmart was a good example of that. You have a lot of people who it was their first time being in a movie—myself included—and we’re all still brought into the creative process and we’re able to create these narratives that hopefully, again, you’ll have to let me know, appeal to a broad audience of people. No matter what the demographic or age, you latch on to it and you feel seen by it. Which is why we do it, ultimately.
BT: I was such a fan of that movie, as it was unlike anything I had seen previously. What did you enjoy most about making Booksmart?
MG: The best part about Booksmart easily was having so many forward and creative thinking minds working on one project. You are able to continue with the focus of the progressive narrative, while also focusing on telling an engaging story to an audience that can hopefully kind of connect to it. When you have someone such as Olivia Wilde, who’s so prolific and unique in her directing style, that it just makes for—as you said—a unique and original experience, one for which personally I didn’t have growing up. I think that for a lot of people it kind of resonated with them and they were able to see themselves in the characters. Again, that’s the whole reason I do this, man. It’s to allow an audience to feel seen and be entertained by parts of themselves that maybe they didn’t know that they even have.
BT: This show takes the traditional format and turns it on its head. What was it about Love, Victor that you thought was uniquely groundbreaking?
MG: Well, it was in the idea that the character could be one way, and could be perceived as an archetype or a stereotype. But talking with the brilliant Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, we got the idea that Andrew, my character in Love, Victor, isn’t one way because of this resolute desire to be mean or an antagonistic force. He thinks that he’s being this bringer of comedy and of an uplifting air, although what he does to achieve that in some of his classmates is by putting down others. And to me, I think that is a more authentic take on the high school dynamic. It’s not one of: “oh, I’m just a mean guy because I want to be”. But instead, I mean potentially, because I don’t know any better. I don’t know what it could potentially be like to actually uplift my classmates. I think that what I like most about Andrew is—again, without spoiling anything—that his character goes somewhere. It has that narrative structure and that arc that sort of make him an engaging character both as an actor and as an audience member, hopefully. But I think that it’s really just that, that a character can become something more than what he or she is when you first meet him or her. You have to let me know. I haven’t heard much since people just started watching this show.
BT: How do you play this progression of Andrew? What do you lean into throughout the duration of the series?
MG: It’s like anything, especially in high school. When you start out as a freshman, you become a completely different person by the time that you are 18 or a senior. Andrew hasn’t quite gotten there yet, he’s not—if I can relate it to Nick in Booksmart—Nick’s at the end of his high school career, he’s kind of run the gamut on whom he’s going to become throughout his teenage years. Andrew’s not there yet. He still has a little bit to learn, but he is at the point at which he understands within himself who he is, or at least he thinks he does. Then, when it comes into question a little bit, that’s where the alteration comes. But the trait that sort of pervades throughout the series that consumes him by the end of season one is that kind of lack of accountability. By the end of the show, this comes to the forefront and that he thinks: “Oh, I am just messing around and I’m having a good time”. Once you add in that sense of empathy and that sense of care for others, the kind that he lacks in the beginning, you get a little bit more of a three-dimensional character. It becomes one that can see his actions as responses—rather than inciting responses themselves—and through giving these responses to other people, he shake up the way that he is viewed, as well as how people can view themselves, through this technique.
BT: This show has a great core group, but then you go and bring in talented people such as Andy Richter and Ali Wong. What did you enjoy most about working with them?
MG: Andy Richter is a legend and it’s so interesting to watch him work. He takes a joke or a scene and he makes it something else. He will have that conversation with the director or with the other actors and it will build off of what it was into something potentially even more so. And then, I mean you want to talk about legends and about amazing comedy prowess, Ali Wong is unparalleled in this regard. She is such a force of energy and excitement that makes any sort of scene that was one way completely different, just by being herself, and you can tell in her standup and you can see it in her performance. She has not only the perspective to play a wide range of characters, but she also has a great way of connecting with the characters on screen and having a rapport with them. It was really exciting and I’d say that it was almost a kinetic experience. Everything is kind of flying at you and you have to roll with those punches. You gotta keep up, man! Those are funny people!
BT: What is it like for you yourself in terms of balancing those elements of comedy and drama?
MG: I love drama and it’s like when I was younger a little bit. it’s what I always thought that I would get into, this idea of finding that dramatic tension and situation in any scene. As time went on and my ability and taste sort of changed, the angle of learning comedy as well as learning drama became of the utmost importance. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m a big nerd. I love comic books and I love superheroes, so when you watch like a Marvel movie, the most compelling characters are clearly the ones that are lighthearted and charismatic, as well as the ones that are serious when they need to be. I was like: “If I can just tap into that from some of these characters….”. The idea that they need to be both kind and charismatic, but can get serious when they need to be, is what I ultimately hope to tap into as an actor and have this sort of idea in every character or every aspect of my performance.
BT: At one point, your choice was become an actor or go to school, and now you’ve brought together the best of both worlds, as an actor by often going to school.
MG: [laughs loudly] It’s funny how life blends with art that way. It’s interesting, because I would say my experience in high school and in college, for the brief time that I was there, is that it’s not as dramatic or as scripted as you find on television. But it is that pressing- it is that urgent, and it was something like Booksmart, in which Olivia (Wilde) would come to set every day and say: “This is Training Day, but in high school”. The stakes are at their absolute peak because these kids in high school think that this is their be all and end all – their high school is their world. And for me in high school, I certainly felt as though I had to prove something every day to someone and I had to discover something about myself. But in fact, you know nothing in high school and it’s really about coming to terms with this and being true to yourself and trying to find the best way to express yourself, while also being kind and understanding to others that are doing the same.
BT: What has your education been like in terms of scene partners that have taught and inspired you?
MG: I mean I spend immeasurable time doing stuff off set with most of the people that I work with, it’s hard to say on set because I could say everyone is so immensely talented. When I work with them in the moment of the scene, I can again list out hundreds of people with whom I’ve worked for which I have that rapport, but outside of set I’d say Michael Cimino, Isabella Ferreira, Rachel Hilson, Anthony Turpel—these are people that I am part of a cast in which I can take that time and have that conversation with them. “What do you think that I did right in that scene? What do you think that I could have done better?”. We push each other to find new depths of each character and new angles of the scene. And then beyond this, I think that through directing is where the acting sort of begins and is carried to different places. Olivia Wilde was such an amazing visionary that she was able to take the characters in one place in their lives and bring out the change and bring out the truth in the performance as the time went on. The thing is that [laughs] I really can’t go wrong, I’m lucky and blessed to have that sort of experience in my life.
BT: What was it like forming these friendships on and off screen? Had you met anyone before filming the show?
MG: So, no, I actually knew none of them! Prior to the production starting, Michael and I were doing basketball practice before a lot of them had gotten cast at all, because him and I were inexperienced. But that made sense to start ahead of time. And then as people were getting jobs and the ball started rolling, more people started getting into the fray and we created this family dynamic basically, based on the idea that we were going to be seeing each other so often, it might as well become one of those instances in which we become as close as we possibly could. My character has an interesting relationship with Mia Brooks and that kind of plays off of my relationship with Rachel in real life. She’s like a best friend of mine. She’s so immensely talented and kind, and that same comparison could kind of be made almost to the opposite extent, in that I don’t even have scenes with the amazing and talented Isabella Ferreira, who plays Pilar, but she and I are incredibly close and super friendly off camera. This goes to show that whether or not we’re working and actively filming with one another, we keep this idea still of friendship and family and bond, and always building each other up. Michael and I were playing all the time together. I’m still better than he is at basketball, but it’s nice to grow and maybe see in what way that I could beat him in one-on-one. [laughs]
BT: How much fun was it to film the Breakfast Club inspired episode?
MG: Oh, that’s my favourite episode! That was the one time in the series in which I got to feel the presence of an ensemble. It was Rachel, Bebe and Anthony and me and we were stuck in this school. It was an amazing exploration into the characters and their inner workings and who they are toward one another. Andrew is a very singular character when it comes to that friend group. It was nice to be with all of them and without and to have that perspective that I had not received up until then.
BT: What did you like most about working with Rachel Hilson and how did you go about bringing her into the mix a little?
MG: It was almost instantaneous. It takes a little bit of reconfiguring when someone comes in. She basically was brought into the project maybe the day before or the day of the filming began on the pilot, and her ability—both as an actor and through her demeanour as a person— made it sooo effortless and seamless to bring her into the fray and have her be a part of the cast. The results are more than apparent on screen, when she’s interacting with Michael (Cimino) and Bebe (Wood) and these scenes of great emotional turbulence, but she has the ability to do both angles—comedy, drama—and that speaks again to who she is as a person. She’s thoughtful, she’s kind and it makes for a very easy experience. When talking about bringing her into a cast, it was effortless. It was a great time.
BT: How has your experience been like when coming into projects in which you are recurring or guest starring, like Star Trek: Picard and Everything is Going to be Okay?
MG: Well, Star Trek: Picard was one of the more emotionally stressful situations for me. Considering when you come into or have any small part or any part in general in something as storied as Star Trek, all you want to do is to do justice to the fanbase and the people who love it and have loved it their whole lives. I can’t definitively say if I felt like I truly did this, but I can say that I’m happy to have seen how that machine operates and how Star Trek is so intrinsic to the lore and how a fanbase that makes up what that show really can be and what it has been for decades. Watching Patrick Stewart come to set and school PA’s and people around set on the lore and the mythos of Star Trek was unbelievable. Any time you have an opportunity to be in and around that sort of atmosphere, you jump at the chance.
And then as far as things being impactful and having meaning, that’s why we make art. It’s to have that impact and to say something with our platform and what we have. Everything’s Going to be Okay was one of those projects in which I felt like the story needed to be told, especially in that comedic sort of landscape, for which people could easily laugh at what ultimately are very tragic circumstances. Because that’s how a lot of people deal with those situations—through comedy, family and community.
BT: What did you think of Hulu’s decision to move the show’s premiere away from Juneteenth?
MG: I thought that was a beautiful idea. They didn’t necessarily consult me for anything like that, but I can tell you that in doing that, they showed they had the cognizance, the awareness, the greater scheme of other people’s lives and their background. It is so impressive and heartwarming that they would take a stand to uplift a day that in most cases, most people don’t necessarily know of the history and the background. Again, I’m a big History nerd and I love the way that we can learn from our past, because history repeats itself, and through telling an industry that we will clear out the schedule to bring awareness and to bring attention to this incredibly important event in American history, allowing that to be brought to the forefront is really inspiring and beautiful.
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So let’s talk for a moment: @lovevictorhulu drops this week and i obviously couldn’t be more excited 💕🏳️🌈💕 — That being said, to promote a show during a time like this certainly feels… odd.. to say the least. I’d like my platform (whatever that may be) to be used to uplift and provide help in whatever way i can from across a screen; which can certainly be hard in the wake of these repeated injustices that we witness on such a regular basis. — so, i figure, everytime i go to post about the show, i’ll donate to and showcase some of the incredible charities/causes/movements that support the LGBT+ and black communities whose efforts have allowed me and people like me to even have the capability of possessing a platform today through their tireless fight for justice and equality in a social and political landscape. — That being said, y’all are loved, y’all are seen, and i hope first and foremost you understand that your thoughts and ideas matter immensely, so please keep sharing them with the world
BT: Would you like to highlight a specific organization that you think is doing especially good work at this time?
MG: It’s interesting, the pandemic in and of itself is an entity that is omnipresent globally in the minds of people, that it’s basically changed the way that we interact with people. It’s changed us as a society in who we are and as people move forward professionally and socially and familial-wise. I was looking into The Okra Project. If you don’t know what it is, it’s plant-based nutrients, that in the time of the 1800’s, were brought onto these slave ships to provide them with the natural sustenance that they needed to make it through the journey over to the Americas. Then they planted it and it was this culturally relevant food. Through the food basis of okra, the organization itself makes these home-cooked meals for Black trans members of the community and brings them to their place of living and cooks these home-cooked meals and provides them with food to which maybe otherwise they wouldn’t have access. The Okra Project is certainly something I support and think is really, really monumental and great, honestly. I will certainly say that’s one I wholeheartedly back.
BT: What have you been quaranstreaming?
MG: Oh, man! The most recent season of Insecure came out and I think Issa Rae is a profoundly amazing creator and narrative storyteller. I was just able to catch up on that and that’s what’s getting me through this current pandemic landscape. Aside from that, I’ve watched Avatar: The Last Airbender now three different times consecutively and I’m still very much enjoying that. I’d say I kind of pass between the two of them at this point. Every Sunday, I tune into Insecure, then during the week, whatever gets me through, that type of thing.
BT: Music plays a large role in your life off screen. Would you like music to feature in an on-screen role of yours in an upcoming project?
MG: I would love music to feature in a future endeavour of mine. I’m nowhere nearly as gifted as was my late grandfather—God rest his soul—but he instilled the idea in us that music can heal and it can bring togetherness in a community and in a family and in a group of people. I play the guitar. I have since I was a kid. And if I can be 100 per cent honest with you, when I perform, a lot of times my characters are created by the music I think to which they would listen. For example, I don’t know if you’ve heard the song ‘Forgive You’ by Leon Bridges, but I would say that for each interaction that Andrew has with Mia, I would listen to the song on repeat. I would try to take the sonic resonance of that song and apply it to my emotional integrity in the moment in the scene, to tap into what he is singing about and what he wrote in his song. I’d say that I think that it’s actually very similar or at least close to how Andrew feels about Mia.
BT: It is a strange time right now to promote a television show, as you have said, but we very much would like to celebrate this groundbreaking show. How do you balance those two competing desires within yourself?
MG: It’s interesting when it’s referred to as “strange”, or people say: “It’s very scary”. what it is, it’s necessary. It’s the medicine of a system that has been sick for a very long time. To have shows and situations and narratives such as Love, Victor and Everything’s Going to be Okay, I think really only benefits the system that’s being sort of reworked, considering a big, I guess ‘motif’ in this time and in this landscape is the passing of the torch from one generation to the next. The framework and the groundwork that’s been laid for us as the younger generation by the older sort of grouping of people or demographic is what allows us to be as successful and to work as hard and to be as progressive as we’ve been.
And I think that Love, Victor is sort of emblematic of that. Simon and his experience is very specific to him and his upbringing. And when he is reached out to by Victor, he tries his best and uses his experience and his privilege to educate or at least help Victor on the best way that he can find himself, given all the trials and tribulations of being in high school. And that’s a lot of what we are experiencing today. It’s older generations are trying to help us find our way in this new socio-political landscape and we are basically saying that we can handle this and we are doing it, and we’re talking in the streets and we’re marching and we’re trying to change legislation. Because we are trying our best to move the needle forward and be as progressive and honest as possible to who are we and what we think is the right, natural order of things.
Love, Victor is now available on Hulu