Mason Gooding is tempted to show me his closet (two white doors concealing what I imagine to be an impressive collection of chic knits), but he catches himself mid-thought: “That feels like a mess,” he laughs, sitting back down in his chair. The actor happens to be somewhat of a sweater connoisseur, more specifically of the turtleneck variety, and his love for the cozy piece seems to know no bounds. At the moment, he’s obsessing over a chunky Coach version that “looks like yummy sugar cereal” from the brand’s resort 2022 collection. “I need to be told when it’s available because I want it more than I want to breathe,” he admits with a cheeky smile.
Gooding flashes that smile many times throughout our 30-minute Zoom conversation. It’s just one of the things that make the 25-year-old so damn likable both on screen and off. (That, and the genuine excitement he has for his craft coupled with his enthusiasm for things like sweaters, superheroes, and collecting manga.)
Despite having spent the majority of his life in and around Hollywood—his father is Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr., by the way—he’s refreshingly grounded and genuine in these moments. Since his breakout role in the critically acclaimed buddy comedy Booksmart, Gooding has become somewhat of a rom-com fixture, charming audiences in a slew of feel-good projects such as Let It Snow and the Hulu hit Love, Victor. This month, however, we’re seeing the rising star in an entirely different light as he takes on the horror genre in the beloved slasher film Scream.
Much like many of his co-stars, Gooding was only a baby when the original Scream movie became a cult classic. It wasn’t until he was around the age of 12 or 13 that he would be introduced to the films by his father. “I remember it was in conjunction with a bunch of movies my dad showed me that he felt were good lessons in filmmaking and maybe specifically in horror movies,” he says. Gooding’s love for the genre was born out of that moment, so it seems only fitting his first-ever horror role be part of the franchise, too.
Gooding has been given strict parameters when it comes to talking about his character, Chad Meeks-Martin. What he can say is this: He is a twin, and probably most important to super fans, the nephew of Randy Meeks (played by Jamie Kennedy). Gooding adds, “He is a football-playing romantic, who, at face value, seems to care a lot about where people are and how they are doing, which can also work to his detriment.” He catches himself before revealing too much more. The whole thing is mental gymnastics for the actors.
When I hint at the positive early response to the film, Gooding winces and admits he doesn’t like to read reviews. “That feels like the fast-track to either getting a big head or a large therapy bill,” he says. “The goal was truly to make a film that respected and honored the original as well as [invented] something new within it that, given the parameters of the social landscape of the time, they weren’t really able to go through. So if that’s what people took from it, it’s a job well-done.”
Scream happens to just be the start of a massive year for Gooding, with films I Want You Back, Moonshot, and Pools also in the pipeline for 2022. He’s back to his rom-com roots, but it’s not just the genre that attracts him to such projects. “In an ideal world, if I find characters that push our understanding of what we as people can do and achieve, that is always the most exciting to me,” he says of his project-picking philosophies.
While fame was certainly an early motive for getting into the business, Gooding’s perspective has shifted as he’s gotten older. “I noticed there is a lot of power in embodying a character and having people correlate your face with something like a superhero. I will never forget the first time I saw Black Panther and felt empowered to be Black because I saw so many beautiful Black actors being beautiful on-screen. And if I can do that for a generation of kids—or my kids, hopefully—then I would say it’s a job well-done.”
On his acting bucket list is getting the opportunity to play an astronaut (Gooding says “to showcase someone reaching for the stars and achieving it is incredibly exciting”) as well as starring in a biographical film. Regarding the latter, he’s currently manifesting a biopic of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. Gooding is a fan of the sport, yes, but more than that, it would be a chance to showcase a real-life example of someone breaking into an industry that Black people aren’t as concentrated in. Universe, if you’re listening…
Whatever roles come Gooding’s way next, one thing is for certain: He will be having a good time. “That’s a good tagline for my entire career: At least I had the most fun,” he says. From where we’re sitting, Gooding is doing it all right.
Scream is in theaters now.