Acting isn’t just in Mason Gooding’s blood, it seems to be his destiny. The son of Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. was born just a month before the release of Jerry Maguire, the sports dramedy that earned his father the coveted statue the following year.
“Even though technically he won the Oscar in ’97, I like to think I had some hand in that,” he jokes when asked if he was a good luck charm. “He always said that before he got Jerry Maguire [that he] related to the character so much because and had a baby on the way, which was me, and it led up to the perfect time and atmosphere to get the role. All the stars lined up, making it what it was. Here’s hoping that same good luck rubs off on me.”
Mason landed his first television job in HBO’s Ballers in 2018, playing surfer Parker Jones. During his three-episode arc Gooding absorbed as much as he could on set.
“Ballers has Dwayne Johnson in it, who is, like, the number-one paid actor in Hollywood right now. If he’s not number one he’s certainly number two,” he says. “You notice how to take in the information and use it to the best of your ability. You could spend that time sitting in your trailer or you could go watch the number-one actor in the world right now in his craft, in his space.”
Mason brought this work ethic with him when he landed his first feature film role in the Annapurna Pictures comedy Booksmart. Veteran actress Olivia Wilde makes her feature film directorial debut starring Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) as Amy and Molly, two high-achieving academics who are trying to cram four years of partying into one night before graduation. Mason plays Nick, their uber-popular classmate throwing the un-chaperoned house party, who is also the object of Molly’s affection, he just doesn’t know it yet.
“Nick is, first of all, the opposite of who I was in high school,” he confesses. “I spent my high school years being the sort of dorkier, less social person watching the cool, popular kids move and how they interacted with people. And I studied it, so when it came time to portray that on screen, I was ultimately prepared to embody that sort of effortless cool aspect that some people are innately able to do. Nick is the overwhelming amount of positivity you wish you had in high school.”
Feldstein is the younger sister to actor Jonah Hill, and Booksmart has drawn early comparisons to his 2007 hit, Superbad, about three college-bound friends trying to finally get lucky at the last big house party of the year.
“I totally see where the comparison comes from,” says Gooding. “[But] I think you do yourself a disservice to attribute Booksmart to Superbad because it sets you up for a completely different type of experience than you’ll get when you’re watching Booksmart. You could say the same thing about Tropic Thunder and Apocalypse Now. They’re both Vietnam movies but they’re vastly different in their content. The two worlds feel as different to me as those two films are to one another. I think they’re both wildly fun movies that set out to do wildly different things. Superbad is a classic in the comedy medium, and I can only hope that Booksmart will be looked back upon with the same sort of vigor for this generation that Superbad did for mine.”
While Mason admits to “never having the best grades,” he does know the ingredients to throwing a great house party and feels that Booksmart does a great job of capturing that essence of youthful ingenuity.
“In a house party, we used what was at our disposal to the best of our ability. If you watch the film, the party scene, specifically at Nick’s house, you look at the things we’re using. The beer pong cups, they’re not actually red solo cups. They’re water glasses, they’re vases, they’re wine glasses. These were high school students. They didn’t have jobs, so they’re going use what they have readily available. When you’re 21 you can go out and buy a case of beer, no problem. But in high school, your fun is finding out how to have a good party despite all these limitations.”
The parents may be absent for Nick’s party, but Mason’s dad has been by his side every step of the way and conferred some key acting advice to him early in his career.
“Something people always talk about with acting is the fear of showing genuine emotion on screen, and in a lot of cases that’s crying. He told me so many times have I seen young actors force themselves into teary moments [with] streams of tears running down their face. But he said if you think about real life, you don’t try to cry in these instances, you actually try to force that down, you try to stay strong in the moment, which is where the real tragedy comes from. He said as Goodings, we tend to be very emotional creatures, very boisterous in a lot of instances. If you know anything about my dad you know he likes to have a good time. And he is a loud and commanding presence, and he said because of that, we Goodings are a well of emotion. And it’s not about blowing it out of proportion all the time. He said it’s about holding it down and keeping it down until the perfect moment comes and let it explode from you, and that’s what moves audiences.”
In Booksmart there may or may not be tears shed (no spoilers), but we’re confident that Mason will be ready for whatever comes next. Find out if Nick is able to pull off the party of the year when Booksmart hits theaters May 24.