With his 31st birthday on the horizon, rapper-actor-provocateur Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi has found peace. “It’s all about love,” Mescudi explains after a few minutes of idle chatter. It’s a bold, surprisingly sincere statement to receive from someone you just met. But perhaps it’s fitting considering James White, the raw, genuine, and honest new film from director Josh Mond that casts Mescudi as the headstrong, gay best friend to a self-destructive young man (Girls’ Christopher Abbot) tasked with taking care of his ailing mother. The character is a complete departure for Mescudi – a powerful piece of acting that subverts any preconceived notions you may have of Kid Cudi, the recording artist.
While on the ground at the Sundance Film Festival, Mescudi spoke with Playboy about his connection with James White and his quest to distance himself from his rapper persona before answering our Lucky 7 questions.
When did you meet Josh Mond?
I met Josh two years ago through this project. I didn’t know him before.
You got the script cold?
Yeah. When anybody that reaches out to me this early in the game to do a role that’s not, you know, the usual cliché “throw a rapper in there” role, I’m immediately humbled. That means somebody is seeing something in me that I don’t see or a lot other people don’t see. All my life the best moments in my career came because someone saw something in me no one else did. And I was really, really taken aback by that. It was an offer — I didn’t have to audition. It was one of the first couple of movies I got offered to me. I just trusted him. When you see someone trust you, especially trusting me in a role that he hasn’t seen me do before … that’s not normal. We immediately hit it off.
He listened to your music, yeah?
That was the first thing he approached me about. He loved my music and it helped him write this story a bit. That touched my heart. That’s why we do this: the art should inspire more art. I always wanted people to connect with my story, and to see a filmmaker connect to my story in such a way that he was able to execute something he had been working on for a long time. He’s a beast.
Did you know you had this performance in you?
That’s why I do it. To challenge myself and surprise myself, because I am always overthinking shit. Especially things I’ve been doing for awhile, like the music. It’s not as easy walking in the studio like when I was 23. Just going in there and going, “Yeah let’s do it! Let’s do it.” It’s like holy shit, we’ve created an amazing discography and we don’t want to ruin it. But with acting, the challenge was stimulating. The fact that I knew there were people out there that weren’t going to be prepared to see me like this, or didn’t think I could deliver something like this — It’s all about educating my audience and reminding them, “Hey man, don’t judge a book by its cover.”
And you do a good job assuming this character, becoming him. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching “Kid Cudi.”
Truthfully man, that’s a conversation we had. I don’t take certain roles because I’m too popular. Some people are like, “Oh, you look too cool.” What does that mean? That’s just the rapper persona people know me as. When we were making How To Make It In America, I didn’t want anything to relate to the music at all. I remember second season we were getting ready to create the storyline and they asked me if I’d be okay with Domingo Brown being a DJ. And I was like, “No! Because Scott Mescudi could be a DJ!” I want people to watch this and be impressed, not because I’m playing myself. Anybody can get in a movie. You can throw in a rapper and get a look. I’m trying to have people forget that I’m me. And the only way I can do that is playing roles this that are challenging.
What was your first exposure to Playboy?
Ah man, I used to go get my checks cashed at this spot around the corner of my house in Cleveland and you’d always have like porn in the back. You know how you go into those stores and they have the porn in the back? So that’s where I’d get my porn. I was maybe 17. This was when porn was on VHS. I remember picking up Playboy and feeling like, “Man, this doesn’t feel like porn. There’s an elegance to this. There’s good articles in here you want to read. You almost forget there are naked chicks in here.” To be honest, that was my first experience … seeing it behind the cashier’s desk, thinking it was this forbidden fruit.
My mom, she’s just so cool man. She always had these witty ways of fucking with me. So I had my porn in a place where I thought it was safe, and it wasn’t. She found it. But instead of making a fuss like, "What is this?!?” she takes all the tape [innards] out. Takes it out of the VHS and places the tape back in the safe position where I had it so that when I came in the room ready to watch my porn again, nothing happened. I was like, “What the fuck?” I took the tape out. I thought maybe there was something wrong and then realized there was nothing in it. At this point it’s not like I can go to my mom and be like, “Yo, what did you do with my porn?”
What movie scared you the most as a kid?
The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. I think still to this day those are some of my favorite horror movies. Stuff that deals with demonic themes, stuff like that. I believe in that shit. It makes it scarier. I can’t say I’ll be frightened on like some of these slasher flicks that come out. They don’t work. If somebody breaks into my house it’s going down. I’m not going to be that scared. There are movies about intruders and it’s like, “Oh man, I got something for that.” But some demons, some shit that’s out of your control, that’s scary.
Let’s say you’re on death row — what’s your last meal?
The crazy shit is that I’ve asked myself this question, and I’ve never been able to have an answer. I would think like Mac-n-cheese, crab legs, steak, candied yams. But then I’d be like, “Man is this really what I want to eat?” The last meal. I’d be second-guessing myself. I’m not even going to get a chance to poop this out. Because that’s a satisfaction too.
What was your first car?
My first car was a 1984 Honda Accord, four doors. It was my sister’s old car that she handed down to me. It had been sitting in a lot for some time, but I kind of fixed it up, put a new battery in there, and learned how to drive in it too because it was stick shift. Stick shift is still my favorite type of car.
What’s the first song you knew all the words to?
Oh man, “My Mind Playing Tricks On Me” I think, by Geto Boys. That one was the one I remember singing and just feeling it. And actually, that song inspired “Day and Night.” I loved that song so much, it’s my favorite song in the world, and I wanted to come up with my own version of it. That’s what birthed “Day and Night.”
What’s your pop culture blind spot?
Interstellar. I haven’t seen that yet and I feel really bad about it. I’m the space guy.
What was your favorite mistake?
There are no mistakes. I don’t believe in mistakes. No regrets. You know, not one. Trust me, it took 31 years to say that. It took awhile to get to that place. I don’t regret one thing because everything you go through makes you the man you are now. We all have our issues. It’s just about fixing them, growing, and learning from your mistakes. You gotta have mistakes. You gotta have these issues at first, and then you realize they’re not really issues. It’s just life.
Founder of Movie Mezzanine, Sam Fragoso is a San Francisco-based journalist whose work has appeared in Interview Magazine, The Daily Beast, Forbes, RogerEbert.com and The Week. You can follow him on Twitter @SamFragoso.