Kid Cudi on Playing a Gay Man, Thirsting for Latinas, and Scoring ‘James White’

In the new film James White, Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) does double duty. After being approached by director Josh Mond, Cudi signed on to play Nick, the trusted best friend of the titular character, played by Girls’ Christopher Abbott. James, who’s unraveling as he deals with the death of his estranged father and his mother’s cancer treatment, turns to his friend Nick for comfort.

Cudi, whose father was of Mexican-American descent, has been adding acting credits to his name ever since he starred in HBO’s How to Make it in America as Domingo Brown. With James White, he’s also cementing himself as a film score composer. Upon learning that much of his music had helped Mond work through his grief, though, Cudi signed on to score the film, working with Mond to create an atmospheric melody that’s as chaotic and beguiling as James White himself.

After one of the private screenings the filmmakers set up as part of the rewards for their Kickstarter campaign, Cudi and Mond sat down for a lively Q&A. His fans, who have been following his career since his 2008 mixtape A Kid Named Cudi exploded onto the scene, went out of their way to share with him how his music and even this latest acting challenge had inspired them. Humbled if ecstatic by such displays of fan adoration, Cudi was generous with his time and answers, diving into everything from living in the Bronx to his future plans as an actor. Here are some highlights.

On Loss and James White

I’m pretty sure everyone’s dealt with loss. I don’t know how many people have dealt with something so similar to what James went through, but when you watch a film like this, it’s like, “Shit, everybody is gonna have to deal with losing a parent.” And if you don’t have parents, you still feel that there’s a void there. Even if you grew up without parents, you will experience that loss. I think the ending of this movie is the most important part.

This movie is telling us that at some point you will be on your own. You have to be strong about it. And it’s okay. That’s normal. You can get through. I hope that’s what everyone takes away from the movie. It’s a sad one, but I think that’s what Josh was trying to say.

“There were Spanish women! An overabundance of Spanish women! I was like, ‘I’m staying!’”

On Scoring His First Feature Film

There was a lot of pressure when I signed on to score James White. Not only am I in the film, but I’m scoring it. Now I have to be double great. People are gonna see this shit! A lot of pressure. James White was a gig that I signed up for knowing the pressures of how great the film was and I knew that I needed to stand up to that. It was an unconventional work, whereas [the 2011 Shia LeBeouf short film] Maniac was all about action. And anybody can score some action. It was dope. It was fun for me to explore and I haven’t really gotten a chance to explore something like Maniac since. And hopefully I will. Maniac was about bringing out some of the intensity in the scenes and bringing out some of the anxiety in the moments, where James White was about finding a theme for the character and having different pieces to add as the story went along. Bringing the chaos and the beauty and everything that is James into our melody. That was the motivation for this.

On Living in the Bronx

It was dope. It was probably one of the best times. Anytime in New York before I was famous was the best moments of my life. Because New York to me was this big playground. I was in it and I was just flipping things out and exploring. I was living with my uncle in the Bronx and I remember I didn’t have a TV, but I would go out and get some instrumental CDs or whatever was hot at the time and I would just listen and write raps to those beats. I’d look outside the window and people gaze – kind of like, “Man this is what Nas used to do when he was in Queensbridge looking out the project window!” But [New York] was way different from Cleveland. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. There were Spanish women! An overabundance of Spanish women! I couldn’t believe it! I mean, that was the first thing. I was like, “I’m staying!”

On How He Got His Break on HBO

I guess I have subconsciously gravitated towards stuff that resonates with me and with my stories and my music. So it kind of all comes back. And also, the creator of How to Make it [in America] approached me at a club. This is before my record deal. So just imagine. I’m drunk. At a club. My mixtape’s out. This guy comes up to me, and he’s like, “Yo, I’m a big fan of your mixtape. I love your music, ‘Day ’n Nite’ is my shit!” And this was at the time when, if you recognized me, it was odd, because I didn’t have a music video. This is before I really aligned myself with Kanye. He was basically saying “I’m a big fan of your music, but I have this TV show that I’m working on and that I’m submitting to HBO and I wanted to know if you’ve thought about acting?” And you know shit like that probably only happens once in a lifetime. I think that it’s a blessing that people are finding the music as an inspiration for cinema even though it’s crazy, because as I’m making music, it is a cinematic thing in my mind. I can see it all, and I hope that it narrates and scores your own life.

On What’s Next For His Acting Career

I believe this is the path I wanna go on in terms of acting. More powerful, impactful shit. This movie doesn’t really have a happy ending so to speak, but it’s real and that’s what pulled me into the project.

“This movie is telling us that at some point you will be on your own. It’s okay. That’s normal. You can get through.”

For my acting career, next I’m gonna do something that’s not anywhere in any shape or form in the space of stuff you might be familiar with. Even though [Nick in James White] was gay and I’m not gay, it was still very much a lot of Scott in that character. I will be there for anybody if that’s my best friend going through some shit like that. But there’s another movie that I’ve done – this movie that I have coming out soon that’s my first villain role. It’s very violent and very disturbing. It’s more disturbing than Maniac, because [in] Maniac I actually had some really psychotic reasoning in my mind when we were shooting that. I play kind of like a drug lord. I’m pretty fucking badass; it’s this movie called Vincent-N-Roxxy. Zoe Kravitz is in it. Emile Hirsch. It’s violent and different. So I want to do that next – I want to explore characters and put myself out there. Some of my favorite actors are character actors: Robin Williams, Jim Carrey – even Marlon Wayans and those guys who have been doing this forever.

James White opens in New York on November 13, Los Angeles on the November 20, and hits more cities this winter.