In our talk, we also got to hear him give us insight into his other amazing roles and how he became such a great actor.
Yale drama school churns out talented actors every single year. Mamoudou is a great example of one of the most recent talents to emerge from the esteemed program. He’s been in several TV series and films, from The Get Down to The Circle. In his short career, he’s gotten to work with amazing directors and actors alike, such as Baz Luhrmann, Brie Larson and Emma Watson. In his latest film, Patti Cake$, he plays a reclusive and very dark artist who hides from a world that doesn’t quite appreciate his art and creative talent. The character is very dark and altogether creepy, but he brings it to life in great fashion. After I got chance to meet him to see what a glowing person he is, I gained a new found respect for him and his truly great acting skills. We got a chance to talk with him learn more about the amazing actor. We talked about everything from Patti Cake$ to how he hid from the world to become a better actor, to his experience with all of the talented people he’s worked with, to his favorite bands.
Check out our interview with him below:
I really like your character. Do you think you relate at all to your character? You know, following passion despite negative external forces?
One of the things I love about this is it’s an underdog story, and literally everyone is an underdog. I kind of felt like a perpetual underdog most of my life—all of my life, if I’m being honest. So yeah, I certainly understood, and where do I belong in this, he obviously expresses himself in a very, very different way than I do, but I think the thing that’s beautiful about all the characters is that they’re all relatable, as the ages they are. One of the lynchpins of the character for me was when I was working on it was when Patti, played by Danielle, was trying to convince me to be a part of the band, and I keep telling her to get out, and she’s like, “Please, I’ll be your best friend,” and he turns around, and then the next shot is them working on music together. He just wants a friend, somebody to really connect with, and it’s very hard for him to do that because he’s extraordinarily sensitive, which is why he has a huge filter and armor on and why he doesn’t seemingly express himself very much physically until he really, really does. But, when he opens himself up to somebody, he is just earnest and honest. I don’t think he can lie, I don’t think he’s capable of it. That’s one of my favorite things about him.
You’re a very talented actor, that very clear to see. Did you ever take some time to hide from the world like your character did to hone your craft?
I actually did. It’s really funny that you say that. I remember I was 19, but I guess to say hide away is extreme. I was just so obsessed with it that it was literally all I focused on. So I would hang out with my friends and such, but other than that I was at a play, at a movie, in front of a library watching a play, reading a play, watching a reading, watching interviews, like Al Pacino or somebody. Just finding out as much as I can, or like rewatching The Godfather. The Godfather has some incredible performances. But I mean, I think the world knows that. But yeah, just studied movies for a while, really didn’t do anything else, which was kind of strange for people around me. That was my big thing.
That’s really awesome. Did you base your character or performance off of any specific characters from another film or play?
Let’s see, no, I don’t think I did. I talked to Jeremy and there’s certain people in my life that I remember, but I thought he was such a unique person in the way he expresses himself because he doesn’t talk a lot, and that’s something that I was really intrigued by. You know, I usually play a lot of very loquacious characters. I remember my lines for Flash were three pages at a time, and I just kept talking. So I was like, “Alright, how this guy express himself is very much just in listening? Okay, how does that look on camera? I don’t know, I guess I’ll find out in like a year when this comes out,” and just trusting Jeremy with that.
How was working with Jeremy, now that you bring it up?
He was the best, oh my fucking—man he is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with.
Oh wow. That’s some high praise.
Well here’s the thing, I don’t know how many days it took to shoot the movie, but I think it was total like three and a half weeks, which is not a lot of time, especially with all these music sequences and all these locations, and you know, it’s quite a large cast. This is his first feature film. Not once did I ever feel rushed for time. And I was like, “Man, this guy is giving us so much time to always talk us through anything that we needed to talk through.” He was just so generous in the most unbelievable ways. In my mind I was like, “How can he literally afford to do this in terms of time?” There are so many things, especially your first time doing it. How did he manage to keep such a cool head and also answer every question, like give us our last take if he wanted it? He’s just the best, and he is also very clean, concise, yet also open direction, so he would tell you what he wanted but was also open to whatever you wanted to do. Just like a dream. If Jeremy ever wants me to do anything else again, he wouldn’t even need to send me the script. I’d be like, “Alright, cool.”
Wow, that’s amazing. Well I spoke with Jeremy earlier and he was glowing about you as well. He was going on about how you wanted to make your role more impactful after meeting you and working with you. He is a great director. He’s a really nice guy, you’re a really nice guy too. It was a really great film. Your character played a musician. Are you a musician in real life as well?
No, I’m not. Actually we’re shooting this music video tomorrow, and I have to practice this guitar, and I haven’t touched this thing in over a year. I’m like “Oh no, what am I going to do?” So that’ll be fun tomorrow. I really wanted to, I wanted to pick up the guitar after playing it, after doing it for the film. After working with Jason who’s done a lot of the music for Patti Cake$, actually the music for Patti Cake$ him and Jeremy have done all the music for Patti Cake$. And just working with him, I was like Oh man this is something I can really get into because I’ve alway been intrigued by musical instrument, and the guitar has certainly been at the top of the list, and piano. And I was like alright, why not now? But I just never did. So now I have no excuse, I have to really learn this thing by tomorrow and figure it out.
Nothing better than a trial by fire right?
Yeah, well listen. I’ve been through it before, I’ll figure it out. Hopefully.
What’s your favorite genre of music?
Oh, that’s hard. What is my favorite genre? I don’t know, I go through phases. Like right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Pixies, that was actually my first concert.
That’s a good one.
Pixies, TV On The Radio have been big the last two weeks for me. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I love old school hip-hop, love old school hip-hop. And I love 60s era rock, and I like current rock too, but you know. I guess me and my first two, yeah those are..yeah.
Arctic Monkeys is probably my favorite band right now.
Ah man, you’re preaching to the choir right here. I’m a big Arctic Monkeys fan myself.
I mean Alex Turner is a fucking…
Oh he’s a legend, the guy is magic. His voice it’s killer.
He’s a poet.
You work with a lot of really talented people, well you work with a lot of talented people in general, because Jeremy, extremely great. Danielle, amazing. Sid was phenomenal considering he’s not trained to be an actor. But then you’ve also worked with people who’ve already come to a level of acclaim, like Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. How was working with them? And how does that compare, and what did you learn from them?
Well, really my only things were with Emma, and she was a dream. It was so fun, we just hung out on set, it was really pleasant. We just talked about music and just shoot the shit and it was really cool. I told her to go see Hamilton. It was really causal, and then when it was time to work, she was super generous and was ready to play. It was a lot of fun. I loved making that movie, and I love James. Such a sweet guy, another one of those special directors. I think that’s a thing I’ve been really blessed with, I think blessed is the right word. I don’t get involved in a lot of things that I won’t like working with the people. I just genuinely don’t get those parts. So, I’ve just been very fortunate to work with people that I really get on with personally as well as professionally.
That’s really good. You were also in “The Get Down”. How does being in films compare to being in a TV series?
Well that series, because it was lead by Baz Luhrmann, who, well he makes movies, so it felt like we were doing a very very very long movie. Because it’s so cinematic and it just doesn’t feel like TV, especially with the pilot that Baz directed, it’ so sprawling and, it is TV but it’s certainly had a cinematic quality to it, especially with those music sequences. I mean Baz had such an eye for specifics and also grandiose flair combined with an unbottled romanticism. That’s just really exciting to watch, so it didn’t feel like we’re stuck with a genre of TV. Really ever, even when he wasn’t on set because it just wasn’t what we were making.
I feel you. Who are some of your biggest inspirations as an actor?
Well I mean that changes as I learn more about people and as I get to work with people. But the greatest, like working with Brie Larson and Sam Jackson, already huge fans of theirs, but after working with them, now I watch everything that they do, because it’s such a pleasure working, and learning from them, and getting a chance to talk. Like I probably did this with Vincent Cassel, and I’ve been a fan of his since Oceans 12. And then watching him in Black Swan and all these other movies he’s been in, and just sharing his point of view on movies and how he’s made his way and what principles he stands by and when he had to say no. It changes as I continue to work all these amazing people that I’ve admired, so to have those three on the list. And you know obviously there’s certain hero’s that I haven’t met yet, but I really extremely look forward to. Let me think, I mean Mark Rylance is certainly somebody I’ve admired from a distance for a long time.
Yeah he was great in Dunkirk recently.
Yeah Dunkirk, I haven’t seen that yet. Tilda Swinton is just, I remember watching Snowpiercer. I was watching Snowpiercer and I was lie “Who’s that guy who’s playing Mason? That guy is kinda fucking amazing.” Until the credits rolled, I had no idea it was Tilda Swinton, and I was like “woah, I can’t act.”
She’s on a different level. You’re gonna get there man, you got the talent. How was going to Yale Drama School, how impactful was that?
Oh they changed my life, for sure. I definitely lost a piece of my mind there, but it was one of the best things that I’d ever been a part of, just because it taught me what I, well first off I grew up a lot there, so I needed to focus and realize how to work with directors, because I wasn’t good at the prior to going to that school, and I focused and just tried to learn how, because I realized I was in a place I could act and could do just one thing very well, and then other stuff I could maybe do sometimes but I couldn’t rely on it, so I was like I need a stronger system in which I can work in any circumstance no matter what, and that’s what I got there, the teachers there, I think about them almost every day. Certainly everyday that I’m on set, they just made such an impression. So, just been really great.
What has been your favorite movie to work on so far?
Oh, that’s hard. Patti Cakes, well c’mon I got to say Patti Cakes. Honestly, Patti Cakes and Unicorn Store to most enjoyable movies I’ve gotten to work on for sure. Obviously different reasons, but yeah, the cast and crew, and everybody I’ve been involved with since those features were especially just incredible.
Oh for sure. And how was filming? I know the shoot you mentioned was a little rushed for three and a half weeks, were there funny moments off camera, enjoyable stuff like that?
Yeah, well the thing was, it’s really funny I hope you talk to Sid because Sid, until I think Sundance, thought I was a bit of a weirdo because I was so quiet on set, but you know, you gotta do what you gotta do. I was very quiet because, you now, I don’t have a lot of time to prepare, I was doing something else right before, and then I was like, well I guess I gotta do a lot of homework on set. But yeah, the cast is, I’m just like proper friends with all of them, I love hanging out with them. On set there was certainly some laughs, it was certainly different, for me a different environment because I was kinda like playing with leaves in the background, being a freak.
Did you stay in character in between takes?
No, I wouldn’t say that, but I certainly kept the engine going, if you know what I mean. But it’s just too different for me to just pop in and out of it. Now I wouldn’t necessarily do that for everything. The thing that I think that I played that was funny was actually Grandmaster Flash. And that is something, when they call cut, I’ll be back to Mamoudou again, but I think that required something different. He’s so exuberant, so confident, all I had to do is go there, where as Flash, it was a lot of it, well all of it was internal. So, I just had to keep myself, I’m naturally expressive, I use my hands a lot, very animated, kinda like a cartoon, so like an animated character, it was just a matter of just keeping myself in a kind of zone in which I could do the best work. It was just kinda part of what was the part. I kinda get embarrassed just talking about it, but that’s kinda what it was.
Awesome, and what got you into acting in the first place?
Well, I feel like there are three stages of me being an actor until now. One when I was a child, where my sister was just like repeat saying occupations that she wants to be literally in a row until I got bored and stopped repeating her. I was a reenactor, so I decided that was what I was going to do the rest of my life. And then when I got serious about it, I was like 19 and that’s when I went to hermit mode but then I realized what I wanted to do with the rest of my life was while I was in grad school in my final year in this play called the visit. I just felt like it had a lot of important use to it. Some other things were also cool, where I’m like what am I wearing, I’m too old for this, like that play, oh this is the type of project I’m gonna work on because it has a use for society. Cool, so that’s that.
Cool, and last question. You’re a fast rising star, right. If you could play any character or be in any movie, what would it be?
Oh man, well the thing that’s so exciting is that there’s so many things I have no idea that are being written right now, but in the past you mean?
Past, future, anytime.
I have, all the parts that I have played for the most part I’m fucking shocked because I never would have thought of myself for playing Grandmaster Flash, or, maybe Bastard, but it’s certainly a bit of a surprise nonetheless. So, I don’t know, I’m kinda just excited to see what happens. I mean I, let me try and answer this because it’s easier to say, “oh whatever happens, happens” but I certainly have an inclination to, I don’t know. I’m a huge nerd, so I used to actually work at a comic book store when I was a kid, but the things that really interest me now are human dramas, or like a movie like Moonlight was just gorgeous. And then I also loved La La Land, it was this very earnest, open hearted quality that I thought was just gorgeous. So, I don’t know, yeah I don’t know.