Actor Mason Cook Talks ‘If There Be Thorns,’ Johnny Depp, and Life as a Regular Kid in Hollywood
Everyone is a little crazy, right? In fact, author V.C. Andrews once said, “What is normal? Normal is only ordinary; mediocre. Life belongs to the rare, exceptional individual who dares to be different.” But there is such a thing as going too far and crossing that invisible yet symbolic line. And in Andrews’ tragically boxed-in world of the Dollanganger siblings — a place where jealousy, hatred and revenge run rampant and wild — this line has been crossed.
Flowers in the Attic, which was adapted to film twice (once in 1987 and then again in 2014), begins with four children who are locked away in their grandparents’ attic after the passing of their father. What follows is a course in survival and eventual escape. Fast forward to the sequel, Petals in the Wind, and you’ve got yourself a twistedly incestuous love story of two of the siblings (Chris and Cathy to be exact) and their incessantly burning desire to live together, someplace where they can truly start their life anew as the Sheffields. For them, this safe haven lies in California. But some things don’t quite add up, especially when an unexpected neighbor moves into the mansion next door.
Enter the third film in the Lifetime series, If There Be Thorns, which revolves around the secrets the two siblings have been keeping for so long and the consequences when they start coming out; secrets that not only bring back the past, but affect the future of the couple as well as that of their children, Jory and Bart Jr. (and let’s not forget poor Cindy, their adopted daughter, who experiences the madness of living with the Dollangangers firsthand after nearly being drowned by Bart Jr.).
Evoking emotions in the viewer of an awkward young boy who is constantly struggling to find his own identity amidst all the hypocrisy, Emmy-nominated actor Mason Cook brought a stellar performance to the table as Christopher and Cathy’s son, Bart Jr. Sheffield. But one should expect nothing less from this Oklahoma native who feels quite at home on set after starring in over 20 film and TV projects, one of which has been TNT’s Legends where the 14-year-old star plays Aiden Odum. But it is his very first role on a certain ABC Shondaland drama that he recalls rather fondly, given this was the moment that his passion for acting was truly ignited. “It was when I booked the role of a cardiac asthma patient on Grey’s Anatomy that I fell in love with acting,” he says.
And while his growing success is unmistakable (we’re fairly certain it is only a matter of time till he becomes a household name), his career doesn’t stop him from enjoying the simple things in life, such as skateboarding, surfing, soccer and video games. After all, he’s still just a regular kid, one with an unwavering talent and unique charm.
Wise beyond his years, Cook sat down with GALO to discuss his role in If There Be Thorns, the qualities he admires in his idol Johnny Depp, and life in the limelight and beyond.
GALO: Acting was originally your older sister Lilly’s passion. What about the field do you think eventually attracted you to it? Was it perhaps the idea of being someone else for a little while, or did you just genuinely love being in front of the camera?
Mason Cook: It was my sister’s manager who first approached my dad about me and my other siblings giving acting a try — we thought it looked fun from Lilly’s stuff, so we all signed with her. My older brother wasn’t so into it and stopped after doing a few commercials. Lilly has gone more in the direction of modeling. But my younger sister, Georgia, is a working actor, too. She recurs on the Disney Channel’s show I Didn’t Do It and [she] just finished shooting a movie.
Not to sound snotty, but I literally booked my first audition, which was a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. That was pretty much a dream job for an eight-year-old kid, but it was when I booked the role of a cardiac asthma patient on Grey’s Anatomy that I fell in love with acting. I love every detail and spend every chance I can on set learning so that someday I can direct, too.
GALO: Do you see yourself acting for the rest of your life? Or is there perhaps another passion you would like to pursue later on?
MC: I definitely see myself acting for the rest of my life — but adding directing, producing and even writing to that. I look at Ben Affleck, Jodie Foster and George Clooney and see myself in them.
GALO: If you could play any sort of character in any genre, what would your ideal role be?
MC: I am a huge fan of epic war films like, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Saving Private Ryan. I am too young now, obviously, but I really want to be in a movie like that when I am the right age.
GALO: In one interview, you said that Johnny Depp was your acting idol and that he has taught you so much. What do you think it is about him that makes you aspire to be like him? And what qualities of his would you like to develop within yourself?
MC: That is true. Johnny Depp is one of my acting idols — and in The Lone Ranger, I worked one-on-one with him for several weeks while we filmed our scenes for the movie. His level of commitment to each character he plays amazes me. He puts everything he has into creating a character and doesn’t worry about what others will think or say. He makes a decision and sticks with it. Even though he has been in huge blockbusters, he also finds time to do smaller films, which I think is admirable.
GALO: You are at the age where a young guy is just starting high school. Have you ever wished you could just lead the life of a regular kid, enjoying each day with your friends and not worrying about work or too much responsibility?
MC: I am a regular kid. At home, I am just like everyone else. I play video games, go to movies, do chores, do schoolwork, etc. But I am so blessed to be able to add acting to that list because I can’t imagine my life without it. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
GALO: You work with a charity organization called GenerationOn as a celebrity ambassador, which pushes adolescents in Hollywood toward volunteering and helping others. Why do you think it is important for kids your age to get involved in this way?
MC: I wouldn’t say they push youth in Hollywood to volunteer, but they definitely encourage it! I like that GenerationOn empowers and encourages youth to be the leaders in our communities instead of followers. They provide lots of resources for kids to get started and [give] recognition and rewards for their achievements.
In our world today, so many people are struggling to make ends meet. My dad taught me a long time ago that it is easy to get swept away in your own life and forget what it’s like for other people if you don’t keep yourself grounded. Being involved in charitable work is a great way to do that!
GALO: You yourself are a younger brother, as is Bart Sheffield in your most recent film, If There Be Thorns. Did you use your experience as a younger brother to better portray Bart?
MC: I have two older siblings and one younger one. While I don’t share Bart’s strong opinions and views, I could relate to his sibling dynamic with Jory. They are close like I am with my siblings.
GALO: Little boys can sometimes be extremely nosy, especially when it comes down to their siblings, as is Bart in the film. Did you have fun sneaking around on set?
MC: Bart is more “curious” than “nosy.” He is wise beyond his years and can tell when there is something deeper going on around him — he doesn’t think or act like other boys his age. People have always described me as wise beyond my years, too.
GALO: Bart seems to be very introverted and you evoke that characteristic so well. What emotions did you tap into that allowed you to be as aloof as his character?
MC: Thank you. Bart is a thinker and a seeker of information. When he isn’t speaking, he is listening and thinking. He gets lost in his thoughts, which is fun to play in a character. Some of my favorite acting is in scenes where I don’t have any dialogue and I have to send a message through my eyes and behavior. You can tell when an actor is only “acting” their lines and not truly in the scene, which drives me nuts. So I make myself present in every scene, whether I am the one speaking or not.
GALO: Kids can sometimes be too trusting, and that oftentimes gets them into trouble later on. Do you think Bart became too close to Heather Graham’s character, Corrine Foxworth (the new next door neighbor who turns out to be suspiciously related to Bart)?
MC: I love that question because it focuses on Bart’s innocence rather than Bart’s darker side, which comes later. I never wanted to play Bart as “evil to the core” because I don’t think he is. At the core of his many layers is a child who is manipulated by two crafty adults, Corrine and John Amos. This happens to kids all the time. Bart was feeling overlooked and excluded, so he was an easy target. At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel important.
Nothing hurts worse than finding out that your parents, the two people you should have been able to trust the most, have been lying to you for your entire life. And it is amusing that Christopher (Bart’s “father”) has a “no secrets rule” and the kids’ entire lives are one big secret. How do you think you would be able to handle it if a stranger were to uncover something as big as the one in If There Be Thorns?
MC: Deception and deceit run deep in the Dollanganger family! I think Bart always felt suspicious about his family, even before Corrine moves in next door and uncovers the truth. I love that “no secrets policy” line because it sums them up right there — they are hypocrites in a big way!
I can’t imagine what that would feel like. I am so close to my family and trust my dad — who is a single parent raising the four of us — 100 percent. It would be terrible to have your world turned upside down like that.
GALO: In what ways could you compare and contrast your life to Bart’s? How do you think you would do things differently if you were in his shoes?
MC: Beyond the “wise beyond our years” aspect, there aren’t really any more similarities between Bart and me. There really are no secrets in our house, and trustworthy and genuine people surround me in my family. I am not sure how I would react if I were really in Bart’s shoes, but I don’t think I could be as easily manipulated as he was.
“If There Be Thorns” premiered on April 5 on the Lifetime channel. To learn more about Mason Cook and his current and upcoming projects, you can follow him on Twitter @masoncook.