Rapper Kid Cudi prides himself on delivering the unexpected. There’s his fourth studio album, Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon, which he recently released without any formal announcement in a Beyonce-like moment. Then there’s the Grammy winner’s burgeoning acting career, which is kicking off in high gear with the racing video game-turned thriller Need for Speed.
It turns out the Ohio native — a.k.a. Scott Mescudi — is more than just a colorful sidekick to lead actor Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) in the action-packed film (out in theaters March 14). In fact, as his character Benny, Mescudi is a comedian, helicopter pilot, and even a bit of an on-screen style savant. He spoke with EW about his offbeat lifelong obsession, how he bonded with his Bad co-star, and whether the musician has a real-life affinity for off-the-wall humor.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on your first big studio film! What about doing an action film was different from anything you’ve ever done?
Well, I think personally this movie was just unique in a lot of ways, and it will continue to be as my career keeps going. This movie will always be something that stands out because of the action. We had a lot of hands-on stunts. It was something you never get a chance to do on a set. And so it’s different. With music, I’m in the studio by myself most of the time, and I have my engineer with me and it’s all my ideas, but with the movies, I’m taking a backseat to help create a bigger vision.
Race cars, helicopters — this is what childhood dreams are made of! Did you know going into Need for Speed that you’d get the chance to fly a helicopter?
Yeah, I knew I would be in some type of aircraft. I didn’t know to what extent, because it wasn’t established until I was on set. [Director] Scott Waugh had told me there would be very minimal green-screen time and that I’d be flying around for real. And then, of course, when I got to set I found out that I was really going to fly. And I needed, like, a moment to consume that.
So how did your first day in the cockpit feel?
Well, we went up 30 minutes on my first day before lunch to basically get a feel for the aircraft. I had never, ever been in a plane that small. And it wasn’t bad. I’m not one of those guys who gets airsick, but it was just kinda like, the reality of it was crazy. But once it set in, I knew it was going to make for a cool experience.
Would you ever get your pilot’s license?
I was actually talking to the guys on set about that when we were filming. They were like, “Dude, you should try to clock these flying hours.” I didn’t go about doing it, but when I thought about it after, I thought, “Maybe I should take some lessons.” I’m over any fear or nervousness I had during filming, and I feel comfortable with it.
You just released an album, Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon. I’m getting the sense that you’re all about the adventure in the skies…
Oh yeah, man. I’ve just been obsessed with space since I was a kid, ever since I entered the planetarium on a field trip. And I’d hang out with my dad, watching Star Trek. That was a huge thing for the two of us, watching Star Trek every night. He’d tell me, “This is educational.” Space fascinated me as a young kid and still does to this day. With every album I do, I like to incorporate some space theme. And this new album was exciting to make as I tried to establish some part of that far-out world into this one on earth.
Let’s dive back into your Need for Speed character Benny. He has an oddball — and sometimes cheesy — sense of humor. How much of that is true to life?
I’m actually way goofier in real life. That’s the thing, I wanted to find a balance. I wanted the audience to take this character seriously although my crew didn’t. And there’s a real moment of redemption in the movie where you can see everything I am, everything I do, really make sense.
Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays the lead in Need for Speed; he’s a member of your crew. What did you learn about the guy behind Breaking Bad?
I think Aaron being the leading man in this movie is really what makes it. We all had our parts to play, but his was the most difficult and it was a tough job. You know, on top of his performance being amazing, he’s an awesome and down to earth dude. He’s really caring and supportive — I fell in love with him the first night we met. Aaron, Ramon [Rodriguez], and Scott [Waugh] and I all went to dinner after we met, and I really fell in love with all those guys. Most guys have their head stuck in their ass, but they’re not like that at all. You connect with people when you see a bit of yourself in them. There aren’t many like Aaron.
Were you a Breaking Bad fan before you met Aaron?
I had watched the first and second season of Breaking Bad before filming. I didn’t know much about it, but I did research on everybody before working with them on set. I like to do that because you want to be aware of what your co-stars have done. But after watching, I wanted to get updates about the final season since he literally had wrapped the last scene on Breaking Bad and went straight to the set of Need for Speed. I had so many questions I wanted to ask, but didn’t.
So as a new Breaking Bad fan, did you get his autograph?
No, we shared many hugs. A lifetime of Aaron’s hugs is better than any autograph.
You’re known as a pretty fresh guy. How did it feel going into wardrobe knowing your character Benny was a small-town guy and not exactly fashion-forward?
I think that’s the exciting part — to get into a different mind-set. I had to think outside what Scott Mescudi would wear and think about what [Benny] would wear. What you see Benny wear is as fresh as he could get. You have to keep in mind, Benny doesn’t have a Kid Cudi bank account. I couldn’t be like Balmain jeans and a really fresh leather jacket. So I gave him a few accessories, some aviators and a chain. … I had to give him some swag.
So you helped design your character’s look?
The director and everyone at Disney let me have input. I gave him [Benny] a necklace, aviators, and a Detroit fitted [hat]. I created this whole backstory that Benny was from Detroit, which was a nod to me because I used to always wear my Cleveland fitted. In the movie, we don’t establish it, but to me, Benny was this kid who had made it from Detroit and was now a pilot. That was my own backstory.
You’ll next be seen in the upcoming Entourage movie as Ari’s assistant. Is there anything you learned on the Need for Speed set that you’ll take with you into this new project?
Be prepared and be ready. A movie like this, a big-budget action film, is kind of like a couple of takes and you gotta be ready to go. I was like one of those guys anyway, flexing those muscles. The same thing will apply for Entourage. I’ll be prepared and ready. Ari Gold don’t play.
Any chance we might see a sequel to Need for Speed?
Oh yeah, for sure. My co-stars, you know, are saying, “Let’s see what happens.” F— that, we’re getting a sequel, the world needs this.
But do you think there’s enough room in the action space for a Need for Speed franchise to exist alongside Fast and Furious?
I think Fast and Furious provides something no other movie does, not even our movie. I think they’re two separate entities. I think Need for Speed has the potential to be as great — they won’t rival each other. [The] only common link they have is cars.