True to his name, Machine Gun Kelly’s To-Do list is loaded. The Texas rapper, born Richard Colson Baker, made the jump from studio to set for his first acting gig in Beyond The Lights and has other roles in queue.
For Beyond The Lights, director Gina Prince-Bythewood (known best for her 2000 offering Love & Basketball) flips a modern-day romance with a pop star and a police officer. Enter MGK, the rapper-boyfriend who stirs shit up and is only concerned with music, money and what Noni Jean (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is wearing. Still, the tatted-up MC is no stranger to being painted as the bad guy. On screen, he’s actually a natural.—Iyana Robertson
VIBE: When did MGK meet acting? Was that something you always wanted to do?
Machine Gun Kelly: I think – not even I think, I know – if you look at my YouTube channel, for example, you’ll see that I’ve been filming myself and editing videos since I started my career. Even as a rapper, I’ve just always had a camera around. I’ve been recording my whole life for so long that I think I was already used to being around cameras. And when I had a chance to be somebody else and kind of escape from the world of Machine Gun Kelly, I just hopped on the opportunity.
When you got the role for Kid Culprit, how did you prepare for that? Because he’s like a huge asshole in this movie.
I’ve been pinned as the bad guy in real life, so I don’t think it was too hard. I think the audition period was a lot harder to master than the actual role itself. Pleasing Gina [Prince-Blythewood], who directed the film, was just my main focus just because it was my first movie, and she knew exactly who she wanted the character to be.
What was the experience like on set when it was actually time to film?
Being on set was surreal because I was able to have my friends be my actual friends in the movie. Other than that, it’s just been a dream happening in real life. We were all just grateful and soaking it in. I got to interact with all the actors and actresses. Me and Minnie Driver had some funny moments. She was showing us her ballet skills in between the fight scenes. It was just a good time. It wasn’t any different than kicking it with us at a concert.
Was watching yourself on film awkward?
Oh, that was the most awkward thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.
Were you able to get through the whole thing?
I was able to get through the whole thing but I definitely wasn’t able to get through the whole thing without my hands over my eyes.
I don’t know. I just compare it to hearing your voice on your voicemail back in the day when people had voicemails and you had to hear it back. It was like ‘Ah man, I sound like such a dweeb.’ That’s like the feeling it gave me.
Were you filming other roles you have coming up at the same time as Beyond The Lights?
No, I was recording my album at the time and I was also recording a couple of songs for the soundtrack as Kid Culprit. I started the two other movies I did after I left Beyond The Lights.
Did filming this movie help in transition to other roles in different projects?
It was because with this particular film, the director knew exactly what she wanted the character to be. I went straight into a movie that was very hands-on between the actors and directors. In the other films that I did, I had a chance to take the characters and kind of mold them to whatever I wanted them to be so it was better that I had that kind of strict first experience because it gave me a disciplined mentality going into [other] roles.
How are Kid Culprit and MGK different, and how are they the same?
Kid Culprit actually had to listen, because I had to re-record this one song like eight times (laughs). That was an experience in and of itself because I had to satisfy The-Dream, the director, and I had to talk about all the points they wanted me to talk about as part of my character. But really the difference between Kid Culprit and Machine Gun Kelly is just that sex appeal, that seductiveness. That’s what Kid Culprit and Noni was about: a seductive, very sexual relationship. That’s what fuels their careers. He’s a ladies’ man, and he got the baddest chick in the game.
Did you and Gugu get to work in the studio together?
Gugu and I did a lot of dance classes and choreography together before the songs were made. And after, Dream had cut a demo to one of the songs. So Gugu and I did not go into the studio together, but we did all the dancing together. I was a part of her process transforming from Gugu to Noni, and learning how to be this sexual pop star so I kind of used that imagery to inspire me to write those lyrics because she’s just so drop dead gorgeous. Dancing with her for eight hours definitely inspired some sexy shit.
You’re a rapper, playing a rapper. People might think that’s easy, but was there any difficulty to it that someone might not recognize?
This guy presents himself as completely different than I am so it was more fun than anything. You get to see Machine Gun Kelly show emotions towards a female and all these types of things that you would never see me do in real life. As odd as that sounds, it’s like, my love life is not prominent in my career and it’s not something I’ve ever shed light on, whereas that’s all that’s being talked about and viewed when you see Kid Culprit. Even though he’s a rapper, he’s a completely different person than Machine Gun Kelly is.
Would you do it again? Play a rapper?
I would never play a rapper ever again. That character’s already been done. I don’t know why I’d need to do it again.
The movie plays to the pressures of fame in the way that you act towards Noni, and how she deals with her own career. Does the film accurately portray what artists – even yourself – might be going through?
Definitely. The big similarity in real life and in the movie, as far as industry goes, is trying to find your voice and trying to find someone to let you speak your voice. In the movie, they keep using her as a medium for everyone else’s voice but her own. And that whole time, she’s just struggling to say what she wants to say, but no one will let her. That’s very common as a major label artist. It’s very difficult to deal with, especially if you don’t have a partner that is understanding and there for you. And Kid Culprit was not understanding. He was only there for her when it was good for him.
Let’s talk working with Gugu. You were a newer actor than she is. Did you get any pointers from her on set?
I learned that there’s a necessity for an on-and-off switch on set. Gugu had such a quick switch that she would go between playing around and ‘It’s time to work.’ And that was something that took me the whole entire shooting process to understand. Some people handle their responsibilities differently. I handle my responsibilities amongst all the fun and the laughter, keeping it lighthearted but she would really crack down. It was was inspiring.
You guys did the dance training together. Was dancing your thing, or did you have two left feet?
First off, you know damn well I don’t have two left feet. Quote me on that. MGK has the juice on the dance floor so that was nothing. What was crazy was that for those first couple of weeks, my job was to show up to a dance rehearsal and watch [all these gorgeous women] sweat and dance the hottest dances ever. For multiple weeks, that was the hardship I was going through.
There was a fight scene between you and Nate Parker as well. How hard was that?
Funny story. My friends didn’t go to the fight-coordinating session that me and Nate Parker had so my friends kind of got thrown in it. So they yell action, and they have the stunt coordinator on set and he’s doing stunt double shit. On the first take, my friend busted his lip open. One of my friends punched him in the face accidentally and busted his lip open. It was wild. It was awesome. It was so raw, and so fun. And it was hilarious. We all laughed it off but me and Nate have a great relationship, so getting to the fight scene wasn’t awkward at all. We were just on set for a long ass time that day.