‘Elvis’ Alton Mason Isn’t Your Typical Supermodel-turned-Actor
In 2019, Alton Mason took a trip downstairs to accept the Aussie QGModel of the Year Award. There he gave a speech that director Baz Luhrmann found so moving that he felt compelled to introduce himself to the 24-year-old. (I’m not surprised; when I ask if there’s anything Mason wants to add at the end of our call from a recent afternoon, the model and actor tells me passionately, at length, how he wants everyone reading this is chasing their dreams.) He didn’t know it at the time, but Luhrmann didn’t just want to pay him a compliment. He saw if his hunch that Mason could be the perfect Little Richard in his next biopic Elvis retained. And Mason got what turned out to be the perfect answer when Luhrmann asked if he could sing. “I come from generations of singers,” he recalled telling the director on the phone before the film was released on June 24. And one of them, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, was just the one that Elvis Presley greatly admired.
Less than 24 hours later, when Luhrmann saw that Mason had inherited some of the family talent for himself, he offered her the part, regardless that the model had no professional acting experience. “I was just dumbfounded,” Mason said. But he knew he could do it: he had actually studied acting at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, before turning to modeling to pay the bills. He ended up falling in love with the latter, and the industry most certainly loved him back. The year Mason was cast Elvis and Model of the Year was, in a nutshell, huge: he appeared on nine magazine covers, walked in 31 fashion shows and starred in 19 ad campaigns for houses like YSL Beauté alongside Kaia Gerber and Missoni.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Mason grew up “everywhere”; his father’s career as a professional basketball player took him around the world. Wherever he went, he was known for his dancing skills (which the late Virgil Abloh would later encourage him to show on the track). They eventually earned him a spot on the BET Awards stage next to Diddy in 2015; a mannequin scout took note. Meanwhile, his talent for thirst traps was getting enough attention for another scout to contact him, asking Mason if he wanted to appear on Kanye West’s third Yeezy show. Alessandro Michele enlisted the model in 2017 to walk for Gucci and to star in a campaign that saw Mason as part of the house’s first commercial featuring an all-black cast. It was the first of several milestones for him: The following year, the late Karl Lagerfeld chose Mason from a Chanel campaign to be the first black model to walk the house’s catwalk in his 108-year career. story.
Mason didn’t waste his free time once Elvis halted filming during the pandemic. He made his first trip to Africa, visiting his family’s home countries of Ghana and Nigeria. The latter struck such a chord with Mason that he decided to make a short film that would benefit local Covid-19 relief efforts. He also immersed himself in all things Little Richard. By the time they returned to filming, he was so familiar with the iconic self-styled architect of rock & roll’s personal style that he was confident enough to differ from costume designer, industry vet Catherine Martin (who goes by CM), who had designed a gold suit for him. “I was like, ‘You know, CM, he’s a great fly, but what if we took him to church and put on a simple suit – this white tie, this white shirt and this gray blazer? ‘” he recalled. “She was like, ‘Okay, let’s try the only person who ever suggested anything was Nicole Kidman.'” She immediately saw he was right.
Mason wears the set in a scene where he plays Little Richard, invigorating Presley at a time when he was losing steam. He found Little Richard electrifying, as did the audiences who saw Mason bring him to life at Elvispreviewed at the Cannes Film Festival. The whole room cheered at the end of his scene, making the first applause of a film that had already been full of performances. It was an experience like no other for Mason, in part because the red carpet flooded with photographers created an entirely different experience of being photographed. “I don’t walk to sell clothes, I walk because it’s my first film,” he says. “It was like a new experience, a rebirth.”
Mason plans to keep playing, and while he can’t talk about it yet, he already has something else in the works. For now, however, it comes down to make your own music– and, of course, modeling. In fact, he’s flying to Paris Fashion Week the next day. After all this time, the industry still manages to surprise him: the brand he will walk for, Casablanca, recently cast him in a campaign opposite Nicolas Cage. Mason has fun pointing out that the actor did not need advice. “It was definitely a natural,” he laughs. “He knew what he was doing.”