Zubin Cooper is a Liberian documentary maker, actor and producer. He just finished his first Cannes Film Festival appearance, starring in ‘The Last Face’, a movie that covers Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and South Africa. He joined the project as a consultant, but given his immense talent, Zubin ended up making his acting debut in the role of ‘Dr. Mousa.’
1. Liberians have been excited and more so since you appeared on the red carpet in Cannes, France. What has the reception for you been in Liberia and from Liberians in the diaspora since your debut, and the new found fame which came with your appearance? 1a. What’s next for Zubin Cooper?
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive from Liberians at home and abroad. The outpouring of love and support has been extraordinary and I am humbled by the level of praise and positivism that has come my way. It seems there is now this weight of expectation which I have to fulfill and live up to. And which I will strive to, I will do my utmost to accomplish my aims as far as my ambition, and not only bring further pride to Liberia and Africa, but to show others out there that the sky is only the beginning when it comes to limits. 1a. Next, I have to get back to work. I have some pre-existing jobs to complete and the start of few projects in Liberia that are closer to heart. I want to bring attention to drugs abuse and its effects on our society, something that has to do with our civil conflict. I also want to champion youth engagement, film and media programs and probably podcasts to engage young Liberians. I might also be a reporter soon [laughs].
2. A lot of Liberians have just heard about you, Who is Zubin Cooper?
I am sarcastic, thoughtful, insightful, proud, but humble. I can also be a doubting Thomas and be skeptical at times, but I am someone who has faith in a higher being, [God]. I am simply an ordinary human being like anyone else out there. I am also an African, and I am very comfortable in my skin. I am someone who views the world through the prism of the Bassa word ‘omuahtee’- it is time. Omuahtee: it is time for a view free of the prejudices and judgments of narrow leanings and views; it is time for a look into the past without it controlling our present and future; it is time for us to awaken from our slumber and realize the potential and inherent greatness we are all born with; it is time that we change our mutual social contract and develop a world view of humanity as a partnership of equals by lifting each other up to higher heights and level. Omuahtee: it is time!
3. What was it like being on the same set with Sean Penn and those A list Hollywood celebrities?
It was amazing. I am a movie fan and have watched so many films featuring members of the cast individually even before I was auditioned. Imagine being a musician and being asked to join a band with Michael Jackson, Prince, Jay Z, Ed Sheeran, Macklemore, Beyonce, Miatta Fahnbulleh, Fela and Hugh Masekela. That is what it felt like: Javier Bardem was a Bond villain for goodness sake! Sean Penn have been in acts such as Milk & Spiccolli. Charlize Theron featured in Monster, and well she is, you know, CHARLIZE THERON. Sibongile Mlambo was the face of Niivea for Africa. Add John Reno who I just love and idolize and is phenomenon as a person and actor, Jared Harris of Mad men and Sherlock Holmes fame, is one of the most versatile actors I have seen and a wonderful person to work with and generally an all-around great human being. Basically, it was a professional wet dream! Perfect for all the right reasons, with just the right amount of camaraderie and professionalism to make it a challenging shoot and film, work out. The humanity displayed by all was also very touching. This was during the period of Ebola in Liberia and I was constantly asked about my family, friends and the situation as a whole. A significant amount of money was also raised and sent to aid the Ebola fight. And as once in a lifetime moment goes, it can never be recaptured and replicated and I think that’s what made it so great.
4. You played Dr. Moussa in The Last Face. This was you debut acting experience and you came off well, there must be this immense talent hiding somewhere in you all these years that came out with this role given you. What roles going forward do you look forward to playing?
I’d love to be a villain in some action thrillers with lots of evil henchmen doing my bidding. And I mean real evil, the kind that makes you spit on me when you see me in the streets, kind of, dark and dirty, your worst nightmare: Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees, evil in a real sense of the world, [laughs!] Actually though, I’d really like to play any role that allows me to express myself creatively and will play that character to the fullest no matter the medium, production and venue – let that inner voice sing.
5. you are also a producer and worked at Ducor Radio and TV where you honed your skills for documentary film making, risking your life during the war to film and document Liberia’s history. 5a. All the effort you put in are paying off today.
Yes, I worked at the Ducor Broadcasting Corporation for Mr. Fred Bass Golokeh, who I have to thank for giving me the opportunity and much leeway and creative control back then to a young kid who was trying to find his way tru life, as I was. He basically said there is the TV department, do as you wish and go crazy. And I spent all of my time up there at the station, so much so, that I practically lived there, going home to basically sleep and my bed. Club Ducor was the first real foray into production and creativity on its own. Shout out to the The Ill Kat crew we were, KingPin –myself, 220 [ RIP,] Smoothie B [RIP,] L Boogie [RIP] and the beautiful Ma Hawa Jah, now a teacher, poet and humanitarian. 5a. Yes; which is why, anyone who hopes to accomplish anything should just keep on pushing. It’s out there, just keep on keeping on and it will come, eventually.
6. Your family resides in Liberia, and you live in Buchanan?
Grand Bassa Oye! Shout out to the Back to Back County Meet Champs. My family is a kind of an anomaly, or a collection of individuals of diverse thought and accomplishment; basically a bunch of overachievers. I can count the late Charles Gbenyon (Uncle) & Helene Cooper (Cousin), both accomplished journalists! Two that comes to mind, who most Liberians would instantly recognize, but, we are a family just like yours, loving, and very very very close knit and clannish. Growing up we’d never finish from each other’s houses and my closest friends have usually been family. As such any success we might achieve might be due to the fact that as a bunch of hyper, intelligent young kids, we were always around each other, learning from each other, feeding of off the thoughts and energy of the group. To where you can now look and see individuals excelling in whatever they chose to do. It’s an experience I see being replicated in my daughter, Caroline Eugenia Zoe Cooper’s life. My angel and princess! She has a support circle like no other and I am always grateful to her mother, Miata, and the circle of family that surrounds her at all times.
7. The movie industry in Liberia has not been so fortunate in recent years. All of Liberia’s cinemas have disappeared, Gabriel, Relda, Sheila and Rivoli which is busy but not really bearing. What must be done to inject life into the theaters in post war reconstruction Liberia?
I’d say we have to prove competitive and also look at the shifts that has occurred in the viewing audience and also devise new creative methods of delivering products to the audiences. Firstly, by being competitive, I mean we have to deliver on quality. We have to improve our production methods, the acting and the stories we tell in order to raise the bar and allow our films and productions to be able to compete with foreign films. We have to look at film as a professional business, with a goal of not only being profitable, but also delivering audience satisfaction. Without the audience we are nothing. So we must give them not only stories they can relate to, but also of comparable viewing quality to not only what our neighbors, such as Ghana & Nigeria are producing, but also such as being produced in the USA and India amongst others. Movie theatres are no longer the only means of watching films in Liberia, or the world, especially in Liberia’s case where cinema attendance has diminished, the show must go on, until at such times when it return. So we have to target our distribution strategy based on that, as video centers or halls are now the trend, or through DVD and some pay services like DSTV or SATCON. So selling DVDs or to some distributor is fine for now, but long term as an engine for growth in the industry and for product delivery to the audiences, it leaves a lot to be desired. We have to envisage how we can reach the highest amount of people at the least cost; i.e. the most efficient distribution platforms. It’s a sort of a catch 22. But we are getting there, slowly and surely.
8. The Last Face didn’t get so much of a positive review in Cannes. 8a. I had to ask this one for the ladies, Is Zubin Cooper single?
A lot of the criticism directed towards The Last Face, for me isn’t called for. If you are basing your criticism on the screenplay or the story line or the way in which the film was shot cool, that is how you see it; but many critics based their criticisms on the lack of screen time for African actors, to which I agree and disagree. Yes, I would have loved to see more screen time for myself and other African actors, such as Tina Jaxa, Sibongile Mlambo, my son in the film Sebelethu and the many other great African actors who participated in the film, but realistically this is a Hollywood film and this is a business; how many western moviegoers would pay to go see us? How many would have come to IMAX to see Zubin Cooper or any of the names I just mentioned? Maybe if Will Smith was the lead or Idriss Alba? Let’s be real. The film is also a reflection of how Western Aid is administered and run in Africa and the world. 8a. And yes, Zubin Cooper is very single and eligible [laughs.]
9. What does Zubin Cooper do to relax, what do you do for leisure?
I like to read, watch films, and listen to music; party with my friends when we can, which we can a lot of the time. Chill in Bassa and walk around Buchanan or Edina, ride the canoe across the river. Simple things like that.
10. You represented Liberia and Africa well at the Cannes Festival in France. You had grace, confidence and have shown humility. 10a. Your attire and dress was ‘of the wall’ as you made your country and continent proud on the Red Carpet? Who dressed you?
Thank you. 10a. Well, there was this choice I had to make. Wear the traditional western black tie or rock something that represents who I am, and where I come from. So I had been plotting and planning how to get that done, harassing the designer to get my shirt ready way before time and in the end, I just came out and asked to wear the equivalent in my home country and on the continent. When the reply came back positive, well internal jubilation called to order. The look was designed by one of Liberia’s own with help from my Mom and my big sister, Jeanine Milly Cooper. Liberian designer Archel Bernard of Mango Rags on Camp Johnson Road in Monrovia and the Bombchel Factory is the one who designed what I was wearing, but I dressed myself, with a little help from the makeup artists and hairstylist and my sister via Facebook messenger.
11. Any final thoughts Mr. Cooper?
Thank you for bringing me on the 11 questions series, and through this for allowing me to share my thoughts and who I am with your audience and the world. My final thoughts would be basically, our dreams are what makes us who we are, never give up on your dreams and passions, even if only in your head; never lose that imagination and desire you had as a child, it is who you are. Never lose your identity, personality and most importantly your soul. I am grateful to all for the support, the sky is the limit.