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Ivan Mbakop Unpacks Zenzo's Rage, Redemption in AMC's 'Parish'

Parish - Ivan Mbakop

In the first episode of the new AMC series Parish, audiences are introduced to Zenzo, a temperamental, violent human trafficker from Zimbabwe who is fighting with his family for power. Zenzo is played by Ivan Mbakop, an actor born in Cameroon who later relocated to Atlanta. He has appeared in shows and films including The Millennial, Hawkeye and Red Notice before his breakout role in Parish.


The premise of Parish follows the character of Gray [played by Giancarlo Esposito], a driver with a criminal past returning to his old life to avenge the murder of his teen son, crossing paths with Zenzo and his brother Horse. Ultimately, Zenzo unleashes his full wrath and animosity. To accurately portray this, Mbakop delved into the character's background, exploring why and how Zenzo became the way he is.


Mbakop needed to learn why his character was so angry. “Where does the anger come from? Where does the violence come from?... It comes from frustration, it comes from feeling like you're jaded,” Mbakop said in an interview with The Quintessential Gentleman. “You're constantly being cheated because these are your little siblings and your father gave them control of the company. And you're the big brother and that makes no sense, especially coming from Africa... where the firstborn essentially gets to rule. It was really those two biggest things: knowing that he's human, knowing that he's hurt which makes him dangerous,” he added.


Parish - Ivan Mbakop

Tapping into the unique personal "essence" of a character to get into character, Mbakop said, “I think every person has an essence. Certain people move more like lizards. Certain people are a little bit lazier and certain people are more powerful. That's the angle that I approach when I study a character. I try to get in their skin.”


Mbakop drew a comparison between Zenzo and a lion, emphasizing, "Zenzo is not just a lion, he's a wounded lion," he explained. "I watched a bunch of National Geographic videos about lions, and the director encouraged me to do it, which was cool."


When watching Parish, viewers see that Zenzo follows his own rules, going against society’s norms. Mbakop expressed what resonates with viewers beyond the character's pain: “If you think about it, we all want to do what we want, but we can't, and then there's someone [like Zenzo] who gets away with it.”


Parish - Ivan Mbakop

Mbakop also shares that Parish examines the similarities between African American culture and African culture, which many think are very different. “The intent behind the show was to show that we're not so different. We may act differently, but essentially it was an African father and an African American father who were dealing with different circumstances. In one instance, one was trying to protect his son by avenging him, and the other one was just trying to protect his son plain and simple,” Mbakop explained. He added that cultural aspects such as the music and colors between African American culture and African culture may be different, but the show was a perfect blend of both cultures.


In playing Zenzo, Mbakop discovered a new perspective on his acting abilities telling The Quintessential Gentleman, “I learned that I had more in me than I was willing to accept. I think sometimes being shy or being modest is to our detriment. Modesty is a good thing, but in this business, it’s something that you need to manage well because if a director needs you to show up as something, show up as that thing and believe it and be that period, that's it, no apologies.”


Although season one of Parish recently ended, hopefully, it isn’t the last of Zenzo. Speaking on Zenzo’s future potential next season Mbakop said, “I believe Zenzo will be there, and he would have evolved, [become] wiser, probably more violent. Who knows?”


Check out the first season of Parish on AMC.



Photo Credit: April McMillan

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