Atlanta’s Ivan Mbakop isn’t sure Zenzo survived AMC’s ‘Parish’ season finale

His hotheaded character faces off against Giancarlo Esposito’s lead character Gray.
Ivan Mbekop as Zenzo Tongai - Parish _ Season 1, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Alyssa Moran/AMC

Credit: Alyssa Moran/AMC

Credit: Alyssa Moran/AMC

Ivan Mbekop as Zenzo Tongai - Parish _ Season 1, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Alyssa Moran/AMC

NOTE: This story includes spoilers regarding the show “Parish”

Most actors embrace playing an unremitting bad guy because it’s fun.

Atlanta resident Ivan Mbakop, in the juiciest role of his career, gets to indulge in evil power-mongering as a trigger-happy gangster named Zenzo from Zimbabwe dealing with challenges within his family and outside his family in AMC’s “Parish,” which just concluded its six-episode season one on AMC Sunday night.

The series, set in New Orleans, features Emmy-nominated Giancarlo Esposito (”Breaking Bad,” “The Mandalorian”) as Gray, a broken and broke driver with a criminal past who reluctantly returns to his shadowy ways to pay the bills and eventually avenge the death of his teenage son. Mbakop’s character is not a fan of Parish ― or his more sophisticated, even-keeled younger brother, who goes by Horse and runs their very dirty human trafficking operation.

“In African culture, the father usually gives the elder brother the family business,” said Mbakop, who has lived in Atlanta since 2008, in a recent interview at a Starbucks in Smyrna. “But Zenzo is so brash, so abrasive, his father in South Africa allowed Horse to take over the business. There’s some serious resentment over that.”

When Horse brings outsider Parish into the fold, Zenzo is deeply suspicious. His revenge? He becomes a mole, feeding info to a rival human trafficking gang run by Bradford Whitford’s Anton to try to get his brother (and Parish) killed so he could take over.

“Horse brings someone in we don’t know,” Mbakop said. “Worst of all, he’s American. If you notice, our entire crew is from Zimbabwe. Who is this outsider?”

The season finale leaves a cliffhanger, which makes it unclear if Mbakop’s character survives as the siblings battle it out for supremacy and their father flies in from South Africa to resolve the family dispute.

Mbakop isn’t sure his character will see a second season, which AMC has not yet committed to. But he hopes so. “Zenzo is a lion,” he said. “He fights for a living.”

For Mbakop, he said he’s still learning the craft of acting. He would come to set on his days off to watch how the TV show was being made and observe Esposito. “I got a front-row seat to see a legend at work,” he said.

Esposito, he said, isn’t a Method actor who needs to stay in character to play his character. He recalls their first scene together, which is super tense. “I walk out. He walks out behind me,” he recalled. “We’re in the hallway. When they call cut, we burst out laughing like little kids.”

Mbakop, the last regular to be cast, said he thinks he got the role because he didn’t play Zenzo in auditions as an uncontrollable hothead. Rather, his insecurity and anger seethes beneath the surface, only to pop out at inopportune moments.

Atlanta actor Ivan Mkabop (right) plays gangster Zenzo, with his nephew Luke (Dax Rey ) in the AMC series "Parish." AMC

Credit: AMC

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Credit: AMC

And Zenzo is nothing if not pragmatic, teaching Horse’s 12-year-old son how to use a gun. “This is not a politically correct show,” Mbakop said. “Kids in Africa are trained to be warriors. He is teaching the child that you can’t let others define your destiny.”

Mbakop himself grew up in Cameroon and came stateside to attend Tuskegee University in Alabama, receiving a degree in electrical engineering. He married his college squeeze in 1999 and moved to Atlanta, where he became interested in acting, working on stage and in commercials via the J Pervis Talent Agency.

Mbakop for the past 15 years has also run a software company with his wife and took a break from acting for several years. In 2017, he got back into it, writing, directing and starring in the short film “Victus” in 2017. He then spent a couple of years in Los Angeles taking acting classes.

He now juggles his tech and acting ambitions. He is planning to release an artificial intelligence platform to help rising actors figure out how to interact with casting directors, agents and managers.

“AI is not a threat to our jobs today,” he said. “But in three years, by the time the next SAG-AFTRA contracts come up, we’re going to have a tougher time. If you’re an actor now, do as many good projects as you can, make things happen, network, get on a major show, shake things up. AI is coming, I’m not faulting studios for using it. It’s a business decision.”


“Parish,” available on AMC+ and on demand via multiple options such as Roku, Sling, YouTube TV and Xfinity on demand