Liberian Actor Bishop Blay On His New Film ‘Out of My Hand’ [Exclusive Interview]

Out of my Hand film by Takeshi Fukunaga

By Jozanne Marie

On June 14th 2015, I attended the Los Angeles Film Festival screening of Out Of My Hand directed by New York based filmmaker, Takeshi Fukunaga. It’s a film about a struggling Liberian rubber plantation worker who risks everything to discover a new life as a Yellow Cab Driver in New York.  Perfectly seasoned with a brilliant cast, Out Of My Hand leaves its audience with some tough questions about Cisco, played by Bishop Blay, and his decision to leave Liberia due to the hardships he faces there. Director Takeshi Fukunaga perfectly captures this African story and whets your appetite for a new and promising Liberia. I was so moved by the film that I had no choice but to speak with the amazing lead actor, Bishop Blay, afterwards.

How long have you lived in the United States?
I have been living here for one year.  I left Liberia during the war and went to Ghana until 2009. Then, I moved back to Liberia.

Growing up in Liberia, what were your dreams and aspirations?
To be honest, I always had the desire to be an actor.

Is the movie industry huge in Liberia?
No, it is not. We are still struggling to get on the map, like Ghana and Nigeria. (laughs)

Everyone has a story about what inspired them to be an actor. What was yours?
My first time was in Ghana. I was taking a friend to a rehearsal for a movie shoot. Once on set, I fell in love with the artistry. I went back again and the director offered me 2 scenes in the film, but I was a bit shy. He told me to give it a shot and I was hooked.

Well, we are glad you caught the acting bug because you did an astounding job. How did you hear about this project?
A friend told me about the audition. In Liberia, if a project is international, everyone knows about it. (chuckles)

What was the audition process like?
Upon arrival the crowd was enormous. Everyone wanted to be in the film, even non-actors. At first, I was a bit discouraged after waiting in the line for six hours. I end up leaving to grab some lunch and when I got back, they had pushed the audition for the following day. After doing a cold read, I received a call-back and then a third audition with the director. However, I fell in a situation where I had to compete with my closest friend for the role, which was very uncomfortable for me.  But we had great sportsmanship. Both of us gave it our best and supported each other. At the end, the director gave me the lead as “Cisco” and my good friend Duke Murphy Dennis, played the supporting role, “Francis”.

Quite a story. I am sure your family and friends back home are elated.  What were their responses?
They are very excited for me and quite supportive.

Do you plan on moving back to Liberia?
No, not really. After the Ebola Crisis, I decided to stay here and pursue my acting career.

Watching you on film was quite a treat. Your performance was natural and breath-taking. I am sure there are many more hidden talents in Liberia.
Yes, there are many talents in Liberia besides acting. I want Liberia to be on the map for music, writing and directing as well.

The film gave us insights about the livelihood of rubber plantation workers in Liberia. What are your hopes for the Liberian people?
I love my country. Most people don’t know what is going on in other parts of the world. The hardship and exploitation you witnessed in the movie is a perfect depiction of what these rubber plantation workers deal with on a daily basis.

What time do the rubber plantation workers have to get up in the morning to start tapping from the trees latex?
They rise around 4am in the morning and most times their day ends at 7 pm or later.

How much are they being paid for such strenuous work?
They are paid $150 US dollars a month. They are underpaid without benefits.

How many trees do they tap per day?
The workers must tap between 300 to 700 trees a day.  After tapping a few trees, they walk to the factory with a few buckets filled with latex, dump it at the factory and head back to the farm, repeating the cycle until they are finished.

How do you think the USA can help the Liberian people?
There are many types of equipment in US factories that can help decrease the work load. This will help very much. These farmers need to be treated like human beings.

We here at the African Artist Association are thankful for you taking time to chat with us.  Our organization is all about promoting artist like you, who are creating change and giving a face to Africa. Thanks once again and we look forward to the release of Out Of My Hand.

Actor Bishop Blay and director Takesgi Fukunaga on the red carpet at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

The official trailer for Out of My Hand.

Jozanne Marie is an award-winning actress, director, playwright and motivational speaker. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.