Interview: Emrhys Cooper Talks Collaborative Film and Culture in Bhutan
In real life, Emrhys Cooper has the piercing eyes and high cheekbones of Cillian Murphy, and the long, lanky, graceful build of a professional dancer. Which only makes sense, because Emrhys was a dancer on the West End, and in films like Mamma Mia. He even puts his dance skills to good use in this latest movie.
Emrhys Cooper is the male lead in the Bhutanese film Kushuthara – Pattern of Love. He’s the first Western actor to star in a movie in this fledgling industry, and he certainly won’t be the last. I had a chance to see the premiere of this movie at the Rubin Museum in NYC, then followup with Emrhys later on.
What was your interest in visiting Bhutan before doing the film?
Emrhys Cooper: To be honest, probably like 95% of the rest of the world, I had to first immediately Google “Bhutan” to learn precisely where this mysterious country was! For example, few of us know the smallest nations of the world, such as Liechtenstein in Europe or Mauritius in Africa.
Immediately upon learning that Bhutan was located high up in the Himalayas, and that their chief export was a unique richly woven tapestry individually designed piece-by-piece, and that each year a detailed survey was undertaken by the government that measured in extraordinary detail the “happiness level” of the citizenry—I was hooked!
What where the greatest differences between working on Western Films and Bhutanese Films? Was there a different appreciation for actors and film-making? This is all considering how comparatively young the Bhutanese film industry is.
EC: The Bhutan films typically involve a great deal of spirituality and introspection. To us Westerners, the pace might seem sedate. To make the film appeal more to outside countries, some editing and splicing had to be done. Some of this I undertook even by myself at the end. The film needed a perfect mixture of “East and West,” not “East vs. West.”
In terms of appreciation for actors and film-making, one finds nothing but respect and enthusiasm. Bhutan is a fantastic country for more filmmakers and actors who are keen to experiment at literally the “top of the world.”
What about this story intrigued you? Was there any element of the story that you were particularly passionate about?
EC: It was a story of forbidden love. I played the part of cultural intruder who falls in love with a beautiful Bhutanese girl for reasons of a vaguely remembered past life, and his own rebirth the moment he sees her.
I know that you’re a West End performer. Was the dancing your idea or Karma’s?
EC: Let me just say the entire film was a handsome collaboration. I may have been the dancer, but the movie’s spiritual and practical owner is the incomparable Karma Deki.
How long was filming? Were there any unforeseen circumstances that you didn’t expect?
EC: The filming took about two months. The only unforeseen circumstance was needing to adapt to the pace of the film crew, which in turn kindly adapted to me. Let me give assurances to any potential tourists or film companies or producers that the atmosphere is picturesque, the air is delightfully unpolluted, and friendliness is rampant.
What was your favorite food?
EC: I will not be coy in pretending this is not a trick question. Everyone remembers more than one single favorite food when traveling! In Bhutan there are rich, chewy, and moist dumplings called momo. I especially love the vegetarian version. A popular snack is a spiced sausage marinated with six or seven colorful condiments, called shabalay. For dinner I often feasted on Jasha maru. This is mainly fresh, minced chicken stewed in tomato sauce, corn, and flour.
Let me not continue, otherwise the urge to fly back to Bhutan for more of their savory, spicy cuisine, along with any culinary tourists who wish to join me, will be too strong to resist.