Michael Cooper Jr. stars in the film, On The Come Up, directed by Sanaa Lathan.
On The Come Up is based on the second novel of the same name by New York Times best-selling author Angie Thomas, who also created the book The Hate You Give. The film follows a 16-year-old girl named Bri, played by Jamila Gray, who is following in her father’s legacy by entering the battle rapping scene. In the movie, her father was a well-known underground hip-hop rapper whose life ended due to gang violence. Gray’s character is eager to make it big in the music industry to help her family overcome the struggles of their environment and financial circumstances. As the plot develops, one of Bri’s songs goes viral, adding to the negative perception cast on her. On The Come Up illustrates the reality most face in similar communities when discussing racial and social injustices.
Cooper plays the character Malik, Bri’s love interest in the film. He describes his character as a kind-hearted person who stands by his beliefs and understands he has a greater purpose. Cooper stars alongside Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Lil Yachty, Mike Epps, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, Justin Martin, Titus Makin, GaTa, Lathan, and Cliff “Method Man” Smith in the film. On The Come Up will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and will then be released in theaters and streaming services by Paramount and Paramount Plus.
The Knockturnal spoke with Cooper about his role and what fans and viewers can expect to see. Cooper’s work can be followed on Instagram @michaelcooperjr_
The Knockturnal: When did you start acting? What got you started?
Michael Cooper Jr.: I originally began acting in the theater at the age of nine but I am still pretty fresh in film, starting back in 2020. As a kid, I would do these storytelling competitions through my school and after one of the competitions a judge told me that I should look further into theater. Before I knew it, I was cast as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a church play.
The Knockturnal: While creating this film you’ve been able to work with many well known actors and musicians. Can you tell me what it was like working with everyone? Can you describe what a typical day was like on set?
Michael Cooper Jr.: It was definitely an honor and as cheesy as this sounds, a dream come true. Everyone was extremely collaborative and open. Most of us were relatively new to the movie making process, especially on a project of this multitude. This in itself allowed a space of learning and growth. Sanaa, definitely guided us on this journey and she gave all of the artists freedom to explore their mediums. It was definitely cool to watch everyone do their thing, especially the musician, since that whole world is foreign to me.
The Knockturnal: Tell me alittle about your character Malik. What did you like about your character?
Michael Cooper Jr.: Three words I would use to describe Malik, candor ,kind-hearted and just. He leads with a greater purpose and he stands firm in his beliefs. I love the sincerity that follows him in everything he does.
The Knockturnal: The film On The Come Up is based on a novel by Angie Thomas of the same name, what do you think viewers will take away and enjoy about this movie?
Michael Cooper Jr.: Well first off, I hope viewers read Angie’s book(s), because they are amazing. I think the movie does a great job of further highlighting the social injustices that plague our community and world. Viewers will take away an understanding of the importance of overcoming your struggles and will definitely leave the theater feeling more inspired.
The Knockturnal: The film includes conversations about racial and social injustices. How important is it for you to be a part of projects such as this one? Why?
Michael Cooper Jr.: It’s kind of incredible how life works. A couple months before landing the job, some of my friends and I were bored and just driving around my neighborhood. The next day a friend of mine screenshotted a post from facebook, where there was a picture of my friend’s car and under it said be aware of three African-American, roaming the neighborhood. These kinds of things happen all the time, and this one in particular, just so happens to be one of the smaller incidents. It was important for me to be a part of this film because it shares the importance of spreading awareness and encouraging everyone to be a change agent to social and racial injustices.
The Knockturnal: If someone was going to make your life into a movie, who would you want to play you?
Michael Cooper Jr.: That’s a great question, I truthfully have no idea. I haven’t lived enough life to even have a screenplay written.
The Knockturnal: Who do you consider to be your acting role models? Why?
Michael Cooper Jr.: I have several acting role models. One of the biggest would be Denzel Washington. Not only is he extremely talented in the work but he also expresses his strong relationship with God. Another acting role model is Daniel Kaluyaa. He’s extremely grounded in the work and he just seems like a cool guy overall.
The Knockturnal: What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Michael Cooper Jr.: Some of the best advice I’ve been given is to be kinder to myself. I can be extremely self-critical and tough on myself at times. I definitely suffer from imposter syndrome . Sometimes it feels like I should just automatically know everything about acting and the industry, but in reality I am just starting. I am learning to be patient and accepting things as they come.
The Knockturnal: Where do you hope to be in your career in the next 5 years?
Michael Cooper Jr.: In five years, I will have several major films under my belt *speaking into existence*. I want to do an array of films ranging from dramas, comedies, independent, to blockbuster movies. One of my favorite production companies is A24, so I definitely hope to have work with them by then.