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“People in Turkish industry are inured to restrictions”

Ekin Koç is a popular actor in the Turkish television and film industry whose role as Sultan Ahmet, the 14th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in the mega serial Kösem, earned him name across continents

“People in Turkish industry are inured to restrictions”

Ekin Koç is a popular actor in the Turkish television and film industry whose role as Sultan Ahmet, the 14th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in the mega serial Kösem, earned him name across continents, as dubbed versions of the show were aired in different countries of the world. In Pakistan, the show was enjoyed by an audience that had recently become familiar with Turkish dramas, and was inevitably charmed by their stars as well as themes and production values, beginning with the steamy Ask-i Memnu; the intense courtroom drama, Fatimagul; and the phenomenally successful tale of palace intrigues, Muhteşem Yüzyıl (retitled Mera Sultan). It only helped that Kösem was a sequel to Muhteşem Yüzyıl.

Koç, 27, studied Business at IstanbulBilgiUniversity before he went to New York and enrolled at Stella Adler’s Acting Studio. He got his first acting assignment in the fantasy series Sana Bir Sir Verecegim (2013) in which he played a thief with special powers. His film debut, Senden Bana Kalan, an adaptation of a Korean movie, had him play the lead part of Özgür Arica, for which he won an Ayhan Isik Special Award. Later, he played the one-eyed soldier Mehmet in the British movie, Ali and Nino (2016). Kösem happened around the same time, and took his stocks higher.

In April this year, Koç was invited to the 41st Moscow International Film Festival where his new feature, Bizim Için Sampiyon (English title, Champion), was one of the seven films chosen for screening in the special segment, Paths of Turkish Cinema. Based on a true story, Champion was well received by the audience largely comprising media folk and critics from around the world. The News On Sunday had a chance to talk to the Turkish star-actor, on the sidelines of the prestigious event. Months later, when TNS reached out to him for an update, Koç had just come out of a conscripted military training. (For the uninitiated, male Turkish citizens, over the age of 20, are required by law to undergo a month-long training as a soldier.) Excerpts from the chat follow:

The News On Sunday: Turkish TV shows have won huge popularity across the globe. The industry has even been called “the new Hollywood.” How do you view it?

Ekin Koç: It’s true that the Turkish TV industry has grown manifold in the past 15 years or so, but I don’t know if I’d dare call it the new Hollywood. I believe that Turkish cinema, rather than television, has been going through evolutionary phases since the beginning of its relatively long history. I’m sure the great success of our TV shows has impacted our cinema — the producers can see that our series have takers abroad, so they have started to invest in movies that are similar to what’s been done on TV.

TNS: Tell us a bit about your film, Sampiyon (Champion), which was part of a special segment at the 41st Moscow International Film Festival.

EK: The true story of Halis Karataş and his love affair with Begüm Atman is adapted very well by Ahmet Katıksız (director). Since Turkey was the special guest at this year’s Moscow International Film Festival, we had the opportunity to show our film to the Russian audience. And we got a great response.

TNS: Would you say that Muhteşem Yüzyıl and its sequel, Kosem, have done for Turkey what Game of Thrones has done for America? Both were lavish productions and their themes (of palace intrigues etc) are similar to some extent.

EK: To be honest, I’m not in a position to compare the two because I haven’t seen both of them enough. But I know that Game of Thrones has made a huge impact not only in the US but throughout the world. On the other hand, even though Yüzyıl has a much lower budget [than GoT] it certainly left a great mark outside of Turkey also.

TNS: You studied business administration and later opted for theatre. Could you tell us about your creative pursuits? Did you always want to become an actor?

EK: I left college because of hectic work schedules. Luckily, I had the chance to go to New York and study at Stella Adler’s [Acting Studio] for a brief period of time.

As for my acting ambitions, I had never really thought about that; it kind of happened. A relative of mine signed me up for an acting school in Istanbul. Later, when I graduated, I took the role my first audition got me, in Sana Bir Sır Vereceğim.

TNS: Do you have family members working in the industry?

EK: No. I’ve a little brother who is not so little any more, he’s studying Translation at YeditepeUniversity. My mother is a former banker, and my father, an ex accountant. They are both leading a retired life.

TNS: Does an actor of your calibre get to do interesting roles on screen in Turkey?

EK: I believe that interesting roles are basically a blend of the writers’ creativity, the actors’ as well as directors’ approach, and the society’s capacity. If there are no barriers between the idea which is written on paper and the people who are going to receive it, it’s only then that interesting and uncommon characters will emerge.

TNS: Has Netflix affected the way films and TV shows are viewed in Turkey?

EK: Turkish audiences are divided — on the one hand, we have those who like to watch conventional TV shows, and on the other hand, there are those who are adapting to the new global ways of watching shows, such as on Netflix.

Similarly, there’s a chunk of producers who are still holding the brief for the good old idiot box, while the other group is trying to find ways to compete with the streaming giants. They have platforms like Blutv and Puhu (which had a short life, unfortunately) to enter the market of the big companies.

TNS: Are you doing any shows for web?

EK: No. Currently, I’m working on a short film which I have written. Other than that, I am reading scripts but haven’t found one that excites me.

TNS: What is the state of media censorship in Turkey like? Apparently, a new law calls for projecting a more pious lifestyle, and rejects nudity, sex scenes, and even shots of people drinking. How is it impacting the film/TV industry?

EK: Censorship in Turkey has caught not only the art world but every aspect of our daily lives. You can say that it has evolved into self-censorship now. There are people who’re trying to fight it and survive by using their own tools, but their circle is getting smaller and smaller. The restrictions you mentioned existed already. The people in the industry are sort of inured to them.

TNS: At the 41st MIFF, did you get a chance to interact with the film fraternity from other regions?

EK: I only met a couple of new Turkish filmmakers. I didn’t have the time to meet any from abroad, which is something I regret.

TNS: What’s your best takeaway from the festival?

EK: It’s always a joy to be amongst cinema people from different parts of the world. We visited Moscow city, with beautiful people. What more can you ask for?

Usman Ghafoor

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