İlhan Şen: I am aware that the spotlight is on me but only for now

 İlhan Şen: I am aware that the spotlight is on me but only for now

Oben Budak interviewed İlhan Şen, who plays the character Ateş in the series ‘Safir’.

One of the favorite series of the new season is “Safir”.  We met with İlhan Şen, who plays the character Ateş  in ATV’s new series “Safir”. We talked about “Safir”, Ateş, the series he took part in before, the love of the audience, his life, the movies and directors he was influenced by.

How do you feel these days, how does it feel like to be part of  the biggest hit of the season? As you know, millions of people,  completely different from each other, gather in front of the  TV to catch your show every week.

Can you imagine knocking on someone’s door whom you don’t  even know and entering their home… And not only being accepted as a guest but also being loved by them! Even being  wondered about once a week… I don’t see it as just a TV series,  but more like a person entering people’s homes and making  them care enough to watch every week.

You are a part of one of the most ambitious projects of the  season, “Safir”. What was the main factor for you in accepting  the project?

First of all, thank you very much for your thoughts. When accepting “Safir”, like all my fellow actors, what influenced me  the most was, of course, the script of “Safir”. We believed that  this script could be a long-lasting one and tell stories that constantly give rise to new narratives. One of the major factors for  me was the way the script came into existence.

Of course, the character Ateş is a character that an actor  would want to play. So playing the role Ateş and being in a story  like this, also being in Cappadocia where the story takes place,  deeply affected me and all my fellow actors. I can say that the  biggest reason for accepting “Safir” was its story.

Ateş is a lot of things; distant, kind and most importantly a fair  person. However, he seems to be born into a quite troubled  family, had conflicts with his grandfather, and had to take  on the “father” role in the family, unable to live his life as he  wished. What are your thoughts on him?

Ateş is a distant, fair, and polite person like you said. But all the  trauma Ateş experienced as a child turned him into this kind of  person. He grew up in an environment where he wasn’t exposed  to any justice and politeness, Ateş decided what he would not  become and turned himself into such a person during his childhood. His family is somewhat problematic, especially his relationship with his grandfather.

After all, Ateş is a child who grew  up without a father and was in the same car accident which  caused his father’s death. Later, despite all the pressures from  his grandfather, he made it his life goal to oppose him. Ateş has  only one concern, to protect his siblings from such oppression.  So even though Ateş is fair, polite, and distant, he becomes a  completely different person when it comes to his siblings. It’s  almost as if that polite person disappears and another person  comes out.

This is entirely due to Ateş’s protective instincts.  Ateş has a reason to go to America; viewers will see it later. He  hasn’t lived his life as he wished, but I hope he does from now  on. I think Ateş is someone who puts his siblings first, then his  family, and finally himself in the struggle of life. I hope it continues like this.

“Safir” tells a challenging love story  alongside the family drama. As the episodes progress, viewers are curious about how the feelings between Ateş  and Feraye will develop. Do you think  Ateş can be happy?

Until now, there has been a very balanced relationship between Ateş and  Feraye. Ateş wants to save Feraye from  her existing situation, especially considering that Feraye, living in a region  like Cappadocia in the Anatolian region  of Türkiye, got pregnant without getting  married. He wants to save her because  the most important person in the world  for Ateş is Feraye’s father, Muhsin. He  wants to save Feraye’s reputation. I don’t  know where the script will take them.  But hopefully, he will be happy someday.

İlhan Şen

If you were close friends with Ateş Gül soy, what advice would you give him? 

If I were close friends with Ateş, I would  probably advise him to live more for himself. He is so busy solving everyone else’s  problems in his head. I would ask him  what he actually wants. Based on his answers, I would advise him to do what he  wants. But again, I repeat, Ateş has the  debts of the family, the company, the situation with his siblings, Feraye, the lies,  and the reason for his mother’s asking  him to come to Cappadocia. Because of  all these, I would tell him that he needs  to spend more time on himself.

“Safir” was introduced by ATV at Mipcom 2023 and is being  sold at various global content fairs around the world. How  does the international journey of the series make you feel? 

“Safir” received so much attention and had very positive feedback abroad. This is one of the things that makes me, as an  actor, most happy because I have always thought that love and  beauty have no language. I believe that the fact that our series is being shown anywhere in the world and being welcomed  with love has little to do with the language we speak. Because  emotions are not told by language, they are told by eyes. I hope  everyone watching “Safir” enjoys our story and finds something  of themselves in it. Therefore, the interest from abroad doesn’t  do anything other than make us happy and pleased. Thankfully, they exist. Thankfully, they watch us on the television of a  house we have never been to and in a city we have never visited. This creates an amazing connection between the audience  and the actor, so thankfully, they exist.

The series is shot in Cappadocia, a world wonder. You are actually promoting both the series and the country. What do you  think about Cappadocia?

Our series is shot in Cappadocia, and there’s no words to describe the place. It is a place that millions of tourists want to  come and visit. It’s a true blessing to be shooting there. Nature, the air and the structures formed by nature are absolutely  beautiful. If there are foreign viewers who have not yet come  here, they should definitely add Cappadocia to their calendars.  Thank you very much to everyone who watches and supports  the series. We do our best to make them happy and appeal to  their emotions. With love…

There is a great interest in you; your Instagram followers have  reached over a million. Of course it’s an accumulation, you  didn’t become a part of our lives overnight. Having a million  followers is indeed significant. Looking at your account, you  don’t post very often; you’ve only just started to ‘feed’ your  followers. Were you caught a little unprepared?

Actually, I was prepared in case something like this happened  one day. The posts I shared on that account were the preparation for this situation. The number of followers I have on Instagram is a representation that my work is actually good. It  indicates that I’m doing a good job. Despite my inactivity on the  platform, people are still curious about me. I don’t post about  my family, the vacations I take, the food I eat, or my girlfriend.  I wanted to share a picture of my room; I started to share what  I watch, what I read, what I pursue, and see what happens. I  haven’t shifted my focus too much. It would be nice if someone  came after something, maybe a word or a sentence. So I was  not unprepared.

What about your life? Is life moving fast these days? Do you  ever get the feeling that you rose to success in an instant, but  you hope not to fall just as quickly?

These days, the spotlight is on me, but for now. One day, the  lighting technician will take that light away from me and turn it towards someone else. I know that the  more I nourish myself, make up for my  shortcomings and get ready to face the  light until it returns to me again, the increase will continue at the same speed.  Yes, for now, I am experiencing a period of ascent, and I am very happy. I feel  great; there is no problem in that. But  when the light returns, if you are still  living with your old works, the lighting  technician will never turn that light back  on you!

But as you know, most actors believe  that the spotlight will always be on  them; not many realize that the spotlight comes and goes.

We are talking about those who are aware  of this. Others are somewhat like seasonal workers, doing a few good jobs and  staying there. When it’s the time for the  harvest, if you haven’t given them a fruit,  producers won’t plant you for the next  one. We are, in fact, like seeds planted in  a field. Some sprout, some don’t. Some  have bad seeds from the start, for some,  everything is perfect but simply does not  rain.

As far as I read from your past interviews, you have a full-on  background dealing with various subjects. You know, building  a personality without relying on experience is very difficult. I  am wondering, which period of your career influenced you the  most while building your personality? There is the Best Model  competition followed by fashion shows abroad… You also graduated in Civil Engineering from Yıldız Technical University, which  is not an easy degree to attain… You must have completed an  internship, there is also a period of employment there. Then  the series began with many professional actors! Which period  was the most fulfilling and transformative for you?

Actually it all began in high school. I graduated from Pertevniyal  High School, and I also gave private lessons while I was in university. I always told the parents of my students that the reason  why your child is good is not the school they go to, but their  friends they make in that school. Teachers are assigned to that  school but each student goes there with a different kind of excitement. I was reading the Penguen magazine and my friends  would ask me about it. Another one of my friends listened to  Metallica but also knew about Iron Maiden. There is a pool of  different information coming from students, and anyone can  grab as much as they can. I started watching movies, attending  film festivals and eventually learned about directors and films.  That’s when I began to pursue my dreams.

Was there anyone around you at that time who encouraged  you to become an actor?

My friends don’t know much about what I do or decide on. I  don’t have friends like that. But my family never interfered with  my decisions. The only thing they asked from me was to finish  college. As a result of being a Bulgarian family, there are only  four of us, and no one else. Everyone forms a small council  within themselves and implements the result of that council.

It is said that every immigrant family  holds tight to each other and builds their  own small world. As a member of a family that was forced to migrate to Türkiye  years ago, how did your sense of community develop? How was it living in Türkiye  when all your family’s past memories belonged to Bulgaria?

When my parents came to Türkiye, one  was 23 and the other was 25 years old.  I was just a one-year-old baby. Can you  imagine leaving everything behind? Your  house, friends, books, clothes, even your  cassette player. They give you a certain  amount of time, within that time you load  everything you can into a car and start  driving. You don’t know what will happen after you cross the border. We were  sent away because we are Turkish and we  were speaking Turkish. My mother was a  teacher, my dad was an engineer, but  they had no documents to prove their  professions. Both had to work other jobs  until they got their equivalencies.

I assume it would cause trauma, even if you  were too young to realize it at the time. 

Of course. The only thing I remember  from that period of time is that I had a  family that constantly worked in order  to survive. This is something I want to  sort out about myself! Everyone needs  to rest, but I want to work constantly. I  don’t feel like I deserve to rest. This feeling is definitely a trauma response.

I am currently living in Greece and definitely experiencing the  “in-between” situation myself.

The feeling of being in between is terrible. I didn’t learn the history of this country by listening to my elders, I had to learn it by  reading it. Neither my sister nor my father taught me about the  past. You know, you go somewhere, and your friends talk about  a restaurant from the 70s, I didn’t have that! I had to learn it all.  I had no one to teach me about the literary or cultural history  of this country. Some people have fathers who are filmmakers  so they know all the productions that have been released. I  did not have that chance either. I even had to learn Turkish,  and had to figure out the curriculum by myself. That feeling of  loneliness comes from there. But as someone who was born  in Bulgaria and managed to survive here, I am very proud on  behalf of all immigrants.

But it also feels like there is nothing more you can achieve  now, doesn’t it? 

You’ve accomplished something so significant  that it seems like you can survive in any way from now on. Think of it like this, my mom and I were driving to Türkiye while  my dad stayed behind to take care of some matters. He was  going to come after us. After we crossed the border with my  mom, the border closed, and my dad didn’t arrive until six  months later. He didn’t have his family with him, didn’t know  where we were, and couldn’t contact us! Now, if we didn’t hear  from each other for ten minutes, we would call and reach out  immediately, right? Just think about that period of time.

I understand that you also pursue alternative American cinema. I know you  like Jim Jarmusch’s movies. If one of his  movies were to be remade, which role  would you like to play? I thought you  would play Adam Driver’s role in Paterson. It’s a wonderfully ordinary yet powerful role.

Thank you. I think I’d rather play Tom  Hiddleston’s role, Adam, in “Only Lovers Left Alive”. You’re watching another  version of all the myths about Adam and  Eve. Then you follow a love story, and after that you get into why vampires suck  blood in the first place. When I watch a  movie for two hours, I chase that for a  week. I want to listen to the soundtracks,  check out the actors’ other movies… And  Jarmusch does it in an independent way.

I understand that the hours you spend  by yourself at home are important to  you. What do you do in those moments?  Are there any productions that excite you? Although TV series are being  cloned now, everything has been done,  now only the similar ones are being produced…

Yes, they are. That’s why I enjoy watching  British series. I also like the Russian side;  I absolutely love the Ukrainian works.  On the flip side, I’m very impressed by  the storytelling of northern countries. I  know what life is like in Denmark or Iran.  I know what happens in Germany. That’s  why cinema is so valuable. I pursue these  kinds of things.

This content was published in the international edition of Episode Magazine for ATF 2023


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