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.
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.