Art / Design / Craft,  People

Turkey’s hardest working actor?

Yigit Ozsener is a busy man. I’ve been wanting to talk to him about his trade for some time, but his schedule is tight. The day before we meet, he’s up at 5am to get to a Sapanca location shoot which doesn’t allow him home before midnight, in order to shoot an 8-page scene in the blazing heat, and looks significantly darker than two days before when we talked about doing an interview. He’s down to the final two episodes of his latest series, the acclaimed 25-episode  Son (Final), before a much-needed hiatus.

“I’ve worked non-stop for three years. No vacations,” he says smiling, and without the faintest whiff of complaint on the ferry to Kadiköy. The actor loves what he does, but didn’t always know he wanted to be a thespian. Originally from Izmir, on Turkey’s mellow Aegean coast, he did his undergrad in communications and electrical engineering and progressed as far as an MBA at Yildiz Technical University. “I joined the theatre club, but I didn’t like acting as a hobby. I soon quit and focused on my studies.”

It was later, on a whim, he decided to audition with The Studio Players, a successful theater training outfit in Nisantasi, which his friend had told him about. These were the days before cell phones and he called her last minute. “That day they were doing auditions, and because I hadn’t made an appointment, I had to wait and wait until the last audition was finished.” Fortunately the suspense didn’t kill him. “Less than two years later, I was the Studio Players Actor.”

The actor credits The Studio Players’ training with actualizing the most important change in his life, saying he was a much more introverted person before. In fact, he recommends theater training as great training for life, whether you want to be a thespian or not. These days he still loves to do theater, but finds it difficult to schedule, when he is sometimes shooting a movie and a TV show simultaneously because of delays and accidental overlaps. The actor regularly foregoes food, sleep (but not the luxury of showers, he confides) to get his work done.

Yet for a man who is passionate about his work, he has no illusions about it. “Television is not an art. There is art in movies, but TV series are business projects,” he says in near perfect English (his third language as he went to a French high school). Quite a business by the sounds of it, when you consider that Turkish series are shot in lots of 13, with 39 episodes for a successful show filmed from September to June—compared to 22-24 for an American series or 10-12 for a British one. These are all location shoots, requiring a lot of movement throughout the city. “Once one dizi (series) discovers a location, then another one wants to use it. You can exhaust locations. For the last 15 years television has been doing almost the same thing, in terms of meaning and the themes emphasized.”

Yigit disagrees with executives who feel that Turkish audiences want to see the same kind of show repeated over and over again, and appreciates the fact that he’s getting to do groundbreaking material for the Turkish market. “My choices aren’t logical, it’s a feeling I’m chasing. In TV it’s harder and harder to get good a good project. They aren’t numerous. But you can’t talk down to your audience. When there is something new to try, I want to be there.”

When the actor speaks it’s easy to see the conviction he channels with his stare, and why he’s a popular casting choice for hero or villain. This is no lifeless gaze. His overall demeanor comes off as cool and relaxed, even when cornered by fans wanting photos snapped on their cell phones, but this is easily offset by that penetrating gaze he summons to convey his words. His original TV break came doing Turkcell commercials, followed by small parts here and there. Then he got the part of a villain in Dudaktan Kalbe a prime time soap opera, where he was given the opportunity to play the character sans cliché. He has worked non-stop since.

He’s definitely not a method actor, though. When I want to know if it’s hard to kill off a character, he laughs, “No.”

While he’s interested in producing new content with his business partner, he has no desire to direct. “You can learn the technical trade of directing, but that’s not the sort of thing I’m looking for in a director.”

What’s after Son? “I don’t know, I’m really looking forward to having some time off, I’ve refused several projects, and would like to go off for a month to learn Spanish.” When I ask if it’s to open up further acting possibilities, he nods. Absolutely. “I can always go to a beach, but I want to do something more. If a part comes through that really interests me, then everything will change.”