By Muhammad Asad Ullah
In the space of a single decade, Turkey has gone from being a country with a somewhat barren television landscape to being one of the largest exporters of soap operas and drama series in the world. Turkish television — an appealing blend of social issues and strong cultural themes — is one of the most thriving entertainment industries in the world now.
In 2011, it introduced us to Muhtesem Yüzy?l (Magnificent Century), an epic historical drama launched, based on the life and court of the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and his wife Hurrem Sultan. The television series was broadcast in over 40 countries with more than 200 million viewers worldwide.
Viewers watched the show, not only in Turkey but also in Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, China, United States and other countries, including several in the Arab world, where it was called The Sultan’s Harem and dubbed in Arabic.
Muhtesem Yüzy?l introduced Meryem Uzerli, Turkish-German actress, to the world as Hurrem Sultan, the female lead of the television series.
With over 25 TV and movie awards and nominations, Meryem has climbed the ladder of fame and has become an unstoppable force. During the series, Uzerli’s role managed to develop a love-hate relationship with her audience.
Her acting prowess has placed herself on the cultural map of the world as one of the best actresses to have had come out of Turkish television industries. From Tüketici Academy Award for Best Female Lead for Muhtesem Yüzy?l in 2011 to being adjudged as the Best International Actress 2016 at 7th annual Beirut International Awards Festival, Meryem has come a long way, but her popularity has been increasing since the first episode of the television got on air.
She has captivated the audiences with her talent, warmth and natural beauty.
We’ve all gotten to know and love Meryem Uzerli as Hurrem Sultan but she’s now slowly shedding that persona and reinventing herself.
Meryem was recently in Doha for the launch of a Turkish jewellery brand Atasay, a brand she represents.
Actresses worldwide are notoriously private but Community sat with Meryem Uzerli in a candid conversation where she granted permission and access to a rarely-before-seen side of herself, delving into her childhood memories including her first acting gig and shunning off rumours that surrounded her once and for all.
Meryem sounds a decade wiser, too. She talks about growing strong female characters in production and how she’s not bothered as an actress, still being associated with one character she has played; she’s deeply educated on issue of toxic relationships. Meryem might still have Hurrem Sultan’s glorious hair, but she’s developed the kind of thoughtful attitude that comes only with experience.
We’ve seen you play such a historical character, bombarded with glamour and manipulation, but who is Meryem Uzerli in personal life?
Sometimes strong, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes sensitive, sometimes tired, sometimes fit and always believing in the good. Full of vision and working towards it and to give everything to be a good mother to my daughter and raise her in great love and security.
Sometimes a single performance sets the standards and all subsequent performances pale in comparison no matter how hard one tries. Would you be able to outdo the Hurrem legacy?
Hurrem Sultan is of course, one of the strongest female characters in history. I am very grateful and proud that I had a chance to play such a powerful character — what a gift for an actress! In general, there’s a boom in portrayal of strong female characters, which is great, but each character I played has its own strengths, weaknesses, differences. It would be boring to always embody the same dynamics. Sometimes there can be a lot of strength in a quiet character. I never compare my work. It all stands for itself and that’s a good thing.
Even after a decade of Muhtesem Yüzy?l, people worldwide recall you as Hurrem, rather than any other character you’ve played so far. Does it bother you as an actress?
No, not at all! Of course, it was a huge project and very popular because it was sold to so many countries. The other characters or projects I’ve done were not so huge, I mean they were not sold to so many countries like Muhtesem Yüzy?l. It was something totally different. Ah, yes sure it was part of my life and I enjoyed it a lot and it is part of myself and that is totally nice.
Did playing Hurrem, who has a legacy of strength and influence and stepping into her shoes, changed you in any way?
Every person I meet teaches me something. Sometimes it’s a simple sentence that makes you think or sometimes it’s a deeper conversation that inspires and out of which I draw something as an experience. When I play a character it’s another journey on a psychological level. I would never say that it changes me as Meryem, but I can say that it enriched me.
From a girl next door to a diva sporting the cover editorials of fashion magazines, was there a moment when you actually realised that you’ve just made it as an actress and a popular celebrity?
I know what you mean but I am not a diva. I was always Meryem and will always be Meryem — of course, you evolve with your experiences, grow up , changing your looks, your style depending on the projects but I am just someone who goes to work and is happy to be part of different projects. That’s all.
You’ve done films, dramas and then soap opera, how would you differentiate amongst the three mediums as an actress?
I’ve never been a part of soap opera, but who knows, maybe in the future. Or maybe your definition of a soap opera is different from mine in Germany. I have done lots of theatre, cinema and drama serials. Of course it’s different to perform live in front of the audience, it’s a totally different dynamic. There’s a time pressure in theatre while in cinema productions there is often more time to unfold within a project. In series also, you build a character over a long period of time, step by step. All dynamics can be different but at the end of the day you develop a character and present it no matter where. I like all of them.
Was acting something you always wanted to do?
When I was five, my best friend’s father owned the biggest theatrical production in my hometown. I was playing a tree, in the background of course, or something of the sort even in that young age. So yes it happened in a very natural way. His father once asked us to do a play — and that’s how it all actually started. It was a step-by-step thing. I used to go to a private art kindergarten and then a private art school. So I guess this is how it happened.
And what about photography?
I love photography. I actually gave my camera to somebody here. I’m sweating a bit because camera is like my baby. I love to take pictures of people, interesting faces and situations. It’s just about emotions and expressing it via photography. It’s a hobby and a passion. I like to do pictures in black and white because then it looks more artful and the focus is on the subject and situation and you’re not distracted by the colours. I like to capture weird situations but I don’t post all of them — because that’ll be weird then. I like characteristic faces.
Tell us something about your upcoming projects?
I just finished a movie which I was shooting at the Turkish/Georgian border, The Hive. I was also one of the executive producers of the film. I’m more and more interested in playing a bigger role in the creative process of the projects. The movie is an intense family drama of overcoming your fears and embracing change in a lot of ways. A very artful film with deep and calm character. Apart from this, I’m also working on a series for an Internet platform.
It was rumoured that you had a nervous breakdown on the night of Antalya Television Awards. Do you think that was the moment when you realised you have to take a new path in life, towards betterment?
Oh, there are a lot of rumours everywhere. I’ve learned not to hear, read or get distracted by them. The media is always creating something. That’s part of the business.
What would you say to people caught up in toxic relationships and what advice would you give single moms?
Unhealthy relationships, as we all know, are difficult to break. Often a different feeling like addiction is confused with love. I think it is important to look at yourself and see what exactly makes you linger in such an unhealthy combination. And as for being a single mother, there is no tip that I can share since there are so many different constellations and individual stories — I can only say I am proud of every mom in the world.
How do you find inner peace? Is there something that you do to get away from all the action in your life?
Spending time with my daughter. Just watching movies in my pyjamas at home, eating chocolates, taking a walk through nature, reading and spending time with the people I love. Well, sometimes staying alone and listening to music as well.
Are there beauty secrets lying somewhere in the corner that other aspirants could make use of?
A beauty secret? Not really. I don’t know what to say here, but the question means that you find me beautiful. That flatters me. Thank you.
You’re representing an heirloom brand of jewellery like Atasay; are you a jewellery person yourself?
As the daughter of a Turkish father I’m very proud to be the face of a Turkish brand, which has brought together more than 110 million women worldwide with its jewellery due to the success in production since its foundation in 1937 with its superb, award-winning creations, employees, artisans, craftsmen and associates. As a woman I love jewellery as well. I’m into diamonds and gold — actually everything. It’s all about emotions for me. I’m a very emotional person. So sometimes I like something simple and sometimes more glamorous like every woman I guess.
In a recent interview, you said you are looking forward to shift to Middle East. Have you given it a thought yet?
Yes, absolutely. It’s in my head and it’s in my heart. Whenever I spend time in the Middle East, I feel great happiness in me which I can hardly describe. I don’t know more exactly at the moment. But it is a dream and a longing. I’m trying to make it possible but my schedule is not allowing right now to plan it properly. There are so many countries in the Middle East that are beautiful. Even Qatar, love it to the bones.
Any message for your fans?
I’m so happy to be here in Qatar. I’m sending greetings to everyone and whatever you’re going through in life right now, even if its sadness, happiness or you’re a bit sick, like my flu today, I’m sending prayers, hugs, kisses and love.
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