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Interview With The Hurrem Sultan We All Know - Meryem Uzerli

Turkish-German actress Meryem Uzerli dominated the cult drama Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century), essaying the historical figure Hurrem Sultan – a headstrong matriarch. This breakout role won her popular acclaim and she swept nearly all acting categories for best performance. She will now be seen as Ayşe in the feature film Kovan (The Hive). Discover Meryem’s love for her craft as she reflects on her media career.

by Haider Rifaat

Give our readers a brief background about your family and heritage
I have two brothers and a sister. My mom is German and my dad is Turkish. I was born and raised in Germany and grew up in a small city, Kassel. My mom’s sister married a Brazilian, so a part of my family is half Brazilian as well.

What is interesting about Meryem Uzerli?
I don’t know, really. Everything I am and everything I do seems very normal to me.

Is the entertainment industry in Germany frail, in your view? How would you compare it with Turkey’s show business?
To be honest, I am not a fan of comparing the two but let me try. The German entertainment industry is very stable and reliable. However, people fear they may end up doing something wrong if they try. In Turkey, it is quite the opposite. People experiment more, which allows creativity to thrive as a result. The only con are the unstable working conditions.

What led to a transition from working in Germany to acting in Turkish dramas?
An audition of Hurrem Sultan for the Ottoman Empire show, Muhteşem Yüzyıl (Magnificent Century) brought me to Istanbul. I moved to Turkey after bagging that role. I had never spent much time in my father’s home country so it was profoundly emotional to have experienced life there.

You are widely known for your iconic role as the fierce matron Hurrem Sultan in Muhteşem Yüzyıl; a female-led character we don’t get to see a lot in mainstream television. How were you approached for this role? Were you nervous? What went through your mind when you read the script for the first time?
A person I knew from my theater days messaged me about a production company in Istanbul that was on a lookout for the main character of a grand show. She showed the production team my show reel and believed that I would fit the role of Hurrem Sultan. She consoled me by saying that if for some reason I didn’t get the lead part, the production company had many other supporting characters I could fill in. 

I had just gotten out of a six year relationship, had no job and didn’t know how I would manage to pay my rent. I was hopeful that maybe I would land a character in the show.

I wasn’t too nervous because I had no idea about the future of Muhteşem Yüzyıl and the success that would come with it. Nobody knew at the time. It was simply the vision of the scriptwriter, directors and the producers. I only concentrated on what they asked of me, and I ultimately got Hurrem’s part.

While reading the script of the pilot episode, I was overwhelmed by the emotions my character was going through and how much I needed to provide as an actress for the role of Hurrem. I felt that I only had the power to keep her alive, and forget myself.

How did you prepare for the role of Hurrem Sultan? Did you read up on her life?
I worked very closely with the scriptwriter and did extensive research on Hurrem using history books and the internet as references. It was a combination of the two but I eventually had to let go of those inputs and give the character my own spin.

To what extent was your character in the period drama similar and different from the real Hurrem Sultan we know in Turkish history?
I never met the real one, though I wish I could.

How did Hurrem challenge you as an artist?
She challenged me every day for almost three years. Her struggles, power, love, aggression and her highs and lows in general tested my craft as a performer. Hurrem was a ticking bomb throughout the show. She is by far, the most powerful written character I have ever played in my life.

How do you want female-centric roles to evolve in Turkey? 
Oh, not just in Turkey but all over the world. I wish talented writers would create heroic characters for women. I am bored of chauvinistic, sexist and stereotypical dramas. I am a firm believer of gender equality and to see Arabian actors or colored people play terrorists and criminals just frustrates me! We shouldn’t enable the media to fool our societies into believing such stories. We are all humans in the end. I feel that we should take a page from a few constructive plays like the Spanish show, La Casa de Papel. It has some amazing characters!

What new projects were underway before COVID-19 struck the world?
We were on floors shooting for the film Kovan (The Hive) at the Georgian border and the National Geographic reservoir. We had submitted the film to different festivals, however due to COVID-19, the movie’s journey kind of changed and we are now brainstorming our next move.

I believe it will have its official premiere in Turkey this fall. Let’s see where it goes from there. I am currently on a family break and will start work again in early 2021. There are movies, TV shows and commercial deals on the table but I will decide then which project is most fitting for me.

Which role do you see yourself doing in the future?
I appreciate powerful characters in powerful stories. I enjoy experiencing new energies and experimenting with my craft. I like to jump into cold water without knowing the outcome. I like the risk of finding answers during the course of a journey. I love making mistakes and finding a way to feel better later on. I love seeing the complete process of my characters unfold. I aspire to work with new directors and learn from their vision. I am driven by passion.

Are you more of a spontaneous or method actor?
It depends. Sometimes, I employ the Meisner technique, sometimes my approach is mixed and sometimes I just go with the flow.

Let’s switch to fashion. Which Turkish and German designers are your favorite?
That is very difficult for me to say! I don’t know a lot of designers and am bad with their names. Sometimes, I like a clothing item not because of the label but for its design. I am fond of things that are second hand that may not have a specific brand name. On occasion, I would just casually wear my favorite jeans and a t-shirt.

What is your go-to look?
Whatever my mood is!

Germany or Turkey? Which country do you prefer?
I am a world citizen. I don’t limit myself to borders. I like to travel and have strong admiration for all kinds of cultures and countries I have had the chance of experiencing.

What fascinates you about Turkey?
The passion about everything they do. Their passion for food, love and their warmth! Everywhere I see is passion. They are one of the best hosts in the world! I just love Turkey!

Are you a spiritual person? If so, how important is spirituality to you?
More important than talking about spirituality is living it. I love the quote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

What keeps you grounded?
The thought that I will die one day and be in God’s hands.

About Haider Rifaat: a writer for Arabian Moda, South China Morning Post, OK! Pakistan and Good Times magazine. He is an actor and also the creator and host of Pakistan's first web talk show - The Haider Rifaat Show. He can be reached via instagram and twitter.