Haluk Bilginer

Loved and respected by everyone from seven to seventy, Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer reveals the key points of the profession.

It isn’t crowded like on the stage. There’s only Haluk Bilginer. The play ends, the curtain falls. He changes and meets us as ‘Haluk’. Aware that time has passed and there are some things he can’t do any more, he’s pushing sixty but still a child at heart. Still sassy enough to answer a question with a question. “How brave you are!” commented his producer when Bilginer gave up his role as the Cypriot Mehmet Osman in the BBC’s ‘EastEnders’ which he’d played since 1985. “I’m not brave,” retorted Bilginer, “I’m an actor.” His one frustration is his own limitations. But he never gives up. This season he is appearing on both stage and screen, in Oyun Atölyesi’s ‘7 Shakespeare Musicals’ and in ‘7 Kocalı Hürmüz,’ directed by Ezel Akay.

What’s your favorite toy?
The microscope.

Are you naturally curious?
Very much so. More than you can imagine. ‘Curious’ used to be my nickname. I asked questions about everything. It’s no different now. There is nothing I’m not curious about. As one of my astrologically knowledgeable friends recently observed, ‘Geminis are very curious after all.’

Could a desire to know and understand have driven you to acting? And acting in turn to know and understand even more? In an endless cycle...
Absolutely. Curiosity is the reason I am an actor. I’m curious about people. About what they are going to do or feel in certain situations. ‘What would a person do in this situation?” That’s the key question. I observe, I investigate, I try to understand, especially during the rehearsal process. You could study human beings all your life and never understand them. Not even yourself. But to the extent that we can understand, we benefit, and being an actor is a good way of doing that. That’s exactly what we do as children; we act things out. By doing so we get to know ourselves, our surroundings, and the world. Man is the animal that acts. But the only place you can do that after you grow up is on the stage.

When you are on stage do you ever get so caught up in what you’re doing that you forget people are watching you?
That’s the highest level you can attain. From the moment you let the play act you, you don’t make a mistake. The plays acts you out, not you the play. You never forget you are being watched, but it shouldn’t affect the way you act.

What is the most important part of acting?
Being real and genuine. Nothing else matters.

What about technique?
No, no, no... Think of a good guitarist. Does he look for the notes as he plays? No. The guitar has become an extension of his body. If he was always having to think about which note to play, nobody would listen to his music. If the actor were to think about technique on the stage, nobody would watch him.

Müşfik Kenter pats his students on the back and tells them, “Whenever the audience says, hey, I could do that, it means you’ve acted well.”
Exactly. If you watch a tightrope walker in the circus and say, ‘Wow! That’s looks so easy I could do it,” it means he is doing an exceptional job.

Because it’s something extremely difficult. If you thought to yourself, ‘Oh my god, the man is going to fall!’ you wouldn’t enjoy it. If you think, for example, in the theater, ‘Oh god, the man is going to forget his lines,” you don’t derive any pleasure from the performance. The audience has to be able to say, “I could get up there and do the same as Haluk Bilginer.” The thing you do has to appear very easy, completely natural. Anything else means that you are trying to act like you are different from the audience. People want to see a human being on the stage, not an alien. Have you ever watched a bad play?

People tend to forget bad plays. Let’s turn to one that is memorable, the ‘7 Shakespeare Musicals’.
We tried to create a script that would be meaningful to a Turkish audience. Ditto for the music... Alaturca, jazz, rock, Turkish folk tunes. It’s got them all. If somebody says, ‘For shame, they’re playing Turkish folk music, this is a travesty of Shakespeare’, I don’t understand. Why shouldn’t I play Turkish music? What’s to prevent me? This is a first in the world. We have created a musical using only lines from Shakespeare. Words by William Shakespeare. Music by Tolga Çebi. If anybody else has done this, please let me know. I mean it! We are in the company of a genius here. First you understood human beings and portrayed them, plus you wrote poetry, you even coined thousands of words! If the creature we call man is going to continue to inhabit this planet 500 years from now, he’s going to keep on playing Shakespeare as well.

You’re going to keep on, too, aren’t you?
In 500 years? Well, that’s something else. But I’am definitely going to keep on. I’d like to play King Lear and Richard III too before my days are up.

Your mother saw your play and said, “Man lived and died before our eyes.” How important is it that your story - your emotions - and your theater itself be understood by everyone?”
Very important. That’s exactly what we are portraying: man’s journey from birth to death. What we are after is not something that’s difficult to comprehend. We are all going to die; that’s what we are trying to say. When people hear the name Shakespeare, they don’t go to the play because they think they aren’t going to understand it. But they forget the audiences Shakespeare played to in the 16th century. Were those audiences smarter or better educated than we are? Why shouldn’t we understand Shakespeare? That’s what I don’t understand.

Which of the seven states of man are you in at present?
I’m still in the second. A child, a little boy with a schoolbag on his back, grumbling about having to go to school. I’ll die in that state.