Kerem Bürsin: What's happening with Turkish television is wonderful. Being global means being able to work and grow from your own country.(Vanity Fair full interview)

Kerem Bürsin: What's happening with Turkish television is wonderful. Being global means being able to work and grow from your own country.(Vanity Fair full interview)

He has lived in Norway, Scotland, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States, and Abu Dhabi, but Kerem Bürsin decided to return to Istanbul, his hometown, to make his dream of transcending Turkey's borders through acting a reality. And he has certainly achieved it. We talked to him by the shores of the Bosphorus.

Kerem Bürsin: What's happening with Turkish television is wonderful. Being global means being able to work and grow from your own country.(Vanity Fair full interview)

There is no doubt that walking with Kerem Bürsin (Istanbul, 1987) through his hometown is the closest thing to living for a few minutes in the skin of a deity who has just set foot outside of Olympus: selfies, autographs, astonished faces, hushed conversations, and the certainty that this 36-year-old actor is already an indisputable reality in his own home, a demonstration that the saying "a prophet is not recognized in his own land" does not apply to everyone. And certainly not to him. A producer, screenwriter, model, and actor, Bürsin greets Vanity Fair on a yacht by the shores of the Bosphorus and lives up to expectations: smiling, tanned, and very talkative. He has just filmed his first commercial as an ambassador for Turkish Airlines and is one of the leading figures in an industry (the Turkish one) in full swing. "I always wanted to be an actor, since I was a child, and there was never a Plan B... Plan B came later, when I wasn't sure if it would work," he confesses with a wide grin.

Bürsin is the product of an environment that has traveled more miles than Phileas Fogg, the legendary protagonist of "Around the World in 80 Days." His father worked for a major oil company, and the Bürsins never stayed in one place for more than three years. However, when the moment of truth came, young Kerem was very clear: "I remember perfectly when I told my parents that I wanted to go to university to study something related to acting. They didn't take it very well. My mother was silently supportive, but my father said I shouldn't even dream about it. So, I decided to go to Emerson in Boston, and I told them I was going to study marketing because they had a great marketing program there and that acting was Plan B, but in reality, it was the other way around (laughs)," he says. "My parents were living in Malaysia at the time, and I had decided to move to Los Angeles for my final year of university. My mother came to visit me, and we were in the car when I confessed that acting was my priority. She told me I could try it if it was my desire, but I had to promise her that I wouldn't end up acting in one of those terrible low-budget movies. 'If you end up like that, you quit and do something else,' she said. And then I went to Mexico to film with Roger Corman (laughter)."

The movie was called "Sharktopus," Bürsin was the protagonist, and Roger Corman was the king of B movies. Despite the actor's mother's warnings, he couldn't resist Corman's offer. "If you love cinema, you adore Roger Corman: Jack Nicholson started with him, Ron Howard started with him, James Cameron started with him. Everyone started with Roger Corman," he comments. After that, after his debut with one of the most famous producers and directors in the world of cinephilia, he decided to go home: Kerem Bürsin returned to Istanbul.

Kerem Bürsin: What's happening with Turkish television is wonderful. Being global means being able to work and grow from your own country.(Vanity Fair full interview)

In Turkey and upon his return, the still aspiring heartthrob encountered a happily resolved issue. "Yes, I had an American accent when I started working in my country, and they constantly pointed it out (smiles). But now, I've been here for 11 years, and I think in Turkish. It's been a massive shift, going from speaking in English and forgetting a word and thinking, 'Damn, what's that word in Turkish?' What happens is that my language is very rich, and I believe you need to read a lot, discover it, learn new words. I've been at it for quite a few years now, and it works for me." Bürsin is wearing a blue jacket from Beymenclub, a very fashionable brand in Turkey, but when complimented on his sense of style, he refuses to take any credit: "I'd love to say it's my style, but it's not my merit. They give me very nice things, and I wear them!" he says.

The star of series like "Bu Şehir Arkandan Gelecek" (2017), "Muhteşem İkili" (2018-2019), "Immortals" (2018), or the highly acclaimed "Love is in the Air" (2020-2021) is one of the cornerstones of the enormous success of Turkish soap operas worldwide and has a massive legion of followers, including our country, where Bürsin has his own fan club. "I think the first time I understood that something was happening with me was the day my cousin, who lives in Spain, was shopping in an appliance store and told me that my show was on a bunch of screens in the store, on all the TVs: 'Dude, they're showing your series here,' he informed me. But the time I really noticed that I had some influence on Spanish-speaking viewers was when I went for an audition for Universal in Los Angeles. The guy at the security checkpoint looked at me and said, 'Oh my God, it's you.' He had seen me in a series where I played a boxer and recognized me (laughs). I replied, 'Let me pass, I've only come for an audition.' And he said, 'No, no. We have to take a photo.' There was a huge line of cars, and they must have thought I was Al Pacino or something (laughs)."

Despite this, and his unstoppable fame in Turkey, the performer seems like a down-to-earth man, far removed from the diva-like behavior that someone with over 11 million Instagram followers and recognition everywhere might exhibit. "If you want me to tell you the truth, I don't think about it too much. In the end, I believe everything depends on the context you're in. My family cares very little whether I have fame or not because to them, I'm still the kid who lived in their house and whom they took everywhere. I tell them, 'If I'm 36 years old' (laughs), but the way they treat me has always been the same. Besides, success is a very elusive thing, even if you have a lot of it, there's a period where you don't know if it's real or how long it will last. If you really think you're the king of the world, you're very mistaken because tomorrow you could be gone, disappeared. That's why you have to try to stay in shape, stay fresh, because this is not like being the CEO of a big company," explains Bürsin. "Do I consider myself successful? I think I'm fortunate, but not necessarily a successful person. I'm content with where I am and how I've gotten here, but you never know if it will rain or if there will be an earthquake; you really don't know anything. Well, if I'm still doing this when I'm 80 and it's because I've freely chosen to do so, then you can say I'm a successful guy."

For the actor, performing in his own country is almost a statement of intent; it's not just a matter of convenience or laziness: "I already had the opportunity to work in America, and I chose to stay in Turkey to film 'Love is in the Air,' which I believe is popular in Spain. I chose to stay here because I thought it would be important and reach more people by doing it in my own country." Bürsin also doesn't forget some of his experiences in the film industry's mecca while trying to build his own career: "When I lived in the United States, they kept telling me to change my name. 'Dude, you're American,' they insisted. And I would reply, 'I'm Turkish.' They would look at me and ask, 'Okay, what have you done in Turkey?' (laughs). It was like a vicious circle: I didn't belong anywhere."

The Istanbulite has a clear vision of what he wants for the Turkish audiovisual industry: "Think about Spain, the number of actors, actresses, directors, or screenwriters you have. In Turkey, we are more than 80 million... and I'm not saying there aren't tremendous performers here because there are, but I believe we need to work to go further. Since I was a child, I wanted to be that Turkish actor who transcends his country's borders: I'm Turkish, but I can play anyone. I don't want to limit my career to certain roles just because someone thinks I can only do that. That's why it's wonderful that this is happening with Turkish television because 30 years ago, it would have been impossible, and being able to go global means being able to work and grow from your own country," he reflects.

Bürsin has been busy in recent weeks filming an advertisement for Turkish Airlines. Something that might seem routine but, in his words, has been a fantastic experience. "First of all, because the company is a brand that represents us very well and has been a source of pride for Turks for many years. Some may think it's just words, but I dreamt of doing something with them, with this global brand that has always been a mark of prestige and with which you can go anywhere in the world whenever you want. And secondly, because it took us more than 40 days of shooting, which is truly insane for an advertisement. It was over a month and a half for two and a half minutes, but those two minutes allowed me to travel everywhere, to explain that this country has everything, that you can experience it all. It's one of the best things I've done in my career and one that brings me the most happiness because I've been able to combine my work with this late discovery of my country. There were so many places I hadn't seen that I enjoyed it twice as much."

When asked why he believes he was chosen to star in a campaign of this magnitude (the commercial premieres this month), Bürsin responds with humor, "I feel like answering: 'Because it was about time, damn it' (laughs). No, seriously, without wanting to sound arrogant, I think it makes sense: I speak English, which I think is a very important aspect because you can communicate and reach a lot of people, and I'm a familiar face to many, here and in other parts of the planet. In my mind, it makes sense (smiles)."

Kerem Bürsin: What's happening with Turkish television is wonderful. Being global means being able to work and grow from your own country.(Vanity Fair full interview)

For the Istanbul native, traveling has been a kind of scalpel that has shaped his life. "I've lived in Norway, Scotland, Indonesia, Malaysia, the United States, or Abu Dhabi, and all that experience had a strong influence on who I am now. Traveling forces you to coexist, to listen, to understand different cultures from yours; richer countries, poorer countries, places I would have never known if it weren't for those constant moves. Usually, my father was the one working, so my mother looked to help by collaborating in various volunteer work. That's also part of my way of being, that idea of trying to help, because regardless of where you come from, what you have, or how you dress: in the end, you are human. You know something interesting? There came a point where I hated traveling, but at the same time, doing it so frequently included a reset button, and there was something very useful about it: every time you left, it was a fresh start. Whatever you did wrong, don't repeat it (smiles)."

However, the actor seems very settled in Istanbul. "This is the place where I've lived the longest, and I don't know if I'll be here forever, but what I do know is that I'll always have one foot here. I believe in destiny, but not in there being only one reason for everything that happens to us. It's a combination of many factors that brought me here. Why Istanbul? Because Istanbul has it all, and now that we appear on screens all over the world, you might have been here before actually being here, just like with New York itself: the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire... Look, my aunt is a very famous tour guide in Turkey. When big personalities like Oprah Winfrey or Michael Douglas come, she always shows them the city. On one occasion, she told one of these big stars that we had a mosque called 'the new mosque.' 'It's 600 years old,' she added. And that person replied, 'Damn, it's much older than America (laughs).' 'And that's how it is, here there are layers upon layers, upon layers, upon layers. We've been here for centuries, right in this place."

Kerem Bürsin: What's happening with Turkish television is wonderful. Being global means being able to work and grow from your own country.(Vanity Fair full interview)

Bürsin has to leave, but before he does, he wants to emphasize the beauty of his hometown: "To everyone reading this, this is the only place where you can cross from Europe to Asia in minutes, where you can stroll through the Galata district at four in the morning (as I used to do, now it's a bit more difficult because I have to stop and greet a lot of people), you can have coffee at Pierre Loti up on the hill; you can have dinner at Pandeli, in the Egyptian Bazaar, a place my grandfather used to go to, with its walls filled with memories and it still remains a little open secret. It's impossible to exhaust Istanbul, even if you come a thousand times: it always has something to offer," he says, almost as if he were on an astral journey to the treasures of his homeland.

Before ending our conversation, one last question: if you could work with anyone you wanted, in anything you wanted, where would you go and with whom? "Let me think. Well, I love Andrew Dominik; his films are complex and wonderful, and I've always been fascinated by him. He's a director I admire and revere. But if I can choose anything, and thinking big, what the hell, I would love to work with Martin Scorsese. That's it: with Scorsese, in whatever he wants. I accept! (laughs)."


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