Meltem Cumbul is at the center of Turkey’s expansive, influential media industry that has wide distribution throughout Europe and the Middle East. Known mostly for her work in television, in daytime dramas, mini-series and hugely popular game shows, her body of work has established Meltem celebrity status. She’s also an award winning actress staring in numerous dramatic feature films, like Gönül Yarası (“Lovelorn”), and more recently, Tell Me O Kkhuda, produced in Bollywood, achieving international recognition.There is a new film just released, Labyrinth, an action picture in which she plays an intelligence officer, that challenges the traditional role of women in films. In addition to acting, Meltem is busy as a writer, producer and a teacher at the Conservatory in Istanbul.
This year she was chosen to be the ‘Voice of the World’ at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards, broadcast worldwide from the Beverly Hilton.
We met up in Beverly Hills for an exclusive ARA interview…
Thursday 18 Jan 2012
a conversation with Keith Kurman for ARA, Dubai
What did you wear for the Golden Globes?
I wore a Chloe dress, Erica Courtney jewelry and Oscar de la Renta shoes
Where they comfortable?
Very much so… because last year…
We know what can happen. Did you dance at all?
Yes, I danced all night. No, not that much. I didn’t dance that much, but I was standing.
Yoshiki’s not much of a dancer,
(Yoshiki, of the sensational Rock group ‘X Japan‘, was chosen to write the new theme music for the Golden Globes and was seated at the same table with Meltem.)
Ever notice that? The drummer’s don’t dance?
Drummer’s are like, the guy with the beat but you never see them on the dance floor.
DJ’s never dance
They don’t dance either
Meltem Cumbul at the Golden Globes
So what did you say when you came out on stage at the Golden Globes? In front of, what is it, seventeen million viewers?
I said a hundred and ninety-nine countries are watching us, including my hometown in Turkey. And I said, I grew up with the show and it’s a great honor to be with you guys. And I said, “peace at home, peace in the world”, quoting Ataturk.
I was trying to catch it in the buzz of the room
And I said good evening in Turkish (iyi tunaydin!). It was a wonderful experience, a very good experience. It was a very good experience for me that I always appear on a stage where people know me. And this time I saw faces that they don’t know me. This was a different experience and I talked with them from somewhere that they have no idea about, like, who I am? Yeah,
So it was more clear. Not judgmental or anything, like, very clear. ’cause when you don’t know somebody you listen to that person carefully and you try to register who that person is. So I saw that in their faces… trying to find out, who am I. And this was a very good experience.
The reaction in the room was very good. Everybody was like “yeah, excellent”.
And it was a kind of, first for the Golden Globes, to have someone come out and recognize the influence the Globes has abroad. That it’s not just this Hollywood insider deal. ’cause everyone in the industry and here in town snipes at it and makes all these jokes… it’s this and it’s that and they’re not really thinking about what the bigger picture is…
Exactly, oh wow, yeah. You got the point, right.
… to have someone come out from out there,
…and from this business
And recognize it as a significant focus.
Right, I really… I’m impressed by Yoshiki as well. That he did the music for the Golden Globes from Japan. This is important too because he’s not known to Americans. This is another thing, right?
American’s don’t know him but he is very well known in Asia.
And with young people all over the world. He does stadium shows in Buenos Aires with three hundred thousand people screaming. So, I think overall it was a very good wake up call to the industry that you have a larger responsibility then your first weekend take in American cinema-plexes.
What are you up to now? What’s your current project that you’re excited about?
My new movie is out in Turkey and in England, Germany and it’s called Labyrinth
We did that movie in the summertime, in nine weeks time in the south east of Turkey, Istanbul and in Frankfurt. My Indian movie, Tell Me O Kkhuda , came out two months ago in India. Now I’m just taking a rest and I guess I’m going to do a television show. I don’t know yet, lets see.
Like a regular show?
Oh a drama. Like a series or a mini-series?
It can be mini-series. Right now their…
Working on the pilot?
No we don’t have pilots. They’re trying to negotiate with me like… it’s not easy with me to do a television show because it’s hard work.
I’m looking at you incredulously because you have been doing television all along,
Yes, this is drama. It’s gonna be a drama like… I don’t know yet, I haven’t decided yet.. let’s see.
I just recently finished my script so I’m planning to shoot that. And I have a very close friend who has a project, KING FAROUK…
Which has Turkish roots and origins, potentially a kind of perfect story for you.
We like that. We’ll be looking forward to that. Can you talk about Labyrinth? It’s released throughout Europe…
2 weeks ago. It is about secret service in Turkey. Several years ago they bombed a bank in Istanbul. And we realized that at the same time they bombed the Consulate of England… the same day.
How many years has it been? Nine years. And I haven’t seen that news in all over the world. It was like strange to me. It happened and it just disappeared, like nothing happened.
They investigated it… in Turkey they investigated it… it was such a big thing in Turkey. In Western eyes, it didn’t exist. It was strange. What I’m trying to say is that if something happens here or somewhere else it’s like it’s a big thing, right? Whatever happens in Turkey it’s like it doesn’t show. Like it did not exist in western eyes.
… I remember the bombing of the embassy,
Well the movie is about that. About two agents, secret service agents are investigating that terrorist after terrorist activity and while they are doing that they find out they are not innocent anymore either. They’re in there too. It’s like, Labyrinth. It’s all about that. When you’re in the labyrinth, even as an agent, it gets like your investigating and you’re solving a problem, you’re already getting involved. It is about two people who find out that what they do is not for innocent people.
And you’re one of the agents?
Did you get to pack a gun?
Yes, and I’m fighting and I’m doing so many things. What I like in that character is most of the time in Turkish scripts, in the action movies, women characters always sit in the car and wait for the man who does everything and comes to the car and talks with her romantically. So women in characters always feeds the romantic scenes or feeds the man, woman kind of thing in that script. This is the first time that I’m seeing such a character in Turkey. Who is involved in the action parts and other parts… every part. So it affected me so much and I like that a lot. I wanted to do that.
How’s the response been?
So good, so good, so good.
And is it subtitled?
In Turkish and Arabic and German
And the script you’re just wrapping?
About three years I’ve been working on the script. It’s a woman’s story of course. We can’t smoke here can we?
No, I don’t even know if you can smoke on the streets in Beverly Hills..
…anyway, I’m working on my script still. It’s a woman’s story. It’s about a woman who lives in the big city and tries to stand on her feet and take care of her family. It looks like being a man and being a woman at the same time. So the character can’t carry that anymore. She would like to feel like a woman and she doesn’t want to be masculine that much, but life makes her like that, but she doesn’t want to.
It’s like, a feature?
It is a feature
And maybe a tv drama series?
Yeah, why not.
…and maybe another?
Yes, King Farouk!
Shall we take a break for a smoke?
Sure, you’re so sweet.
Along with all these projects, you say you’re teaching as well?
yes, I’m a teacher as well, in the conservatory. I’m teaching the method that I worked with Eric Morris three years on in Los Angeles and learned that it was such a big opportunity for me to learn that method from himself, from the creator of that method.
And this is an Acting Method?
Yes. And he uses archetypes in that method. Archetypes, sub-personalities. It’s a major choice approach in order to make the character real. So you find that character in you from your archetypes and transform it.
So there’s a lot of self analysis involved?
Yes, So consciousness is the most important thing in the method. I’m teaching that. Especially I’m teaching it in the Easternized minds cuz we live with communities. We’re not still individual. This is important.
We’ve talked about this before, about he distinction between film…
It’s completely different being westernized and easternized. Easternized scripts are completely different than westernized scripts. We see so many characters in the western scripts. But we so stereotypes in the eastern scripts; because of the community idea. So because of that we don’t have serial killers, we have terrorist groups. You know what I mean? So this is important. The culture; even though Turkey is in-between, of course. We have characters, we have stereotypes. We have individuals, we have communities. Because we are Turkey. You can’t compare Turkey to any other country. It’s very authentic in that case. Very authentic, it doesn’t belong to anywhere at all. So it can’t belong to European community and I’m not supporting the EU thing at all. It doesn’t belong to that. It doesn’t belong to Eastern culture either. It’s itself. We have a philosophy that culture comes from (inaudible) cause Turks are like that, they moved a lot. So because of that, Turkey’s geographical importance is important in the community as well. So I don’t feel like we belong to anywhere in this world. (laughing). So where I would like to make it belong to somewhere. We carry all of them, we carry whole. I carry whole, for example. I feel like I represent the whole.
Well, we have been trained to think small in the modern world and short term and it seems easy to forget how short a time it was ago that Turkey was such a huge, diverse…
influence in the world.
And it’s uniqueness and its individuality was its strength.
I think that, central in that empire was this meretricious aristocracy, that you moved up to sultan level from the ranks. You could be a slave who becomes a soldier who becomes a general who becomes a prince who becomes a sultan. Through, basically, good governance. It’s not who you are, it’s what you do.
Mohamed Ali Pasha was Turkish,
I think Turkey is being treated pretty shabbily in the world.
Well, I believe that in terms of the movement towards a global.. moving towards this global economy in a smaller world. I mean, everyone’s so connected and everything is so immediate that you need to be a part of a bigger thing in order to stand in this world where we’re all fighting the corporate oligarchy, that there are these few men in board rooms who are basically taking control and how do you fight against that.
You and I; we have culture, that’s our thing.
There are people that are good at the politics or this or that – whatever it is they are good at, but you and I are in culture, that’s our area. And if we can open minds and encourage curiosity, those are the marks we can best leave.
…and you do that through character.
Well, you know, it’s frustrating that the world is being taken so quickly from us. And we know it because we’re involved in culture; we see it coming. We’re trained and inclined to be observant of what’s going on and to remember things, we don’t forget. Nine years ago? The bank bombing? You know I remember it like it was a news story from yesterday. It’s like part of the fabric of what’s going on in the world and how the dynamics are interacting. The movement isn’t necessarily a forward movement; it’s a closing down. It’s this closing down of everything and this whole Occupy Wall Street concept is a reaction to that. It’s resisting that. Which is a great thing and I’m happy that its happening all over the world – everybody’s getting that. The Arab Spring is very much a reaction to that whole sort of, closing down.
But as artists, it’s our job to puncture holes in that, release the pressure on people so that they continue to breath and live and appreciate a beautiful sunny day and see the beauty in the people that they’re with and the lives that they are making. That’s our job as artists, preserving culture, in defending culture. Because if culture stops growing its dead. And if culture.. social cultures are not growing, challenging themselves and becoming new and inspiring more adventure, – it’s our job to, you know, to keep culture alive…
You do a very good job of that. Inspiring people. I saw the faces of the people who came up to you in Istanbul, and even here in Beverly Hills, being mobbed everywhere you went. Their faces were not the sort of desperate, clingy thing that we saw the other night, they were joyous faces of, reacting that you’ve brought joy to them. Their faces light up and their body language is all about openness and wanting to be close to it, and that’s a beautiful thing, very special.
Thank you very much…
When you get your contract; actors get to put riders in. So what are the things you have to have backstage.
Just water. And I pray. That’s it. I pray, I follow Sufism and I meditate through that philosophy. The key word is acceptance and love. So I always pray for love and I always see love inside of me and try to show that to people and they can feel their enlightened and not staying in the shadow.
Do the critics frustrate you? If they don’t get it?
It’s been twenty years. That’s quite a long time so I don’t need any approval from anybody. Even in a good way or a bad way. I do whatever I need to do. Whatever my genes want me to do and I’m just being in that statement. So I don’t care if it is good or if it is bad.
My whole just enjoys the moment to moment, feeling anything; I accept anything in this life. Bad or good it doesn’t matter. There is no bad or no good for me; everything I accept whatever happens.
… not an easy thing to do.
I don’t feel the fear of failure in anything. I don’t. I have this body and I have this soul; that’s it.
So are you invulnerable?
Um… I have everything in me. I have vulnerabilities, I have anger, I have this or that. But all things are working for me in characters. I’m using them and I am in control. I am the master of my mind, soul and body. They can’t control me. This is myself
Putting it in another way; so much of what drives character development or character interest is vulnerability and how they deal with it. How they manage it, how they succumb to it. How they use it to manipulate other people. Or how they identify it in other people and use that as a portal to..
Exactly. We see them all right? We see them all in ourselves, we see them all in people, we see it everywhere. So we know the psychology as well because of the job that I’m doing. So when it’s like knowing so many things and feeling at the same time naive that you don’t know anything.. it’s kinda like that that I can just tell. It’s like I’m exploring so many things in myself. So I have that knowledge about myself. Because if I have that knowledge in me about me in myself I’m seeing everybody, I’m reading everybody through me, through myself. So I can understand everything. But choices are the most important things. What is my choice? How can I control everything in me and discipline myself what I want to live. Because this is my dream. Nobody’s dream, I’m sorry.. This is my life. You know? So if those dreams are matching with other people – it’s wonderful to be with them and explore that dream all together. Its like that.. its not … what is reality anyways?
Right. Well isn’t that the big question isn’t it? It’s kinda the big question.
Yeah, for Salvador Dali surreality is the reality. Because is express himself through surrealism. This is it, for Almodóvar it’s something else. For me it’s something else too.
But on some level it has to be something that not just a few people can identify with.
I identify with anybody. choices, choices…
Yeah, we’re done. I want to ask you some of the funny questions though. We’ll do the silly stuff so we can have something to lighten it up.
What vehicle did you buy yourself when you made it big?
When I hit it big? How do you mean?
Well, the first big contract and you got that nice check…
(laughing) oh wow. the Bentley.
A Bentley? Awesome. And Kamal, he is your driver in the Bentley?
I know that Grand National is on your IPod but what else are you listening to?
Koop, Empire of the Sun
Yeah? The soundtrack?
It’s not a soundtrack, it’s an album. Empire of the Sun is the group. The Black Keys…
The Black Keys – their new album is so good. You know what I’ve been playing in the car? The new Mary J. Blige, it takes my breath away its so good.
I like K.D Lang’s latest album as well. Really I do.
What’s on your nightstand?
What do I have there? Oh, I see. My mother’s picture.
Oh nice. Is she still alive?
No. She died.
Are you on any social sites like, Facebook or anything? Do you twitter?
What’s one thing you would like to change from your past?
One of my favorite all time questions, what advice would you give to young inspiring artists?
Let yourself be free.