Kenan Imirzalioglu: Esquire Magazine December 2020
Kenan Imirzalioğlu is in a new phase of his life.
Kenan Imirzalioğlu, Turkey’s big star who has recently become a new father, is on the cover of the December 20-21 issue of Esquire Turkiye. After a long absence, in this interview Kenan Imirzalioğlu talked about the new phase of his life and answered all our questions with complete sincerity.
We are at Kenan Imirzalioğlu’s house. It’s a day that does not let you miss summer. His dog Ciko is walking around; his name was given by Tuncel Kurtiz. I’m trying to make a summary out of all the questions I can ask to one of the biggest stars of Turkey.
Nowadays, Imirzalioğlu is presenting Kim Milyoner Olmak Ister (“Who Wants to be a Millionaire”). We see him presenting a program for the first time in his career. He tells that even though some of his friends had doubts at first, he has always had a fondness toward this competition.
“It’s a competition of knowledge and culture. You don’t have to jump and roll like other competitions. It has a grace of its own. Consequently, it was a program that I respected and enjoyed. When I received the offer, I believed that I could do it. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t yet received any negative feedback.”
Question: If he were to compete, which questions would he answer?
“History, philosophy, math, geography. But it’s something different to compete there. His job is to reveal the stories of people who participate in the program, to help them be freed from the nervousness that is caused by the broadcast, for their knowledge to not be shadowed. So that they won’t feel down when they go back home.”
In presenting, what is going to happen is determined by the person who comes that day, whereas in acting you know what you are going to play. For instance, a competitor who lost his memory and started learning everything from scratch participated in the program a while ago. Imirzalioğlu loves to uncover the stories of these people.
“I’m the type of person who asks where the driver is from when I get in a taxi. I generally communicate with people. I converse. I’m curious about their lives, to what they are against, what they like.”
He says that he sometimes forgets he is in front of the camera when he focuses on what the competitor tells him since he is deeply interested in people’s stories.
“Our director was telling us to act natural. But I realized that I don’t smile when I’m focused. And when I don’t, I give this serious and tough vibe. I remind myself to not forget to smile. I guess there’s something called a ‘presenter’s smile’.”
Since he is someone who is interested in stories, I wondered if he desires to try scriptwriting or directing like many Hollywood actors have.
“My director friends who I worked with also told me, ‘Kenan, it’s time for you to direct a movie’.’ They tell me that I analyze the script correctly. But I think that if I won’t be able to make a difference in a director’s chair, if I won’t be able to reflect my own perspective, there’s no point in doing it.”
Imiralioğlu loves Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, and David Fincher movies very much. David Lynch is also one of his favorite directors even though he sometimes finds him confusing. He loves Christopher Nolan’s work the most among the directors.
“He opened a new door in cinema by stepping outside the classical stories of Hollywood.” He laughs while telling,”In one of his interviews, Leonardo DiCaprio had said ‘I played in Inception but I still don’t understand it’ since it’s a multi-layered movie’.”
In Imizrazlioğlu’s filmography, there are many movies from various different genres such as “Deli Yurek” (being in the first place), “Yazi Tura”, “Son Osmanli Yandim Ali”, “Kabadayi”, “Ejder Kapani”, “Uzun Hikaye”, and “Cingoz Recai”. Especially “Yazi Tura” which won a lot of awards. “Uzun Hikaye” was an adaptation of Mustafa Kutlu’s novella which is a reunion of Osman Sinav and Imirzalioğlu after more than 10 years later.
“Actually, it was supposed to be filmed right after “Deli Yurek”. If it could have happened, it would have been more interesting because it is a heartwarming movie. But it’s kismet was to film it in 2012.”
One of the projects that reflects Imirzalioğlu’s acting talent in the best way is “Yazi Tura” and Cevher’s character in it. Even Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who he desires to work with, is one of the people who agrees. He said Imirzalioğlu was, “One of the faces that looks really good on the screen after Yilmaz Guney.”
We had recently watched Imirzalioğlu as a detective in “Alef”, directed by Emin Alper, apart from the competition show. The other starring role actor, Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan said, “Kenan is not playing the Superman for the first time,” for the Kemal character has traumas in his life and is trying to hold on to life with his job. Imırzalioğlu laughs while he tells about this detective story.
While he states that he is more positive about digital platform projects, where he thinks we can tell stories better since an episode of the TV series is unnecessarily too long, he also shares an old story about his series that were sold to other countries.
“"Deli Yurek” was the first series that was sold abroad [to Kazakistan]. Brother Osman had sold each episode with the symbolic price of one dollar since it was his dream.”
I ask about his Superman image looking from another perspective. Imirzalioğlu has portrayed unforgettable and passionate characters in “Ezel”, “Deli Yurek”, “Karadayi”, “Cingoz Recai” (where he played a charitable thief) and “Fatih”. Roles such as an ardent lover, the one who takes revenge, the one who has conscience even though he suffers profoundly, have always looked good on him and apparently people agree with it since these roles have always been offered to him.
When I asked if he has a similar personality with these roles, and if that is what brought about success, he replied:
“That’s partially the case. But every series needs such a passionate, embracing, assuring character. As to the offers I received, well, we all have every emotion. Imagine it as a turntable: You have to increase some of the emotions whereas you have to decrease the others. You work like an equalizer.”
I say that some people are more passionate from birth. It is said that the camera gives away what kind of a person you are.
Kenan smiles while saying: “The answer is in the projects that are executed.”
A Big Star of a Modernist Period
Kenan Imirzalioğlu, who has reached the pinnacle of his career, is now discovering being a dad. According to him, there are still 12 years ahead for the pinnacle of his life.
Maybe “Fatih” lasted only a short time. However, all other projects of his have been long-running and watched a lot. I wonder if he owes this success to choosing the right project.
“I sometimes had faith in the idea, sometimes in the script, sometimes in the director. But I ultimately focused on how to tell rather than what to tell. I have never accepted a project to save the day or focused on earning money. I always asked, ‘Would this project work?' I don’t have a precise formula.”
Imirzalioğlu believes most of all in the labor. He has never given up thinking that working is the most important thing. Since the day Osman Sinav believed in him after he was announced as the first Turkish male model who won the Best Model of the World in 1997.
“Brother Osman took a risk. His brother suggested me to him. The man who suggested me for the role in “Deli Yurek” became my best man at my wedding afterward. Osman Sinav wasn’t quite positive about me at first. He is a director who directed Super Baba. He directed a movie called “Yalanci”, starring Mehmet Aslantug, I had watched and adored it.
“After a couple of months, the director of the movie was standing before me! I said, ‘You have a serious career. I’m going to play in front of the camera for the first time. What makes you believe?’ He said, ‘If I have this wisdom, the experience you have just mentioned, then I believe in the potential you possess.’ He added, ‘If you risk your neck, you can become a good actor.’ I asked them to give me some time to think and he wanted my head. What else could he want?”
The actor, who was 24 at that time, was worried if he could do the job properly and fulfill the responsibility. None of the details of this project were clear whereas the other four projects offered to him were clearer. Nevertheless, he wanted to choose this one. As a math student who graduated from Yildiz Technical University, the project captured his attention with its script that addressed the country’s problems.
A week later, he said “My neck is ready to be risked, let’s start.” Then he did his best to be successful.
"There is something I can’t forget. I used the see question marks in people’s eyes as to whether I would accomplish or not. It took time for these question marks to disappear. The main girl died in episode 6 but it ranked 21st on the rating list. So, I said ‘Brother Osman, apparently some people are not meant to be in front of the camera’.’He said, ‘The camera loves you; this is going to work.’ Then I said, ‘So the number 2 will vanish and 1 will remain’ as an enthusiastic young lad. We really ranked first on the list with episode 9 and it has continued for 4 years.”
I asked if he used to be ambitious. He replied with his mother’s words.
“I’m a person who fights until the end if I believe in it. My mother always says, ‘You can’t easily grasp, but if you can, you take it.’ I had grasped “Deli Yurek”. I had devoted myself. Thankfully, my faith was not in vain.”
Reminding that he played with great names such as Tuncel Kurtiz, Sener Sen, Ugur Yucel, Cetin Tekindor, Haluk Bilginer. It seems to me that you attach importance to learn from experienced people. What did you learn from these names?” Kenan replied:
“I didn’t learn this job at school. So, I started off with asking questions. If you ask me what my motto was, I can say that it was sincerity because I did not know how to act. But I thought that if I believe, the audience will believe it too. Hence, I kept sincerity as my company.
The more I worked on that, the deeper and more flexible I became. Many precious actors/actresses who I have worked with up to today have contributed to it too. Because I used to ask. But this is also my temperament. As my mother always says, ‘You take advice from a thousand people, yet you do it your way at the end of the day.’ I’m curious about other ideas and mentalities but I don’t swallow them as if they are pills. I accommodate them to my own being. It is a serious advantage to take a person’s experience as if it’s your own experience. I tried to do that. The most important thing I learned from those actors was to work. To work and to put your work together with your heart.”
“Tuncel Kurtiz was one of the most hardworking actors that I have known and one of the most respectful toward his job. He used to write down his dialogues first in order to memorize them. Then he used to read and record them on a cassette to see if there were any unnatural, off-key parts. He was this type of hardworking man. You say, ‘Tuncel Kurtiz can play any character’ because he was an actor who worked like crazy for the characters. He had respect in his job and himself and always came to the sets ready. Sener Sen, likewise. When we were filming “Kabadayi”, this thing caught the crew’s attention. Throughout the whole movie, brother Sener repeated scenes for six times due to the incorrect dialogues, and I repeated for three times. Sener Sen will play any character any way but it’s not that simple. Sener Sen works harder than maybe tons of young actors. Tuncel Kurtiz is also the same.”
He tells me that he was overjoyed playing with Tuncel Kurtiz who was Ramiz Dayi in “Ezel”. He was filled with inspiration. In his last project, “Alef”, he was deeply impressed by Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan’s way of acting, outside the boundaries of stereotypical styles, and by the fact that each scene of his felt organic when they played together. “
"If there is a momentary change, he can promptly adapt to it. Even a bird that passes by can change his gaze. Thus, he makes the scene feel like a bit more real. Because when we form a relationship with things that surround us, everything becomes more realistic.”
He tells me that in “Ezel”, every column that carried the building was placed correctly. He also states that he and Berguzar Korel were a good duo in “Karadayi”.
I believe in his sincerity about coming to the set ready and memorizing the dialogues because before me stands a person who memorized the questions that I shared with him before the interview. In each question I asked, he added, “In one of your questions you had asked...”
He also works hard to meet the requirements of the characters while he’s reading the scripts. “Obtaining the knowledge I need and performing the physical activities that are required are some of my favorite parts while getting ready for the role.”
I found out that he learned how to ride a horse for the series “Fatih”. It is now one of his hobbies. However, even though he wanted to practice, the pandemic did not let him.
“Riding a horse is an entertaining and psychologically-supporting activity. If you are calm on horseback, you can control the horse. There is an animal of 500-600 kilograms under you. It is what is carrying you. And what soothes the wild power that the animal possesses is the way you act unafraid and stay calm.”
Apart from riding horses, Imirzalioglu takes care of the plants in his garden and is quite interested in music. He is curious about every type of music from classical to fusion jazz and electronic. In classical music, he is trying to have a deep knowledge about the “romantic period”. In this pandemic process, he has taken advantage of being domestic and having made an atmosphere at home that he likes.
“In this process we realized that everyone must have as many affordable interests and hobbies as possible. Otherwise, one can easily get bored and succumb to the emptiness. We shall have our interests so that we can pass the time and improve ourselves.”
Due to his wife Sinem Kobal’s pregnancy, they had to spend the quarantine process with doubled precautions and sensitivity. They did not go out of the house unless it was needed. He could be in open air areas and in nature thanks to his garden. He has a close relationship with nature as a son of a farmer family.
“Even when I was living in a flat, I had flowers so I could touch their soil.”
(He will show me the gum tree and lavenders when he sees me out.)
“Nature is good for people. It calms you down; teaches you things. In the spring, you see the buds first and then you see flowers bloom. When you watch it closely, you catch a different tempo of time and step into a different dimension of time. It works for me to climb on the summit of Mount Ida, to breathe that oxygen when I get really bored. Nature is our primary need and cure, I believe.”
Kenan Imirzalioglu’s family is the establisher of the Ucem Village, the place where he has been to several times in 12 years, during summertime only of his middle school and high school years, due to studying in Ankara. And for a complete year when he could not pass the university exam since his father laid it down as a condition. He evaluates that period saying:
“It could have been easier if I had completed a postgraduate program in ODTU.”
I wanted to confirm the information which I saw on the Internet about his family hosting Ataturk.
“It is true that the elderly people of our village met Ataturk when he was coming from Kayseri. But as far as I know, he did not stay in our village. Our grandfathers were a great support in the Turkish War of Independence. There is a story that I remember which was told by my uncle. My grandfather Huseyin visits the council to see Ataturk. Since he is coming from the farm, his boots are muddy. The secretary does not want to invite him inside. So, my grandfather cleans his boots with the carpet in the building and says ‘These muddy boots bought this carpet’ and then goes inside.”
Imirzalioğlu also states that there are Ottoman firmans written for his family. It’s possible to follow the lineage of the family down through their history this way. He listened to some family stories from the old members of it several times.
When his traits and choices combine, such as the importance he attaches to experience, his approach to communication, his taste in music and book, the sensitivity he has for privacy, and especially the fact that he is staying away from social media, I think that makes him a total modernist-period-star. It’s like he is trying to keep himself away from the era. He said that these things I mentioned did not sound disagreeable to him and added these comments:
“I try not to be carried away by the dynamics of this era. I don’t think I would be happy there. That is why I don’t have any account on any social media platform. I don’t need social media to communicate. When I’m with my friends, my mobile phone is on silent mode. I’m one of those people who stay in the moment and mind making the best of that moment. Social media is beneficial but there are sides of it that are strange. When I’m out of it, I feel happier. My private life is my private life as befits the name. I appear on the screen with my job, but if I don’t have a job at a given moment, I’d like to stay in my own world.”
When I ask, he replies that he is like his father on the outside and like his mother on the inside.
“My mother loves people. She says, ‘Everyone has their own road of destiny so they must be regarded according to it.’ Since a young age, I have been recalling my mother’s sayings. For example, she says, ‘Son, no one can steal another’s kismet.’ It’s a very valuable saying for this industry if you can internalize it. It is thought that there is competition but for me there is not. If someone else is doing the job you wanted, you should step aside and say, ‘It was not my kismet’. Yet, this might mean a big problem for some people. Everything must be on balance.”
With his one-month and a half year old daughter, Lalin, his life has reached an entirely different level. On one hand, his life has become very beautiful. On the other, new kinds of anxieties started to emerge which he has not felt before. He said that what fatherhood makes you feel can’t be explained to someone who has not experienced it before. When I ask if a man feels complete when he becomes a father, he answers:
“When you don’t have kids, you don’t feel incomplete. But when you have, you’re filled with a feeling that makes you say ‘This is something different, we formed a family, we’re completed.’ A brand-new type of unity and integrity is being brought by two people who give life to a new person with the love they feel for each other.”
He said that he doubts he would be the same person and have the same understanding he has now had he married 15 years ago.
“I can observe it better at this age. Under my own circumstances, I married at the right time. I believe that especially the man should be ready for marriage. When you have a child, you see the effort a mother has and your respect toward mothers multiplies by five times. When you cuddle your child, you and your wife are completed; you have a world of three. When you look at your child, you can see the children of all other people in her/him. I cannot say that my empathetical thinking was not good, but it has improved through my daughter’s growth.”
He wants to teach his daughter manners the most. “Manners include many things. Hopefully, she will have the manners and the conscience.”
It’s harder for him now to watch the news. He told me that sometimes he stops himself after watching much more than needed.
“I always say, ‘May my daughter be fine and come across good people. The ones who face injustice were also children before. They were the children of some other parents. Hopefully, good people will be in my daughter’s life.”
About marriage, he says “If you found your mate, it’s an amazing thing. Marriage is something which makes you feel stronger, better, more integrated.”
I asked this of Turkey’s big star who is now 46. They say the finest age of a man is 50. Is it valid for you? Imagine, you made a marriage based on love, you had your first child, there can’t be a better age!
“Brother Tuncel used to say that it’s 58. I think there is more time to the pinnacle. I agree brother Tuncel.”
I wonder in what ways the Math education improved him.
“It enhanced my analytical thinking. We had a teacher called Yavuz who used to say, ‘A good mathematician thinks of C by seeing B when they look at A.’ This sequence actually exists in a lot of areas in life. The method of math comes in handy in acting too. But the math of an individual has limits. A human is an equation with many unknown variables.”
While he takes advantage of math in acting, he owes his graduation from university, where he returned thanks to amnesty, to his acting.
“I said to myself: ‘Kenan, now you are playing a hardworking student’, and that is how I graduated.”
Despite the glittering career he has, the 46-year-old star keeps striving to improve himself. He wants to learn English better. He aspires to learn more about the history of humanity. No doubt will not give up being a student even though he is a master now.
“I’m seriously thinking about taking lessons from a history teacher and philosophy lessons too. I intend to cover all the history of humanity. The love of learning inside me does not fade away. It applies to acting too. We won 11 awards with our movie “Yazi Tura” at the Antalya Film Festival. While we were celebrating our winning on that night, brother Haluk Bilginer had also come. He told me this when I said I admired him: "
"'Dear Kenan, we are still searching. Let’s go with learning!’ It is the same for me too. Let’s go with learning.”