Welcome to Part II of my interview with Nermin Bezmen, author of Kurt Seyt ve Shura!
When Turkish TV adapted Nermin's novel into a TV series, they chose Turkish sensation Kivanç Tatlitug for the lead role. As the sweeping romance airs around the world, each new audience has been mesmerized by the gut-wrenching story and the incredible performance of Kivanc Tatlitug.
And although Kivanç has been one of the most famous actors in the Middle East for nearly a decade, North Americans only "discovered" him in 2017 when Kurt Seyt ve Shura was picked up by Netflix. Now we can't get enough of him!
Today we'll continue the interview with Nermin as she recounts her experience meeting Kivanc, shares her thoughts and impressions of him, and gives us a peek inside the set of Kurt Seyt ve Shura.
GM: Welcome back, Nermin. When did you first discover Kivanc as an actor, and what was your reaction when you learned he would be playing the role of your grandfather Seyit?
NB: I have to confess I am not an avid TV watcher. I had never watched Kivanç acting, but years ago when he was chosen the best model of the year, I was one of the guests invited to the contest and after-party. Then I saw ads for his films and could see that he was climbing the steps of the screen-world and he was adored by crowds.
When the producers told me that Kivanç was going to portray my grandpa, I could only be happy. He was the perfect match for Kurt Seyt's character. I also liked that Kıvanç had never been a scandalous character and never been affected by his good looks or fame.
GM: Did you interact with any of the actors or producers as the series was developed and filmed?
Before the shooting started, I met with the screenwriter, director, and creative team. Although they had all read Kurt Seyt & Shura and its two sequels (Kurt Seyt & Murka and Mengene Göçmenleri), we had a very intense three-hour meeting. I told them the whole story, giving essential details about the characters’ psychology and details not included in the books. I also showed them photos, letters, and memorabilia. It was a very festive day and full of tears too.
Ece Yörenç, our sceenwriter, had read the book long ago, and she always hoped she would write the script for it. Now it was her time to re-write the story for the screen.
I never interfered with the casting, etc, but took part as the script consultant. I gave also them hints about the later years so they could build the core of the story accordingly.
GM: Were you ever present on set as they were filming?
I was! On the first day of filming, a very cold and snowy day, I visited the set at Karlıtepe, a little outside of İstanbul. Since the weather was perfect for the war-front scenes, they started with that episode. I arrived in the company van, and Kivanc came to meet and greet me. Looking at him in his uniform and frost-burned face, I could not help getting tears in my eyes. He was not Kivanç for me anymore, he was Kurt Seyt, my beloved grandpa, stepping out of my sepia photo, alive.
Only this time he was younger than my son…
We had a warm, friendly chat in between the shootings. He loved the Kurt Seyt character, and I could see that he was already into the story. He had completely changed from the characters he played before. He also told me that his father was very happy about his new role. His father said, “I am so happy finally you are playing a character like Kurt Seyt.”
I had a chance to talk to Farah (the actress who played Shura) about Shura's character, and she had
I also went to the St. Petersburg filming location twice. The more I watched Kıvanç, the more I
admired him. He is one of those great actors who doesn't stick to his previous roles that made him loved. He creates a whole new character in each story and even within each period of the same character. He is a kind, gentle, down to earth, and a very disciplined professional.
The St. Petersburg scenes were filmed at the actual historical palaces. I was so happy that my baby was in responsible hands. Kurt Seyt & Shura could never have been adopted to a TV series any better than this.
There was not much more I could consult at that point because I had narrated everything in great detail in the book so readers could visualize the scenes as clear as paintings. Ay Yapim also hired Russian consultants to make sure nothing would be misinterpreted. There were a few times I gave my thoughts about how couples should enter a room, how they would ascend or descend the stairs, or how they should set the table, etc.
Then I visited the set a few more times in Istanbul. Ay Yapim never spared money that would make the production spectacular. The whole crew worked feverishly, sometimes without proper sleep. Every one of the actors and actresses were in love with their roles.
If the ratings had been as good as Ay Yapim had predicted, this would have gone on another two years and then be followed by a cinema movie. But, unfortunately it did not work the way, so Ay Yapim wrapped it up, speeding into the second book, leaving it right at the beginning of my sequel to Kurt Seyt ve Shura, Kurt Seyt & Murka.
GM: Did you have any personal interaction with Kivanç throughout the process?
NB: Other than seeing him on the set, I was with Kıvanç at our group dinners in St. Petersburg. He is very kind, gentle, and friendly. Neither his good looks nor fame has spoiled him, but he does not lack the self-confidence either. He never takes part in any gossip or scandal not on the set, not in his personal life. He is strictly professional on the set and during the shooting period.
GM: Did Kivanç undergo any special training to play the role of Seyit?
NB: The actors in the St. Petersburg scenes took lessons for ballroom dancing. Kıvanç must have known horse riding before since he did a great job during the series.
Also, every actor had to adorn the body language of their characters’ period, rank, social status, etc. When we were dining in a very elegant St. Peterburg restaurant after a full day’s shooting, I could not help smiling to myself looking at the actors who were all sitting upright, shoulders back, chins up… They were so used to the noble way of standing and sitting, it had become part of their daily life.
GM: Was the Seyit we saw on screen a good representation of your grandfather as a man and friend?
The Seyit that Kıvanç played was exactly how my grandfather was in real life during the era covered in the series. But the years after brought a different fate to Kurt Seyt’s life, and with each chaos or disappointment he became more stubborn.
Kurt Seyit was authoritative, respected, and very much loved. He was raised to be this way since he was to become Mirza of his people, if fate had not intervened. He was loyal and supportive of his family and friends, and also very soft-hearted towards the poor and needy. But all this did not stop him from being a hard-headed, stubborn risk taker.
Petro was his first good friend from the military academy in St. Petersburg at age twelve. That friendship flourished till the revolution, and then Petro changed sides. Actually, Petro’s real life fate is much different than the one in the series. The dynamics of the screen requires constant antogonist-pratogonist relation, so Petro stayed just to satisfy that need.
Celil was the closest and the most brother-like friend of Kurt Seyit till they had to separate, which is another matter that was a lot different than the series.
Seyt was a kind of man who would challenge the faith. When he got sick in 1943 during a train trip, they were halted in the middle of freezing snow for a whole day and night. He gave his coat and scarf to a woman with children, and it did not take long for him to get worse. He became so ill he could not work, forcing my grandma to take the burden of the household. This was during WWII when life was getting harder and harder. Being used to being strong, he could not endure being so needy, weak, and gasping for air. Doctors told him that there was nothing to be done... So instead of waiting for death, he committed suicide. It was not a matter of sudden craziness, but all planned very carefully so nobody could save him…
It is very ironic that a week later Shura came to İstanbul. She visited Yahya and stayed in his hotel and learned from him that Kurt Seyit had been buried a week before…
I know that Shura and my grandfather corresponded for some time after she left Istanbul. And on her last trip, I still wonder if my grandpa knew that she was coming.
I had one big question when my grandma told about a specific letter from Shura to my grandpa. (This is covered in the second sequel.) Murka, being jealous and worried what the letter contained, asked Seyt, and it (supposedly) said, “Shura is on deathbed, so sick. She wants to see me for one last time.” And my grandma, although jealous, was a religious woman and said, “Go, see her.” My grandpa answered, “Think again. Because if I go, I may never come back.”
I kept wondering why, if he was going to visit a woman who was dying, would he not come back after she died? Then four years later I met Tina, and she told me that the timing of the letter was exactly the time when Shura was just out of the hospital and divorced and was going to America.
As you see, the story of the past is always ready to be renewed and retold.
GM: How are Kivanç (not Seyt) and your grandfather alike? How are they different?
NB: Kurt Seyt was raised in a whole different era and social status than Kivanç. Seyt went through a chaotic life that began with splendor in the opulence of Czarist Russia, and he then endured war, revolution, blood-shed, then immigration, building a life from scratch in a foreign country under siege, yearning for his homeland and loved ones… So although Kıvanç was great at representing Kurt Seyt’s emotions on the screen, he has not endured such hardship, and God forbid never will. I am sure this makes life more enjoyable for him than Kurt Seyt’s, because such traumatic times affect not only one’s past and present, but also their future and dreams.
GM: Many Kivanç fans feel that his acting performance in Kurt Seyit really shows what an outstanding actor he is. Are there any scenes that you feel especially showcase his talent?
NB: His emotions all through the series reflected the moment in time Kurt Seyt was in. His eyes and body language gave away the feelings without even speaking. I particularly liked the scene on war-front lecturing his men and then galloping away on his horse. The scene where he had to say farewell to his father, when he buried his parents, when he had to leave Osman on the shore… and so many other scenes all capture one’s heart.
Farah was outstanding too. She portrayed the young, innocent, shy, pampered girl turning into a brave, passionate, cool, self confident young woman perfectly. Their chemistry was great, and Fahriye Evcen was the sweetest Murka.
GM: Last but not least, tell us how your husband got to be a part of Kurt Seyit ve Sura!
Tolga has been loved by movie-goers and TV watchers for more than three decades in Turkey, with many screen hits as the lead man. I remember seeing in the newspapers that windows of a shopping mall were shattered because of the girls and women who wanted to get in to see him.
You may say that Kıvanç today is like Tolga was then. But in those years we lacked the web and social media, and Turkish productions did not make it to the Western world like they do today.
Like Kivanç, Tolga comes from a modeling background. He lived and modeled in Italy for two years, and while there he played in a historical German film production.
One day the production crew of Kurt Seyt & Shura came to our house for a meeting. When our director saw him, she said she would like to have him in the series as well. But at the time, Tolga was the lead role in a theatre production so he could not take part until the play was over and that put him in the İstanbul story, which started with the seventh episode.
GM: Thank you so much, Nermin! Getting this behind the scenes view of Kivanc, your husband, and the Kurt Seyit set was just fascinating!
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Connect with Nermin online!
•Official website: KurtSeytAndShura.com
•Official Facebook page: "Kurt Seyt & Shura English."
•Official Instagram: @kurtseytandshura
•Dont miss Part I of this interview--all about Nermin!
*Images of Nermin and her family were all used with permission.
Bio: Nermin Bezmen is an accomplished artist, art teacher, yoga instructor and broadcaster whose meticulous research into family history led to the publication of Kurt Seyt & Shura in 1992. This fictionalised account of her grandfather’s life became an instant bestseller, and is now considered to be a masterpiece of contemporary Turkish literature to the extent that it has reached textbook status in several secondary schools and universities. Exquisite detail distinguishes her writing as she proves that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that our ancestors call out to us all from the pages of history. Her powerful character analysis and storytelling skills invite the readers to explore their own dreams, sorrows, anxieties and even fleeting fancies. Bezmen has to date published fifteen novels, two of which are biographical, and one is a fantasy; a children’s novel, a collection of forty short stories and a book of poems. She has two children and three grandchildren and lives with her husband, actor Tolga Savacı in New Jersey and Istanbul.