I don't read People magazine. I've never been to a rock concert. I've never even asked for an autograph. I'm just not a swoony fangirl.
But I've been Kivançed.
And all it took was four episodes of Kurt Seyit ve Sura on Netflix this past spring.
From the show's opening, I'd been impressed with the lead actor’s commanding presence and the way he could look at Sura as if he was gathering her spirit with his eyes. He seemed to be able to play every emotion, and play all of them fantastically well. But when he strode away from Sura
at the train station in episode four and swiped a tear from his cheek, I nearly lost it. I concluded right then and there that this guy was the best actor I had EVER seen.
But who was he? Who was this Turkish actor who could be so magnificently masculine and authoritative one moment and then be achingly romantic and tender the next?
I stopped the video and discovered that he is Kivanç Tatlituğ, and that audiences in the Middle East have been swooning over his good looks and talent for over a decade.
I blew through the remaining 42 episodes of Kurt Seyit ve Sura in less than ten days (and some insanely late nights) and loved it so much that I started a Turkish Drama blog so I could rave about the series and Kivanç's acting. Then, oh glory, I discovered Kivanç Tatlituğ North America (KTNA), a Facebook group for English speakers who had been Kivançed just like I had.
I spent the rest of the summer watching Kivanç’s most recent series, Cesur ve Guzel, and was again blown away by his amazing acting talent. I think I watched it four times!
At the end of August, I was vaguely aware that Kivanç and his wife Başak were vacationing in Florida. Then, on September 2nd I read on the KTNA FB Forum that Kivanç had agreed to a spur-of-the-moment luncheon with his American fans in Orlando on September 3rd—the NEXT day.
Wow! Wouldn't it be cool to meet this guy who'd been mesmerizing me all summer long? But I am not a swoony fangirl. Besides, it's more than 500 miles from Charlotte, NC, to Orlando, I hate driving, and my back aches after an hour in the car.
So I blew it off and went back to my writing.
But I couldn't stop thinking about meeting him. Thinking about all the questions I'd love to ask Kivanç.
he's played. Well, darn it, if he isn't like the incredibly captivating and believable characters he played on screen, then what IS he like?
If I drove nine hours to Orlando, I just might have opportunity to find out....
At 3:00 I started packing. By 4:30 I was on the road. Two hours down the interstate I almost turned around and went home. I am not a swoony fangirl, and I never do anything spontaneous like this. What if I drove all the way to Orlando and he didn't show up? Why would Kivanç want to meet with a bunch of middle-aged American women when he has a gazillion raving fans in the Middle East?
I ignored my doubts and aching back and kept driving....
I stopped in Jacksonville, Florida, at midnight. Sunday morning I drove on to Orlando and arrived at Bosphorus Turkish Restaurant just before noon. As I made my way inside, I inhaled deep breaths to calm my racing heart. Was this really happening? Would I get the opportunity to meet Kivanç and ask him the questions I'd had NINE hours to contemplate in the car? I'd heard that his wife, Başak, and his brother's family had been invited to the luncheon as well. Would I have a chance to talk to Başak? I'd love to ask her about being Kivanç's stylist for Cesur ve Guzel.
Of the thirty-five women expected to attend the luncheon, twenty or so were already seated at the two long tables in the restaurant's back room. The room hummed with the same nervous anticipation that was thrumming inside me. The seats closest to the head table appointed for Kivanç were already filled, so I headed towards the back thinking I could scoot into the aisle or stand at the back if I needed to see.
I sat down and introduced myself to the lady sitting nearest me—she'd flown down from New York! Then two sisters arrived who'd flown in from Utah! Wow. All these ladies were just like me. They'd watched Kivanç's amazing performances, wanted to meet the man behind his characters, and found a way to get to Orlando in 24 hours.
For the next thirty minutes, excited conversation buzzed throughout the room. “Where are you from?” “How did you first learn about Kivanç?” “Can you believe we are here?” We ordered our food and started in on the appetizer and poofy Turkish bread. When we saw Kivanç pass by in the car, we all let out a collective whoop of excitement like a release valve letting off steam.
Then, just after 12:30, Kivanç and some others appeared in the courtyard just outside the restaurant. We were nearly holding our breath in anticipation. He was really coming to meet with us! And it looked like Başak and some of his family were coming too!
With phone's poised in video mode, we sat glued to our chairs, not sure what to expect. A minute later he casually walked in with a big smile and said, Hello, everybody. The phones rose to eye level, and he held out his hands and said, Please, would you put your phones down? No video please. Pictures are okay, but no videos please. For the sake of my other fans.
The phones lowered, and silence reigned as we waited to see what would happen next.
The administrators invited him to sit at the head table, and I thought to myself, wow, he's even taller than I expected and his presence is like a ball of warm energy filling the room. As he spoke to the administrators at the front of the room I couldn't hear what they said, but apparently Kivanç had no intention of secluding himself at a head table. He helped join the “head tables” to the end of one of the long tables and then sat down.
We were all like deer in the headlights! Here is a man who was a 2016 GQ Man of the Year, is an award-winning actor, graces the covers of magazines, is the face of Mavi jeans, spawns acclaim wherever he goes, and yet he wanted to sit among us as peers. It was as if his supersonic stardom hadn't affected him at all!
By now his family had entered the restaurant. His brother and sister-in-law chose the seats on his left, and his young niece was situated at the end of the table on his right. But the seat across from him was vacant. We'd been instructed to treat this like a “friendly family dinner.” I'm thinking, he's here, we're here, but we're all so star-struck, nobody's even talking to him! So after I was given the nod to go engage him, I got up, walked over, sat myself down, and stuck out my hand. “Hey! I'm Ginger Monette, and I watched Kurt Seyit ve Sura on Netflix because I write World War I fiction.”
“You write what?” he said.
“World War I fiction.”
His eyes got real big and he said, “I know you!”
We talked about that for a minute, then I told him that I loved how he portrayed emotions so intensely. American male actors almost never cry on film. They just don't express that kind of emotion. But I loved that Turkish actors do, and I was really impressed that he cried real tears. I asked how he could cry on cue. He said he just does. I got the idea that, for him, it wasn't much different than smiling or frowning. He just “did it.”
I told him American fans seemed particularly taken with him as Kuzey in Kuzey Guney because he portrayed the subtle changes in Kuzey's character so magnificently well over the course of the show. Did he know when he started filming that he (as Kuzey) would have to evolve so much? He said yes, he did have an idea that Kuzey would mature and change throughout the show.
During our conversation, he was careful to be sure his niece beside him was comfortable, as this atmosphere was no doubt unusual for a four year old girl. When she needed his full attention, I got up to give someone else a turn.
While the other attendees took selfies with Kivanç (posted on the KTNA website here), I joined a cluster of ladies standing and talking with Başak. She was just as sweet, warm, and friendly as I imagined she would be from seeing her on YouTube. She seemed surprised that we all loved her husband for more than his good looks. We talked about his incredible acting talent and his ability to make each viewer feel like she can read his deepest thoughts and feelings from his every expression, movement, and gesture. When we saw him on Netflix, it was his acting qualities that made us want to know more about him. While we certainly don't deny that Kivanç is one handsome man, it's not the primary reason most of us are so smitten with him.
By now Kivanç had finished with the selfies, and in keeping with his friendly, engaging manner, he moved to a new seat amidst of a group of fans so they could ask him questions. For the next forty-five minutes he moved around to give different groups access to him.
Somewhere in here, I had the opportunity to visit with Kivanç's lovely sister-in-law, Ebru, who
was also very sweet and soft-spoken. At one point I was able to observe Kivanç's brother, Tugay, and could really see the resemblance in their features and mannerisms even though I didn't initially think they looked alike.
As Kivanç moved around the room, I caught bits and pieces of the conversations:
When asked which role he liked the best, he said he loved them all just like a parent loves all of his children. But if pressed, he would pick Kuzey. Of course we all loved his answer, as his performance as Kuzey is the most talked about role on the KTNA Forum. Many KTNA fans confess to watching a little Kuzey nearly every day!
When asked how he “gets into character,” he said he breathes, feels, and lives the character. That’s some serious immersion! And probably one reason why his performance is so convincing and we feel like he is the character that he plays.
Someone asked him about a typical filming day. He said they film six days a week, and he doesn't report to the set until he gets a call.
Regarding filming takes for a scene, he said he doesn't like to have to do ten or fifteen takes because then the scene feels fabricated and doesn't feel fresh and real. Ah! That was eye opening. No wonder his performances are so authentic and believable!
Someone else also asked about how he was able cry so easily on screen. He said there are two ways: drops, or do it on your own. He does it on his own. We asked, How? Do you think of something really sad? He didn't answer that part, but said he's been studying acting for fifteen years and he has his ways.
When an opportunity arose to chat with Başak one-on-one, I was delighted. She had been talking to someone else and apparently my review of CvG was mentioned, and I was asked to show it to her on my laptop. Yes! She had read my review and recalled that I'd complimented her clothing choices for Kivanç and that I'd raved about how all the blue shirts brought out his stunning blue eyes. I asked her if they enhanced his eyes in CvG. She said they actually enhance all the colors to make them more vibrant.
I asked her if the blue wall color in Cesur's house on set was intentionally chosen to highlight Kivanç, and she said yes. In talking about that farmhouse, she said it was found in disrepair and was renovated as part of the show.
I told her Kivanç seemed to have a lot of impressive skills outside of acting—he looks very comfortable on a horse, boxes like a pro, has a mean martial arts kick, and even dances the tango. Had Kivanç ever ridden a horse before his acting career? Yes. Had he boxed or done martial arts prior to acting? Yes. Did he like to dance? She said he didn't like club-type dancing.
I'm always curious how actors can memorize so much dialogue and asked if she ever helped him learn his lines. No, she replied, he does it himself, and he is super fast. He can memorize a whole page in a few minutes. (Wow!)
I asked her how she became a stylist. She said she went to school in London and was a fashion designer but saw a business opportunity back in Turkey. So she went back to Turkey and started a personal styling business for men. Eventually she was hired to do male styling for film productions, and that's how she met Kivanç. I believe she said she was the stylist for Kuzey Guney.
I'd heard Turkish productions are filmed very quickly and asked her how that affected her job as the stylist. She said she gets the script and has to have the clothes for the actors two days later. Currently, she's the male stylist for four shows. I noticed that in CvG, Kivanç wore different clothes for every scene and never wore the same outfit twice—that is a LOT of pants, shirts, jackets, and shoes!
I hadn't read anything about Kivanç going to drama school, so I asked her if he'd trained as an actor or was it just a natural progression from modeling. She said after he attended university, he studied performance, but I got the idea it was not nearly as comprehensive as drama school. We both agreed that he was born with an incredible gift.
Knowing that they'd only been married a year, I asked her, if it was hard to watch her husband “romance” another woman during the filming of CvG last year or if was awkward being on set with “the other woman.” She said she was only on the CvG set twice so as not to interfere with the production and that seeing him with “another woman” didn't really bother her because she feels secure that Kivanç loves her. How sweet! That makes me respect Kivanç even more.
I made the observation that in the videos I'd seen of them together in a crowd, he always took her hand and seemed very protective of her. She said that's just the kind of person he is. From everything I saw of him at the luncheon—the way he treated his little niece and the way he treated each of us—I believe he is indeed a true gentleman who is attentive and caring to those around him.
I told Başak I was sorry to hear that she had often been criticised as Kivanç’s wife, and I suggested perhaps it was just jealousy. She said that many Middle Eastern people expect someone of his celebrity status to marry someone who is equally famous, and she did not meet their expectation. Perhaps that is a cultural thing we Americans don't fully understand. I couldn't help but wonder if they'd be more accepting of her if they got the opportunity “know” her the way we did in such a casual, conversational atmosphere. I think I speak for everyone at the luncheon who spent any time with her—she was just delightful! We all raved about how much we loved her.
It was nearing 3:00, and the luncheon was winding down. Kivanç and Başak were flying back to
Turkey the next day as he would need some time to recuperate from jet lag before a Mavi photoshoot scheduled a few days later.
Kivanç was asked to sign some glossy photographs, and as I watched, I was impressed that he wrote and spelled English as if it was his first language. We took some final pictures of Kivanç and Başak together and then said our final goodbyes.
Wow. I met Kivanç Tatlituğ. Not only did I shake his hand, but I also had the opportunity to engage him personally in conversation and see him engage with others. On my nine hour drive home, I had plenty of time to replay the meeting and process my impressions:
First, when he arrived, he greeted everyone as if he was greeting old friends. He was relaxed and unaffected—not a hint of ivory tower “star” swagger. Frankly I was surprised he didn't travel with an entourage or have paparazzi streaming behind him.
Conversing with him was easy. He's a very “normal” guy. He was surprisingly approachable, friendly, and incredibly down-to-earth. His easygoing, casual manner made him feel less “far away.” You'd never know he was such a famous actor.
He really engaged me as a person. He looked me in the eye, often leaned forward, and seemed genuinely interested in what I (and others) had to say. He made me feel like I'd known him (as Kivanç) for a long time.
Başak was engaging as well. I thoroughly enjoyed her as an individual, aside from being Kivanç's wife. Not only is she a lovely lady, but quite an accomplished businesswoman and an interesting conversationalist as well. She was feminine, sweet, and very stylish (loved her outfit!) but not vain. If she lived in my town, I would definitely invite her out for coffee to get to know her better.
And finally, my question, if Kivanç isn't like his characters, what IS he like, was indeed answered. He's not as intense, serious, or commanding as he was in CvG or KSvS. He was self-confident but not as proud or authoritative as Cesur or Seyit. If I met him at a party and had no idea who he was, I'd still want to talk to him because he had such a vibrant personality and was such an engaging conversationalist.
I can now see him as a person separate from his characters. I can think of him as Kivanç, and not as Kuzey, Cesur, or Seyit. I can better understand how Başak can not feel jealous while her hubby is romancing “another woman” on set. After all, it’s not Kivanç romancing that actress but it's his character—and they are indeed very different people.
So maybe now that I've driven nine hours to meet a star, I am a swoony fangirl after all. Four hours up the interstate I still found myself smacking the steering wheel, laughing aloud, and exclaiming, “I met Kivanç Tatlituğ and he knew me. Ha!”
Author Wholesome WWI and Historical Fiction
This essay was written from my recollection of the luncheon for Kivanç Tatlituğ in Orlando, Florida, on September 3, 2017. It was not transcribed from a recording, nor were notes taken during the event. Therefore, none of Kivanç or Başak's replies should be reprinted as direct quotations. ~Thanks!
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Don't miss these related Kivanç features!
•Review of Kurt Seyit ve Sura
•Review of Cesur ve Guzel
•Article: We've Been Kivançed! American Fans Meet Kivanç Tatlituğ
•Photos of the Orlando meet and greet at Kivanc Tatlitug North America
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Copyright @ 2017 by Ginger Monette