Close-up: An Interview with Mustang Star Elit İşcan

MUSTANG was one of the best received films of 2015 and an instant arthouse favourite.

Prestridge² caught up with Turkish actress Elit İşcan to talk about her experiences on the film, working with director Deniz Gamze Erguven and her plans for the future.

Q: We are now a couple of years separated from Mustang. How do you look back on your experience working on the film?

A: IT was great. We really exchanged lot of things with the girls and with Deniz [director Deniz Gamze Erguven]. I enjoyed working with them. They were all very kind, sincere and fun. Working with Deniz was very inspiring. She is such a talented and powerful woman. She knows what she wants, her feet are on the floor and she knows how to get there.

She is also very inspiring as a storyteller. Still I remember how much I enjoyed being with her all the time and listening to her stories, anecdotes and thoughts on everything.

After the film we became good friends. We always keep in touch but of course since we live in different places and we have other things to do unfortunately we cannot always hear from each other. But I am very glad and grateful that I had the chance to work with her and that it turned to a friendship like this.

Q: Most of the media conversation surrounding Mustang revolved around the politics of the film. Did you have any reservations about that or did you feel comfortable being part of such a powerful film?

A: NO. I do not remember any reservations. I was comfortable with it and I was also proud of being part of such a film.

I think it is very courageous what Deniz did because she took a different path. She chose not to make agitation and not to make people feel sorry for the characters of the film. I love the fact that the girls are strong characters and they speak for themselves.

When it comes to politics and media conversation surrounding the film, it gave us a chance to share our experiences as a women and how we feel about the inequalities between men and women all around the world. It gave me chance to think more about it and to question the gender roles that we are assigned to.

I think the film inspired other people – both men and women – just as it inspired me. And I am happy that it created questions in people’s mind and that these conversations erupted because we should be thinking and talking about key issues.

Q: What kind of director is Deniz? Did you learn a lot from working with her?

A: SHE is very planned, very prepared but open to improvisation and to new ideas. She makes you feel as if you are at home while you are on set. She cares about creating the safe environment for us to feel comfortable. She shares her secrets with you and makes you feel that if you give her your secret, you know she will keep it a secret.


Q: You also worked with four other talented young actresses on Mustang. How did you gel and find that amazing on-screen chemistry? Do you still keep in touch?

A: YES, we do keep in touch. Güneş Sensoy [Lale] , the youngest, is living in LA right now. Tuğba Sun Guroğlu [Selma] is in Paris and the two others [Ilayda Akdogan – Sonay – and Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Nep] are in İstanbul but we are all so busy with schools and work that we cannot see each other frequently. But we all know about each other’s lives and how everything is.

Casting director Harika Uygur did a great job. She really worked so hard with Deniz to put the five of us together.

After Deniz decided on casting, we had several meetings. We had two bootcamps. We had two acting coaches, Bahar Kerimoğlu and Suzanne Marrot. They were both together with us in İstanbul for the first bootcamp and Suzanne was with us in the second that we held on the location where we shot the film.

Suzanne stayed with us from the beginning until the end of the film. In those bootcamps we were doing exercises and playing some of the scenes – or just playing games in order to feel comfortable about touching each other and to look each other in the eye.

In the beginning the younger ones were too shy but at some point they got rid of it and they were so vivacious and energetic all the time. I  really miss those days, we were like real sisters. We have so many fun and beautiful memories.

Q: Casting director Harika Uygur rightfully won awards for her work on Mustang. How did you get the part? Can you also talk about what inspired you to get into acting in the first place?

A: DENIZ called me after she finished the script. She said I was already in her mind while she was writing the script. She was inspired from the character that I played before, in the film of Reha Erdem called My Only Sunshine. So we had a meeting in İstanbul, one and a half years before the shooting. She asked me to take part in the auditions and then it happened.

When I was at elementary school, it had a distinctive educational programme. We were doing a lot of things related to cinema, theatre, literature and I liked it lot.

Then at some point some assistants of Reha Erdem came to my school for casting. I was shy at the beginning when they asked me to do the auditions. But when they told me that I had got the role – something I was not expecting at all – I got very excited. It was when I was 12 years old. I worked with him for two films and I loved it so much. I enjoyed it a lot so I continued.

Q: You starred in Claire Cottrell’s beautifully shot short film When Shall the Light Find My Eyes. Your grasp of the English language is impressive. Do you enjoy working in English? Do you have ambitions to work in British or American cinema? 

A: THANK you! Yes I enjoyed it a lot. I was quite nervous at the beginning because it is not my mother tongue but I had a great time working with Claire. It was challenging but I liked it.

Of course, I would love to do it again. Olivia Bell and Baumbauer Actors are representing me in Europe. I am doing self-tapes and hoping to get a part in a film that will be shot in English, French or Italian. I love getting to know new people from different cultures and backgrounds, so I love working in international projects.

 Q: What kind of roles are you interested in? Is there anyone you look up to or that you aspire to be like?

A: I DO not know, I think every character, every role, has its own story, life and background. So I cannot distinguish between them. I am interested in every kind of role.

When I was a kid, almost every week I was changing my mind about what to become in the future. I was willing to be a belly dancer, veterinarian, cook and musician. And it is still like this. Acting allows me to become them all!

Nowadays, I am dreaming about taking part in a spy movie such as James Bond or a fantastic science-fiction film such as Mad Max: Fury Road. I think it could be a great adventure. It would be nice to play a role that demands a physical change. Or anything that would allow me to travel to a different place and time.

I want to play strong female characters that would inspire other people that have hopes and dreams. Or characters that do not have hope because of what life brought them – but whom would make the audience feel not alone and give them strength.

I am willing to take part in films being made with good intention – films that are raising questions in people’s minds. Films that broaden one’s horizon.

There are so many people that inspire me. Two names that come to mind are Juliette Binoche and Cate Blanchett.
Q: Finally, do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

A: I JUST finished working in a feature film by directors Çağla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovannetti. Soon I will take part in a short Italian film. I studied in Italy for one year as an exchange student. I lived with a Sicilian family for one year. I speak Italian so it was my dream to take part in an Italian movie.

Finally it is happening and I am really excited about it. Meanwhile, I am doing some meetings in Turkey and might take part in a TV series.

I graduated from university this summer so finally I can work as a full-time actress. But I also have a dream of directing films. I do not just want to be in front of the camera but I also want to work at the back of it.

That is why I studied media and visual arts and as a graduation project I wrote a short script.

I am still working on it and I want to shoot it next year. I will continue to do auditions for international projects. My agents are representing me well and hopefully good things will happen!

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