Admist his busy schedule of film roles, I finally got a chance to chat with British action star Mem Ferda. Here, Mem talks about his latest film role in ‘Pusher’ as Hakan and his huge career…
Hey Mem. At long last, thanks for taking the time out to talk to me about your new film, ‘Pusher’. I understand it is a remake, is that so? What’s the general plotline surrounding the film?
That’s correct Matt. It is the first English language remake of the original Danish cult movie by Nicholas Winding Refn, which he wrote and directed back in 1996. This is set in London instead of Copenhagen, it is about a week in the life of a drug pusher named Frank. When Frank’s aspirations of making lots of money fast, spiral out of control due to a drug bust, he is thrown into a dangerous situation of owing a large sum of money to Turkish drug dealers. Frank’s life soon descends into a living hell, as he slowly losses everything he ever had.
The film is a no-holds-barred, gritty and real, journey into the underworld of the drug pusher. It will be extremely entertaining with flashes of humour, hard-core action, violence and a twisted plot.
Tell us a bit about the character of Hakan, which you play in the movie…
Hakan is a ‘nice’ tough guy of Turkish descent, caught up in a life of drug dealing and debt collecting for the drug baron Milo. He is a victim of circumstance, trapped in doing a job as an enforcer when he’d rather have his own legitimate business as a pub landlord. He is not your stereotypical villain, he has complex layers and dimensions to his personality that makes him a fascinating character. I hope audiences will embrace Hakan.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the role of Hakan?
Yes I did. I view each role I undertake as being unique, giving full commitment and attention to detail as I can. Irrespective of how familiar one may feel about a role, research is always necessary into understanding the real motivations of a given character. The more intricate and involved the research, the better the result.
For me, the role of Hakan, depicted an accurate reflection and examination of how some migrants come to the UK in search of a better life and find themselves entangled in crime because opportunities they had hoped for never transpired. This script was written by Matthew Read, who did a fine job, it had me totally engrossed from start to finish.
How did you get involved in the project and how familiar were you with the original ‘Pusher’ film?
I found out about the project in the conventional way, via my agent. The audition process was tough, as they always are. Being one of the five leading characters in the film, a large number of hopefuls were seen, I was confident I’d be right for it, fortunately I was, and hence was offered the role.
I’m a fan of Nicholas Winding Refn’s work and have had the ‘Pusher’ trilogy on DVD since it first came out. I have watched it numerous times and I feel it translates internationally, appealing to many countries and cultures. There isn’t a city on the planet that is not affected in some way by an underground drug’s trade, so there is an innate universal message there which many can identity with.
It was fabulous to have Nicholas on board as an Executive Producer on this remake. I recently saw his latest film ‘Drive’ which is a magnificent piece of filmmaking.
As well as your good self, the film stars Richard Coyle, supermodel Agyness Deyn, Bronson Webb and Zlatko Buric, – with Luis Prieto onboard as director – what was it like working with the cast and crew on-set?
It was a fantastic project to work on. Richard and I had worked together before on the television series ‘The Whistleblowers’, so it was brilliant to be on set with him again. He is hugely talented and a very hard worker, which helped a bundle, as we had strong, intense scenes to do.
Agyness is lovely, very down to earth, warm, vibrant, friendly person. Aside from being beautiful, she is a great actress and is certain to do very well in the film industry.
I didn’t share any scenes with Bronson, but we had a few drinks at the wrap party, he is wild, very comical and gifted actor. Working with Zlatko was fun. I had to teach him some Turkish dialogue for the character Milo. He nailed the pronunciation in no time, he delivers a superb performance.
Luis was a wonderful director to work with. He has such excellent vision, knowing exactly what he wants in each frame. He is all about performance as well as having equal concern for the look and feel of each scene and the overall film. There is real value in building a partnership between an actor and a director and with Luis Prieto this was so easy to do. I had seen his previous work ‘Ho Voglia di te’ and his award-winning short film ‘Bamboleho’ so I was inspired and excited to be working with him. I like to do a few takes and to try out different things to provide the director with a lot of material to work with and Luis allowed for this. He would often say after each take ‘ that was beautiful, exceptional, wonderful……let’s do one more’.
Wait till you see the results, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
What’s your opinion on remakes?
I can guarantee you this remake is on par, with the original ‘Pusher’ of 1996, if not better. There is always a degree of cynicism from film fans regarding remakes. Personally, I feel one should have an open mind and judge a film on its own merits. It is inevitable that one would resign to making a comparative judgment, but shouldn’t be bound by this. My experience of remakes has been a mixed bag of good and bad ones. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of ‘The Thing’ was infinitely better than Howard Hawks 1952 version. However, Heijningen’s 2011 version was disappointing.
Other films you have been in over the last 12 months include ‘The Devil’s Double’ and ‘Ill Manors’, tell me about your experience of each of these movies.
‘The Devil’s Double’ was an extraordinary experience. Working with Lee Tamahori was surreal, I’d been a fan of his work since ‘Once Were Warriors’ which is still in my top ten of favorite movies of all time. He is by far one of the most gifted, driven and all inspiring directors I have come across. His understanding of the complexities of human emotions is astonishing.
In ‘The Devil’s Double’, I played the role of Kamel Hannah, which was quite a challenge, both physically and mentally. Lee pushed me to a disorientating level of intensity. In one scene, I had to go from being euphorically drunk to confusingly terrified. Physically it was difficult, as I had, strapped to my body, a heavy prosthetic stomach filled with internal organs which is slashed open by the sadistic Uday (played by Dominic Cooper). I had to walk around the set with it for hours, but it was all well worth it in the end. The film has been received very well by the media.
‘Ill Manors’ was another exciting project. I like Ben Drew (aka Plan B)’s music. His lyrics have a rebellious spirit, which appeals to me and when I learnt that there would be an album to accompany the movie I was eager to be onboard. I had seen Ben’s performance in the movie ‘Harry Brown’, so I knew he could act. I wondered what he would be like as a director…he was unconventional, with a unique approach and had a strong idea of what he wanted.
Ben was adamant about authenticity and realism, casting majority of the cast from close friends he had grown up with since childhood. The film is very dark, gritty and harsh. It is a hip hop musical, that follows six characters and their experiences on the East London streets. I went to the screening last week, the public are in for a real treat.
Let’s talk a bit about you Mem. How did you get into acting?
Acting professionally came quite late. As a young child my mother would have me learn poetry and whenever a party or family function would take place she would have me stand on a chair reciting the poems I had learnt.
In my teenage years I worked as a male model, which later led to doing commercials in the UK and Europe, this gave me magnificent exposure, which resulted in a commercial agent signing me up for television and film work.
After having achieved a BSc in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (M.B.A) I went on to graduate with a postgraduate in classical acting from LAMDA - (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). After LAMDA, I was snapped up by a mainstream acting agent and many doors opened for me and the adventure began.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
DON’T! No just joking. They need to be aware that acting requires total unrelenting dedication 24/7. Determination, sacrifice and focus are at the top my list. It is a way of life, not an occupation. It is all-encompassing. There are no guarantees of success, but when it knocks at the door, it is as if you’ve been invigorated by a new life force. Hardest of all is rejection. After 16 years in the industry it is still hard to take, it doesn’t get easier. But if you’ve got the skin of a rhinoceros – then this comes in very handy.
Also, it is good to have some prior drama school training. Ultimately, I don’t believe they can teach you how to act. You either can or you can’t. But their usefulness, is in, helping you channel the talent you may have, to act effectively.
You’ve brought to the screen some very frightening characters. Do you worry about getting stereotyped as a villain?
Up till now I haven’t been. In fact a vast majority of actors get stereotyped. It’s actually a good thing, as it gives you a voice, an established identity and a niche to grow from. It is exhaustively competitive out there so to establish yourself an identity to later develop from is vital.
Once this is set, you then battle to change industry professional’s perceptions of you, to expand and show your real range and versatility. My preoccupation is this right now. I’m being very cautious about every new role I am being offered. Its time to break the chain and make the film-world sit up and take notice!
To date you have worked with some big names. Which actors and directors would you like to work with in the future ?
In terms of actors, I would love to work with Sean Penn. His work over the years has been simply astounding. He must be the most versatile actor today. From his portrayal of disturbed Matthew Poncelet, a convicted murderer on Death Row in ‘Dead Man Walking’ through to the gay activist Harvey Milk in ‘Milk’, his performances have always been remarkable. It would be surreal if I were to one day do a scene with Sean. I’m also a huge fan of Denzel Washington and Al Pacino.
In terms of directors, I would love to work with Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and also with British director Danny Boyle.
Being such a big name, how do you deal with fame, do you find it intrusive?
It can be awkward at times. The press badgering for a story, from my agent, family and friends is a regular annoyance. But on the whole the appreciation I get from genuine fans whom like my work makes up for the odd intrusion. I’m quite grounded as an individual, and on the ‘odd occasion’ when my ‘ego’ decides to drift, I have a great partner that brings it back down, keeping it in check.
We should mention you’re also a stunt performer as well – what has been the hardest stunt you have had to do?
There have been many, but one that comes to mind, is a brutal fight scene I did for the British crime film ‘The Crew’, which was filmed in Liverpool. I was fighting Rory McCann who is 6ft 6in (1.98m) and we had a stunt coordinator that wanted a real, dirty, rough, scrap, filled with aggression. No padding was worn by either of us. That’s fine, but we had to fight extremely close to the edge of the River Mersey in the dockyards. We almost fell into the Mersey a few times.
Nothing major, just torn ligaments, cuts and bruises. I was actually injured recently whilst filming on ‘Pusher’. I have a confrontation with Richard Coyle in a warehouse, where I become trapped in between two giant steel doors. During a take, one of the doors came crashing into the side of my head, which immediately swelled up like a watermelon. I had to have a few days off filming until it went down.
If you could have dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
- Al Pacino – one of the greatest actors ever
- Elvis Presley – a true icon, incredibly talented and charismatic
- Adolf Hitler – just so I can stare into his eyes and question him, see into his dark soul.
What is your favourite word?
Nuance – I fully understood the meaning once I started to act.
Share two things with us about your life that would be shocking to hear.
At the age of seven I witnessed an assassination attempt on my father’s life. This left a traumatic scar in my mind up to my mid teens. During my rebellious teens, I narrowly avoided being a getaway driver in a real life heist.
You are known to be involved with charities, which one is closest to your heart?
I find each charity to be of utmost importance to me. Closest to my heart would be the World Cancer Research Fund. No matter whom I come across, often then not, they would have lost a loved one to cancer. I lost my dear sister Aydin aged only 26 to cancer. I want to reach out and help as best I can to provide information to people on how they can reduce their risk of cancer.
Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy working out at the local gym. Every morning I’ll go for a swim followed by a grueling weights session, and some boxing training on a punch bag. I also enjoy, photography, reading, travelling, fast cars and of course cinema. I’m very much into the latest gadgets and keeping up with new technology too.
What’s coming up for you in 2012/2013?
In the pipeline, I have four feature films, three of which I am the leading man, which is extremely exciting. Two are horror films, which I’ve never had the opportunity of doing before, one is a thriller and the other a comedy. I don’t want to say too much about them as I am very superstitious, but you can find out more via my website http://www.memferda.com and Twitter @memferda1.
Thanks for the interview!
My pleasure , anytime.