Mem Ferda is no Stranger to the screen big or small and he plays convincing villains with ease. With a string of blockbuster films under his belt including Guy Ritchie’s Revolver and Legacy with Idris Elba. It is not surprising he is crashing back onto our screens as Hakan in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher. Growing up Mem witnessed and assassination attempt on his father, was held at the Serbian border as a suspected drug smuggler and in Istanbul was threatened at gunpoint – so perhaps it is easy to see where he might get his inspiration from. We caught up with this handsome and talented actor to find out more about his latest action flick Pusher.
How many accents are you able to do as you play so many diverse characters?
MF: I seem to have a good ear for accents. Depending on how much time I have available before filming, I will sometimes work with a dialogue coach to perfect an accent or dialect. Generally, I am good with Eastern European, Middle Eastern, American and British accents. To date I have played characters with various accents, some of which include; Serbian, Russian, Iraqi, Turkish, Arabic, Greek, Italian, Spanish, German, Scottish, American and British – cockney, RP, and London. I’ve been told I can even do a very convincing Jamaican accent (lol)!
What has been your favorite role to date?
MF: Playing the character of Kamel Hannah in ‘The Devil’s Double’ was very challenging and I love a challenge. The director Lee Tamahori pushed me to disorientating levels of intensity. I had to go from being euphorically drunk to confusingly terrified in an instant. It was demanding both physically and mentally.
I also loved my recent role in ‘Pusher’ as Hakan. I find most roles I embark upon do give me a gratifying sense of achievement during and after filming.
Tell us about your character Hakan in Pusher?
MF: Hakan is a Turkish guy caught up in a life of crime. He has his own agenda, wanting to one day work in a legitimate business as a pub landlord and leave the life of crime behind him. But until that time, he is working for the drug boss Milo. 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. The character is very layered and complex, he is not your stereotypical villain He is a victim of circumstance, trapped in doing a job as an enforcer.
Did you see the original?
MF: Sure I did. I am a fan of Refn’s work and have had the Pusher Trilogy on DVD since it first came out. I have watched it many times and I feel it translates internationally, appealing to many countries and cultures. There isn’t a city that is not affected in some way by an underground drug’s trade, so it is very relevant to prevalent issues in society.
What has been the hardest stunt you have had to do?
MF: 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 this guy who was 6ft 6in (1.98m) and we had a stunt coordinator that wanted a real, dirty, rough, brawl, 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.
How do you deal with fame, do you find it intrusive?
MF: 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 and keeps it in check.
If you could play any role what would it be?
MF: I would of like to of played Stanley Kowalski in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. Travis Bickle in ‘Taxi Driver’, and Jake La Motta in ‘Raging Bull’. In my later years, I would like to be Shakespeare’s King Lear at The Globe.
Who have you loved working with the most?
MF: I’ve been very fortunate to play alongside some star names and this experience has been priceless. To name a few, Idris Elba in Legacy, Ray Liotta and Jason Statham in Revolver, Stephen Graham in The Crew, Donald Sutherland in Land of the Blind. Working with Director’s Lee Tamahori, Guy Ritchie and Alan Parker was tremendous also.
How did you get into acting ?
MF: 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. I can’t remember any now! In my teenage years I worked as a male model, which later led to doing Commercials in the UK and Europe, this gave me great 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 Post-Graduate Diploma 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, the rest is history as they say…
What advice would you give to actors starting out?
MF: 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 an 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.
Do you prefer TV or Film and why?
MF: I like both. But given a choice, I’d choose Film over TV. Television is much quicker in terms of the speed at which each scene is shot and the whole production process in general. It reaches out to a wider audience much quicker. Film however is a lot more controlled, slower, process. Budgets are bigger, and subject matter for films tend to be more creative, which is what I like. Also, films tend to tell a story through the journey of a single strong protagonist with supporting cast, which I prefer, compared to television which tends to have stories consisting of a few lead characters and is more an ensemble cast set up. However, the dividing line between the two is now, not as clear-cut as in the past. With the advent of digital film making as opposed to celluloid, the dividing line has blurred considerably.
What do you like about living in London?
MF: The weather. I like that fact that it so unpredictable. It would be boring if its constant sunshine. London is an exciting, vibrant, cosmopolitan city. What is there not to like! I was born in London and it has always been my first choice of where I’d want to live. It’s home.
Can you tell us your favorite place in London?
MF: I often visit Covent Garden. I enjoy the market with its various arts and craft stalls on display. I also like going to St.Catherine’s Dock, nestled next to the Tower Bridge. The marina is breathtaking at night, when you’re sat having a meal at one of the excellent restaurants. Greenwich Park is also a regular haunt of mine. I love the view of London from the top near the observatory.
Is there anything else you would like to share ?
MF: Yes. I’d like to thank everyone for the continued support they have shown me throughout my acting career. I hope I will have opportunities to entertain them over and over again in future years. I can next be seen in supernatural horror, feature film, ‘Parallel Hell’, in which I play a lead role. Other features I have coming up are Gridiron UK, A Place Between, and The Unbeliever. Anyone who’d like to keep updated on my future projects can do so via my website;
www.memferda.com, twitter @memferda1 and Facebook.