When one talks about Kurdish actresses, the first name mentioned is Zelal Dere, because of her Kurdish awareness, beauty and acting talent. She has been on nearly all Kurdish television, especially in the film sector. Zelal Dere, who was born in Muş city of North Kurdistan, grew up in a literary family, and then, she studied Radio-TV at university.
Dere, who started acting at a young age, came up with new projects and went on to became a famous Kurdish actress. Although she is known as “The Tragedy Actress” she managed to act in Kurdish sit-coms too. She is better known for acting in Kurdish series and movies. We first saw her in an award-winning short film called Memories, then a Kurdish series called Can û Ceger as Şîlan, and last but not least Sebra Malan as Sînem. Zelal Dere, who acted as the main actress in a Turkish film called Love Stone, showed an amazing role in Turkish-Iranian co-production Tomorrow’s Name. I have had a brief chat with Dere about both her acting adventure and her private life in Ankara:
How did you decide to be an actor?
I grew up in a literary family and my brother Ahmet studied cinema so that helped. What strengthened my love for the cinema was me and my brother Ahmet holding each-other’s hands going to the cinema through the orange trees in Tarsus in the city if Mersin. I first wanted to be a film director and I realized that we Kurds have many stories that should be documented in the cinema, especially the stories that my grandmother told me about when I was a child.
Where did you live in your childhood?
I lived in our village in my hometown Muş. I went to the elementary school. When I started, I couldn’t speak a word in Turkish so I failed in my class (smile). My first art interest started with painting which in my opinion, has all kinds of art in it. My father used to paint so that was a motivation as well.
How did your first acting adventure start?
Romeo and Juliet was my first play and it was in high school, but I played Juliet as a Kurdish girl. You know, Juliet’s role could be played in all languages and by all nationalities, because it talks about love and pain, which is everywhere.
How did she call Romeo? Kuro Romeo instead of oh Romeo?
Who is your idol of all actresses?
Let’s not call anyone an idol, because idol is a very old fashioned word, in my opinion. Nowadays, actors and actresses have many alternatives than the cinema; also, a new cinema perception has been occurred. Esthetic sense, the way of accepting visual arts, community, and even politics has changed the cinema perception. I like Liv Tyler, and if I give some examples from Turkey, I like Türkan Şoray. She is great. Birce Akalay and Nurgül Yeşilçay are also talented and I follow them.
How do you see Kurdish cinema and acting in general?
Nice question. Being in this sector is very important to develop Kurdish cinema. Unfortunately, Kurds have no cinema sector and industry yet. So it is very difficult to answer this question for now.
But we have seen many Kurdish films in cinema recently; doesn’t that mean we have Kurdish Cinema despite the fact that it’s in a small scale?
I think if you want to classify a film as Kurdish Cinema, the film should be filmed in the Kurdish region geographically and it should talk about the conditions of the Kurdish community in the Kurdish language.
But you are a Kurd and acting in Kurdish
Acting in Kurdish came as a coincidence. If someone comes to me with a Turkish or French scenario for a new film, I will take it of course. Now there are many Kurds who can speak Kurdish but they act only in Turkish. Acting shouldn’t necessary be in your own language, it is universal.
Nudity for men and especially women on the screen is a problematic issue in the Kurdish community; will you take the risk if your role dictates that you do so?
Our society isn’t only under the influence of religion, we cover our civilisation, our televisions, not only our bodies, and of course a covered community would not accept nudity in cinema. However, and because I believe that cinema has no limits and it offers you a huge area to show and display all the different issues, you should take the chance when it comes. We should not be stuck only with what our communities accept.
You said you like Nurgül Yeşilçay, she has some nude sex scenes as well, you wouldn’t mind taking the risk and do a similar role
(Laughs) I will take the role of course if I was offered one. We have got to push our society forward bit by bit. For western communities, there is no difference between a woman who has sex and a woman crying in front of the camera. The sex scene has only more paparazzo charm. As you know, the honor and the body of women have a very different perception in Kurdistan; we must get over this obstacle.
Do you think Kurdish men are handsome?
(Laughs) I think Kurdish men in cinema are more charismatic, which is, for me, more important than being simply handsome.
Do you think Kurdish women fear to look sexy?
Kurdish women must break the censorship on them and feel free to look sexy, and what determinate this freedom is the woman’s education and her relationship with her family. Being free to look sexy requires the freedom of the woman’s spirit. A dependent woman can only be charming but will find it difficult to show herself as sexy.
How can you describe Kurdish women in general? Like the main featured overall picture if I could say.
Kurdish women’s feature in this sense is nobility. Kurdish women are noble because of the suffering they have been though in the history.
Some people in Kurdish media think you really look like Salma Hayek, Golshifteh Farahani, Penelope Cruz and Some named you as Türkan Şoray of Kurds. Who do you feel you are more close to?
The common thing between all the names you mentioned is that we are all rural women and they all have black eyes and eyebrows. I admire them all. All of them are hard working women, but still, I would much rather to have a unique personality and be Zelal Dere rather than any other name attached.
Have you faced any problems while acting? Like finding difficulties to act with someone you don’t necessary get along well with.
Acting is art and anyone face great difficulties while acting. I personally find it very difficult acting with selfish actors. It really affects me directly. Because some of these actors make you always feel that they are much better than you and this stresses me and affect the way I act. I sometimes find it difficult to breathe, yes. When acting, you and your partner should exchanges positive energy, otherwise, all the scene goes wrong. I am quite tense in these kinds of situations.
Which director would you rather work with the most?
Bahman Ghobadi, no doubt. When you watch Bahman’s films, you realize a man who knows his people and his land very well. I too understand him deeply, because obviously, we are from the same geographic area. I guess we can work together really well. I think I know what he thinks and what he wants to tell people.
Do you think that fame drives you automatically to a bohemian life?
This is what television wants to make you believe. We are as bohemian as anyone else. Actors, actresses have personal lives like any other person. Media exaggerates everything, including celebraties’s personal lives and they could easily affect or even change peoples’ opinions about us.
I encourage all young kurdish girls and boys who want to be involved in acting to follow their ambition, beside any other job they want to do, just in case, because chance can play a role as well, so it’s best not to just wait for the opportunity to come along but to actually make the move.
One last thing about the bohemian life you were talking about, I do not even smoke.