Turkish Delight // actress Elit İşcan takes TPP out for baklava and talks about life after MUSTANG & Time's Up in Turkey
We knew of Elit Iscan long before she knew anything about us. It all started several years ago, in 2014 to be exact, when Antonia was buried deep into a script late one night, duly taking notes to send back to the producer the next morning. When Antonia turned the last page of the script I caught her eyes sparkling with wonder: “if only more people made films like this, the world would be a better place.”
One year later, plus or minus, Antonia was in Toronto for a week of networking at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) when that same producer friend invited her to the premiere of the now completed film, MUSTANG. Although Antonia knew what to expect, plot and all, she was blown away by the delicate execution of this film. Everything from casting to camera to composition was beyond exceptional and, combined, brought this mesmerizing film to life. I specifically remember Antonia telling me about one of the girls (Elit) who’s presence stuck with her long after the credits rolled. “She will be your favorite,” she told me repeatedly on the phone. When I finally got to see the film for myself (Antonia brought home a screener in original language (Turkish) with French subtitles – none of which I speak) I knew she was right: Elit Iscan is special.
For those of you who don’t know, MUSTANG is the debut feature film of Deniz Gamze Ergüven, a Turkish-French filmmaker, which tells the story of five orphaned sisters who, one by one, are being sent off into arranged marriages. The film premiered at the film festival in Cannes where it set off a bidding war amidst distributors and made it all the way to Los Angeles where it was nominated for an Academy Award as best foreign language film.
Three and a half years later, after the film’s initial release, we are visiting our sweet friend and actress Elit in her home town Istanbul, where she wants to give us a glimpse into life after MUSTANG. “Every experience and every project makes a difference,” Elit explains as we make our way down a cobblestone street towards her favorite Baklava shop.
“Mustang was and continues to be one of the most important projects in my life.”
It wasn’t just the close relationship with the other girls and her director, Deniz, which gave Elit a newfound feeling of strength and empowerment, but the opportunity to “be in dialogue with so many people from very different backgrounds and cultures, opening new opportunities for my career.” As we order way too many pastries, each of them doused in honey and nuts, a young girl approaches Elit and asks to take a picture. “She thanked me for being a part of such an important film, isn’t that sweet?”
Although Elit didn’t always know that she wanted to be an actress, she remembers being drawn to the world of visual arts from a very young age: “I always loved going to the cinema and theatre because it was a family activity,” she explains. “Those are truly the best memories of my childhood and had a very big impact on me.” It was Elit’s first acting experience, aged twelve, that really sparked her passion for acting. “I enjoyed acting professionally so much and immediately knew that it was something I wanted to continue exploring. You never stop learning because there are always new things to discover,” Elit explains. She understands that as an actress you are just one piece of a big puzzle. “Every set is different and you have to be flexible and open to really immerse yourself in the experience, but when you do it’s a pretty magical feeling.”
With thirteen years of acting experience and endless TV and film credits to her name, Elit has gotten to know both sides of the industry – the good and the bad. Late last year Elit came forward with a public statement explaining that she had been sexually assaulted by a fellow actor on the set of a Turkish television series. “I know that I’m not the only woman subjected to sexual assault and want to stand in solidarity with women who share similar experiences." The decision to make a public statement was not an easy one but something Elit had to do in order to stay true to herself.
“I grew up in a family that taught me to speak up for myself and for others,” Elit explains.
“Psychological, verbal and sexual violence against women is a serious social problem, which equally exists in the TV and film industries. In order to increase awareness, to make similar cases visible, to contribute to the pool of loudly voiced complaints and to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents, I decided to make a public statement." Elit’s statement went viral on social media. She received over 28K likes on Instagram and was quoted and reposted in countless media outlets. “It was very important for me to experience this notion of standing together for the same purpose, with the same intentions, hopes and expectations.” Although the Me Too and Time’s Up movements are being talked about in Turkey, Elit explains that “we still have so many steps to take and a long way to go.”
Besides her youthful exuberance and loving soul, one of Elit’s greatest assets is her strong sense of self. Especially nowadays where actors get judged not only by their career but also by their social media appearance, many people can lose themselves in the frenzy of being ‘liked.’ Elit makes it look easy, not to be sucked into the void of social media, but in reality, it is something she actively works on: “I know myself and I know who and what I am. Just because someone says something bad about me doesn’t make me bad,” she goes on to explain. “My parents always taught me to do what makes me happy in life, to be true and sincere to myself and that the real ‘richness’ and ‘success’ in life is to love what you are doing.” She continues to talk about how lucky she feels to have so many amazing and supportive people in her life that offer her a constant sense of security and support. “My sister is one of the most inspiring people in my life, she is such a wise person. The same goes for all the wonderful people that really have an impact on my daily life.” She looks up at us and smiles: “my agents, for example.” We break out in giddy laughter, flattered by her compliment.
Our visit to Istanbul has deepened our sisterhood, increased our appetite for baklava and above all inspired us to be more like the fearless heroine, Elit Iscan.
Q&A PART I
What time do you wake up?
Around 9am if I’m not working
Are you a morning or evening person?
How do you mentally prepare for the day?
I need a shower and my incense in the morning and a cup of green tea
What is your favourite city?
Istanbul, Tokyo and Palermo (I have so many!)
What is the last book you read?
All About Love by Bell Hooks
What is your favorite flower?
Daffodil, cherry blossom, bougainvillea
Who is the last person that texted you?
What's the most attractive quality in someone?
Call or text? Or voice message?
Call and text
Q&A PART II
Netflix or Cinema?
Both. I really love the experience of cinema and it should always be treasured.
I’m excited about the potential and the content on streaming platforms.
What or who inspires you?
Art, nature, my family and my friends
Are you a water person? Or do you prefer to be on land?
I’m a water person
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Where there is life, there is hope
Mantra you live by?
As long as one imagines, one lives
Who is your girl crush?
Best gift you ever received?
Cat or Dog person?
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Q&A PART III
It used to be smoking but I quit
3 things you look for when reading a script?
Complex character, satisfying ending and the questions that it raises
Favourite place you’ve got to travel for work?
Most distinct memory from filming Mustang?
The sun was setting as we were on the back of the truck shooting the escape scene, this will sound cheesy but our hair was blowing in the wind and I felt very light and free
Dream director you hope to work with?
Luca Guadagnino, Xavier Dolan, Greta Gerwig, Lynn Ramsay, Yorgos Lanthimos and Frany… and many others!
Describe your job in 3 words:
Fulfilling, adventurous, surprising
Character from a novel you would most love to play?
Deborah Blake from I Didn’t Promise You A Rose Garden
Alcohol or green juice?
Q&A PART IV
Podcast you listen to (if you have one)
Open Radio in Turkey
Last film that made you cry?
Where will you travel next?
Do you like to sit window or isle?
On a short flight window, on a long-haul flight isle
Which TV shows are you currently
Big Mouth, Feud
How do you unwind?
By being in nature, reading outside, listening to music
What’s your favourite evening indulgence?
Going to the cinema and having a nice big dinner for hours with friends