Every now and then, Hollywood reaches into a distant corner of the global cinema and brings out a star who can illuminate the silver screen with a certain degree of
je ne sais quoi that transcends borders.
Back in the 1930s, the Czechoslovakian art film “Ecstasy” brought its star Hedy Kiesler to the attention of MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer, who rechristened her Hedy Lamarr. Also in the 1930s, David O. Selznick — perhaps remembering the Swedish sphinx of the Roaring ’20s, Greta Garbo — looked over in Sweden’s sleepy little film industry and spotted Ingrid Bergman, bringing her to Hollywood. Few Americans knew anything about Brazilian movies in the early 1940s, but that didn’t stop 20th Century Fox from importing musical comedy sensation Carmen Miranda. In the 1960s, it was rare to find an Egyptian movie outside of that country, but that didn’t stop Omar Sharif from emerging onto a wider screen. And more recently, Gal Gadot transitioned from appearing in an obscure Israeli low-budget flick to ascending to Hollywood’s Wonder Woman.
So, who is going to be the next actor to emerge from an unlikely corner of the globe and take up a star position in the American film scene? Smart money would go on Onur Tuna, a handsome personality from Turkey who has gained a lot of attention in Europe and the Middle East and has begun to attract a cult following on this side of the Atlantic thanks to the Netflix streaming of his television series “Filinta.”
For those who have not caught “Filinta” yet, this was the biggest production created by the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corp., airing from 2014 to 2016 in Turkey before being sold to worldwide markets. “Filinta” is a detective series set in the waning days of the Ottoman empire (circa 1299-1922/23), and no expense has been spared to ensure a blockbuster presentation — even to the point of importing Hollywood talent, including Dusan Hyska, the stunt supervisor on “Saving Private Ryan” and “Titanic,” and Bobby Roth, director of such classic TV shows as “Miami Vice” and “Lost.”
But the center of attention for many viewers is Tuna, a 30-year-old model/singer/actor who plays the lead character, Filinta Mustafa. In an interview with the Turkish entertainment publication Skylife, he acknowledged the good fortune of landing the star-making role.
“When I first read the script, I thought that Mustafa was a never-before-tried character,” he said. “I was excited and accepted the role right away … We had a long training period for sword-fighting, technical fighting, gun firing and choreography with Dusan Hyska. I also carried out research on people living in that period — what they wore, what they ate, how they walked… But my main focus was on feelings. Though Mustafa is a very smart and ill-tempered officer, he is in fact human. He’s a just, smart, ambitious and talented young man who likes to be one step ahead of everyone else.”
When asked if he ever brought any “if I were in his shoes” to his role, Tuna genially replied, “Of course. Most of the time, I interpret Mustafa deriving from my own personality.”
Tuna was born in July 1988 in Çanakkale, a seaport city near the archeological site of ancient Troy. His father was a mathematics teacher and his mother worked in the land registry office. Tuna became involved in theater as a child and excelled in volleyball and basketball during his high school years. Although he earned a college degree in economics, he also took voice training at the Music Arts Department of Ege University Conservatory.
After college, Tuna’s athletic physique and arresting hazel eyes helped him find steady work as a model. But as he told an interviewer for the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, you cannot expect to build a career solely on good looks.
“Even if the beauty is relative, you should have an aura,” he said, noting that his transition into acting required more than being photogenic. “Our job is not to be handsome, but to work hard and be other people. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, whatever the role requires.”
Tuna’s first big break in acting came with a supporting role in the 2011-12 TV series “Hayat Devam Ediyor” (“Life Goes On”), playing a young man dealing with a troubled marriage and a financially struggling father. He was next seen in a supporting role in the frothy Turkish romantic film “Bi Küçük Eylül Meselesi” (“A Small September Affair”) before his “Filinta” breakthrough.
When interviewed by the Turkish media on his growing fan base following the run of “Filinta,” Tuna downplayed the aspects of stardom. “If you’re doing your job right, you’ll get paid for it,” he said. “I am someone who is not late, does not go to the set without memorization and tries to be as moderate as possible on the set. I’m not in a hurry to go home when I’m working.”
Tuna followed “Filinta” with two additional series — “Cesur Yürek” (“Brave Heart”), an action series that ran during 2016, and “Altan Tepsi” (“Forbidden Apple”), a romantic drama that debuted in 2018 on the Turkish Fox network. Throughout his acting career, Tuna created original songs that he occasionally released online and performed on Turkish TV talk shows. Last June, Tuna presented his first album “Uzay Mizali.”
“I’m usually a pessimist, producing minor, sad harmonies,” he said about his songwriting skills. “I’m starting to solve what it means to be able to squeeze the words between the guitar and the harmonies, to add soul to them.”
Tuna’s celebrity has already created some interesting problems for him. There have been fake social media accounts created by pranksters pretending to be him and his romantic relationship with “Altan Tepsi” co-star Sevda Erginci found him trying (and failing) to dodge the Turkish paparazzi.
Whether Hollywood will notice this rising Turkish star remains to be seen, but Tuna is ready in the event he gets that call.
“Rather than planning the day I live,” he told the Turkish media, “I coordinate the day when I wake up, because life is open to change. I can be demoralized when I’m absolutely stuck. That’s why I keep working and developing. I want to take that journey, rather than plan.”