Interview with Mem Ferda

Poet, performer, linguist, cousin of the Prime Minister of Northern Cyprus… Mem Ferda is the definitive Renaissance man. 

Born in Chelsea to a Turkish government minister and his wife, and trained as an actor at LAMDA (after achieving both a BSc in Psychology and an MBA), Mem Ferda has led a colourful life. In his life he has witnessed an assassination attempt, been mistaken for a drug smuggler and threatened at gunpoint – things most actors experience only in the realms of the film studio.

Mem’s film and television CV is extensive, encompassing everything from The Devil’s Double to Eastenders. This year he appears in two of 2012′s most eagerly-awaited productions: Ben Drew’s Ill Manors and the English-language remake of Pusher.

Poster for Pusher

[FRR] You’ve worked with an impressive array of directors and co-stars. Which ones stand out most in your mind, and why?

[MF] I’ve been fortunate and feel enriched by the experience of working with such talented people.

Taking direction from Lee Tamahori on The Devil’s Double was refreshing. He injects such passion into his work that it’s infectious. Playing Kamel Hannah was not an easy task, but with Lee at the helm we achieved an admirable result. Guy Ritchie’s Revolver also meant a lot to me, for I got to do scenes with my idol growing up, Ray Liotta.  Guy is one of the most talented British directors of today.

In Thomas Ikimi’s Legacy, doing fight scenes with Idris Elba was dynamite. His energy and commitment on set is inspirational, he is also a generous actor when you work a scene together. It was a pleasure to of worked with him.

[FRR] You’ve played a lot of baddies in your time. Do you ever worry about being typecast?

[MF] A vast number of actors get typecast. It’s not something I worry about. In fact it can actually be a good thing, as it gives you a voice, an established identity and a niche to grow from.

[FRR] Which role are you proudest of, and why?

[MF] It is hard for me to single out one specific role as being my proudest. I find most parts I undertake, do give me a gratifying sense of achievement. The role of Kamel Hannah in The Devil’s Double is one which comes to mind, as it was very challenging and I love a challenge. It was demanding both physically and mentally, I had to go from being euphorically drunk to confused and terrified in an instant. I received many good reviews for this role.

[FRR] Tell us about your experience working on Pusher?

[MF] It was a very enjoyable experience. I have always been a big fan of the original Pusher trilogy and love Refn’s work. When I learnt they were making an English language remake, I just had to get involved.

After auditioning, I was offered the role of Hakan. Playing Hakan was taxing, as the character is complex and multi-layered. He is not your stereotypical villain, but one who is imprisoned in a life of crime when he’d rather have a legitimate business. It was a great opportunity to work alongside Richard Coyle (Grabbers), and Zlatko Buric who played Milo in the 1996 Pusher movie. The director Luis Prieto was a joy to work with, he has excellent vision and is concerned about performance as well as having an acute awareness for the look and feel of each scene. I like stories that are thought- provoking with intriguing characters, and though this may seem like your regular British crime thriller, it rises way above this and delivers on many levels.

[FRR] Remakes/re-adaptations/reboots get a lot of bad press. What’s your opinion of remakes in general?

[MF] I can guarantee you this remake is on par, with the original Pusher of 1996. 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 judgement, 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.

[FRR] Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of the original Pusher, is quite the flavour of the month since the release of Drive. Did you get to meet him? Did he have any input on the remake?

[MF] Drive was spectacular. We were extremely lucky to have Nicolas on board as an Executive Producer on this remake. Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to meet him in person, but I do know he was working closely with the producers at Vertigo films.

[FRR] You’re working on Ill Manors with Ben Drew, aka Plan B. What’s that been like? How do you think he has managed the transition from music to film?

[MF] It was a unique experience. Given the micro-budget of a £100,000, Ben has managed to deliver a smashing film which is dark, gritty and immersed in realism. He was adamant about authenticity and had a cast that included friends he had grown up with since childhood. His transition from music to film has been seamless. This is evident in Ill Manors, as Ben’s music is featured throughout. The film, like his music, has a rebellious spirit about it, which I like. I feel his fans will respect and welcome the film.

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