Haluk Bilginer: The first Turkish Emmy-winning actor
Although Turkish cinema is a century-old industry and has been frequently represented abroad through international film festivals, it’s rare that a Turkish film or actor receives a major award anywhere. For the last decade, award-winning director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has been the only artist recognized for Turkish cinema abroad.
However, Turkish TV series have become valuable export material. You can watch Turkish series in any language on any platform around the world. The Arabic and Latin world being the prominent customers, Turkish producers have been selling the foreign rights of their works to a wide-ranging market, including web platforms.
For the past few years, Turkish producers have been making special TV mini-series for the international audience. “Şahsiyet” (“Persona”) (2018), telling the story of an old police detective who decides to punish criminals after he is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, was rated among the 40 best TV series by the votes of IMDb members. Featuring Haluk Bilginer, one of the best Turkish actors ever, “Şahsiyet” crossed national borders and became even more internationally recognized after Bilginer won the 2019 International Emmy Award for Best Performance by an Actor, joining the ranks of actors with international fame like Dustin Hoffman, Lars Mikkelsen, Sean Bean and Kenneth Branagh.
Haluk Bilginer was born Nihat Haluk Bilginer on June 5, 1954, in İzmir province on the Aegean coast. He is the second of three siblings. His father Tahsin Bey was an insurance broker whose personal story is touching since he wished to become a stage actor but had to work in the insurance business to take care of his family after his father died. Bilginer’s mother Bedriye Hanım was a housewife. His father named him after “Haluk,” the son of Tevfik Fikret, a major poet Tahsin Bey adored.
He graduated from İzmir Private Turkish College, where he began to learn acting from Cahit Gürkan, his drama teacher. In the same year, Bilginer won a theater prize held by Demokrat İzmir daily newspaper. Ragıp Haykır, the director of the State Theater in İzmir, invited young Bilginer as a guest actor on their stage.
After graduating from high school, Bilginer enrolled at the Theater Department of the State Conservatory in İzmir in 1971. Following his graduation from the conservatory, Bilginer worked at the İzmir State Theater for a while before he moved to London to study stage acting.
In 1977, Haluk Bilginer enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), which helped him become a bilingual actor. For decades, Bilginer performed in English and Turkish for both the big screen and television. After graduating from the LAMDA, Bilginer received a minor but interesting role for the multicultural daily TV drama "EastEnders" on BBC, namely Mehmet Osman the Turkish Cypriot, which he played for 250 episodes. From 1980 to 1991, he played in various stage plays and musicals in London, including “My Fair Lady,” “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” “Macbeth” and “Phantom of the Opera.” Meanwhile, he received minor roles in such movies as “Half Moon Street” (1986), “Lionheart” (1987) and “Ishtar” (1987).
Haluk Bilginer returned to Turkey in 1987 to join the staff of the “Gecenin Öteki Yüzü” (“The Other Side of the Night”), a three-episode miniseries based on Füruzan’s novella of the same name. He played in another Turkish series called “Ateşten Günler” (“Days of Flame”), a historical series based on Halide Edip Adıvar’s novel “Ateşten Gömlek” (translated as “The Daughter of Smyrna” or “The Shirt of Flame”) in the same year. In both series, Bilginer played with Zuhal Olcay, a talented actress and singer, who would become his first wife.
Bilginer, Olcay and a friend of theirs, Ahmet Levendoğlu, established a private theater named Tiyatro Stüdyosu (Theater Studio) in 1990. The Bilginer-Olcay couple played in the Indiana Jones in Hollywood and “İki Kadın” (“Two Women”) after they got married in 1992.
Bekir and other personalities
Bilginer’s real debut was his “Bekir” role in Zeki Demirkubuz’s “Masumiyet” (“Innocence”) (1997) for the Turkish audience. In it, Bekir plays a dramatic personality who follows the love of his life, who works as a sex-worker, wherever she goes, without having his feelings reciprocated. The female character is also in a heartbreaking situation since she moves to cities where her lover, who is an anti-social criminal, is imprisoned. Demirkubuz’s “Masumiyet” featured Bilginer with Güven Kıraç, another legendary modern actor. “Masumiyet” earned Bilginer Best Actor awards at both the Antalya and Ankara film festivals.
Haluk Bilginer never left the theater stage. On the contrary, he has continued playing in stage plays, including both modern and classical, original Turkish and translated plays.
However, the vast majority of the audience knows him from his dramatic roles in movies. He played in many legendary films of the 2000s, including Derviş Zaim’s “Filler ve Çimen” (“The Elephants and the Grass”) (2001), Ezel Akay’s “Neredesin Firuze?” (“Where is Firuze?”) (2004) and Onur Ünlü’s “Polis” (“Police”) (2007), where he won various Best Actor prizes for all three.
By the 2010s, Bilginer had already become an influential star in Turkish cinema. Everyone sought to work with him. He always showed great respect to the personality of the role he played, which led him to play “Aydın” (a Turkish male name meaning “The Enlightened,” implying the Turkish intellectual), one of the most severe roles ever played on the big screen, in the “Kış Uykusu” (“Winter Sleep”) (2014) of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, for which Bilginer was awarded Best Performance by an Actor by the Cinema Writers’ Association. Bilginer also played in “Rosewater,” the international political drama, in 2014 with stars like Kim Bodnia and Gael Garcia Bernal.
International Emmy winner
Haluk Bilginer was nominated for the 47th International Emmy Award for Best Performance by an Actor for his role in “Şahsiyet,” a Turkish 12 episode-series directed by Onur Saylak. First, “Şahsiyet” was acclaimed by the audience through IMDb ratings. The series ranked among the best 40 TV series, with a 9.1 rating. After that, Bilginer was nominated for the Emmy.
On Nov. 25, 2019, Haluk Bilginer was announced to have won the International Emmy Award. After the Emmy ceremony, Bilginer told reporters he was very happy that the Emmy Award was going to Turkey rather than himself.