By Ozzi Ramirez
Welcome to NYWIFT, Derya Celikkol! A proud graduate of the Experimental Theatre Wing at Tisch Schools of the Arts, Derya Celikkol is a Turkish filmmaker who lives in New York City and has contributed her extraordinary artistry to numerous projects.
As an actor, she has starred in films such as Daria the Great, for which she garnered a Best Actress Award at the Lionshead Film Festival, and Fairytale of New York, which received a wide release in Turkey. On stage, she has entertained audiences in productions at La Mama, Dixon Place, Rattlestick, Players Theatre and other NYC venues. Not to mention, Celikkol also performed as a lead in over 100 shows of the critically-acclaimed Unmaking Toulouse-Lautrec, for which she was an original devising member.
In addition to acting and production designing, Celikkol has directed and produced films, some of which have been showcased and won awards at film festivals worldwide.
Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!
I am a Turkish actress based in Brooklyn who has a secret life as a production designer on the side. I’ve worked in theatre, film, commercials, and television for nine years, and love all kinds of storytelling that touch the soul as much as the mind.
From your extensive experience, is there a connection between acting and production design? Has working as an actress influenced your creative process as a production designer and vice versa?
Working as a crew member on set taught me a lot about what goes on behind the scenes, which I was clueless about as an actor. It showed me how much of a team effort the filmmaking process can be, besides the ensemble camaraderie of the cast, and I learned to be more appreciative of the work every single person does on set.
As a production designer, I use the same in-depth character analysis techniques I used as an actor to inspire my design, and I always incorporate details about the characters into the sets and props to further tell their stories in a way that complements the script.
What are some of the biggest hurdles that you’ve had to overcome as a versatile filmmaker? How did you overcome these challenges?
The biggest hurdle I’ve had is the struggle with the very harsh critic who lives inside me. This critic has stopped me from trusting my impulses, putting myself out there, and believing in the value of my ideas many times. I have done a lot of inner work to learn how to differentiate constructive criticism from destructive criticism that comes from my ego. Although it still gets to me sometimes, I learned to trust my instincts and ideas much more than when I first started.
Your 2017 film Fairytale of New York received a wide release in Turkey. This must have been so exciting! Can you describe the extent to which your Turkish background has shaped your artistry? Are you a fan of Turkish cinema?
I found my artistic self and persona in the U.S. since I spent my defining young adult years here. Being from Turkey and noticing the differences between the two countries gave me the ability to deeply observe people and pick up on a lot of idiosyncrasies that may go unnoticed by Americans. I also bring my cultural behavior and ideas to projects I write, direct, design, and act in.
I am definitely a fan of Turkish cinema. My favorite Turkish films are Neredesin Firuze and Winter’s Sleep.
What brings you to NYWIFT?
As I advance in my career and broaden my network, I’ve realized how much this adds to me as an artist and human being. I believe I can learn something valuable from every person I meet on set or at events, and I came to NYWIFT to meet more versatile people whom I may not cross paths with otherwise.
What is the best and the worst advice you’ve received?
The worst advice I received was from a theatre teacher in Istanbul who told me to quit dreaming of becoming an actor and get a real job. I know he was trying to “protect” me because his life had been very difficult, and he blamed it on becoming an actor. Luckily, even then, I didn’t come close to taking that advice seriously.
The best advice I received came from my mother who says to enjoy the journey without worrying too much about the destination. She made me watch Peaceful Warrior so her advice would stick with me. I think of this while building difficult sets, memorizing pages of lines, and doing many takes of a scene. This is grounding and helps me enjoy the process even when it’s something I don’t want to do.
How did the pandemic influence your work life?
The pandemic totally halted my work life. I was performing regularly in a play three nights a week (it had been almost a year by then), working on a lot of film shoots, and preparing for many more. As a workaholic, it was nice to get a forced vacation where I could reflect a lot about my life. During those lonely days at home I thought of shoots with overtime and late lunches and I wished to be back on set, promising myself to never complain about anything. Of course, I haven’t fully kept that promise but the downtime recharged me for the projects that came after and made me see things from a new perspective.
What is next for Derya Celikkol? Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
I am currently working on my first feature-length screenplay, which I plan to direct in Turkey in 2024. Other than that, I have some short films that I will design. I’m also auditioning for film and theatre projects.
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