Guy Ritchie’s Revolver Actor Mem Ferda Talks Movies
Mem Ferda is known for starring in blockbusters like Legacy with Idris Elba, Guy Ritchie’s Revolver and The Devil’s Double. His latest feature Weinstein’s Pusher is about to hit our screens, Mem took a little time to talk to Mem Ferda about movies and his amazing acting career.
There are two types of acting. First, there is stage acting and then there is Film and TV acting. Stage acting requires the actor to project their portrayals in a bold and obvious way so to reach the entire audience, even those in the outer edges of the theatre. Whereas film and TV acting demand more subtle nuances, to act before the camera in the same manner as acting before a live audience, would come across as hyperbolized and mechanical. It would be a cartoonish characterization. Conversely to act on stage as before a camera would be too indefinite. The actor would be engulfed by the stage and lost. Just because an actor is good at one medium doesn’t always guarantee that their skill will transfer to other. Then there are two types of actors. There are those who love to be obtrusive and almost over the top character actors, and then there are those who prefer the more realistic portrayal; hammy verses naturalism.
Then there are two kinds of actors; the ones that live lives less interesting than the characters that they portray, and then there are actors whose lives are far beyond anything that fiction could ever conjure up. Mem Ferda is definitely in the second category. At 6ft 2inches tall with an imposing physique, and blue eyes that penetrate like piercing spears, he is makes an indelible impression at first meeting. But long before he reached this stately statue, life was an extraordinary journey from his early years in Cyprus to now appearing in movies with Madonna.
Born in the UK’s Lambeth Hospital in London, it wasn’t until the age of 3 when he moved to Cyprus that his own father first set eyes upon him. His father, an officer in the Army and Minister of Agriculture there, was a staunch traditionalist who was far removed from the world of theatres and thespians. But drama was never far from his father’s side. It was at the impressionable age of 7 that Mem witnessed a sniper’s failed assassination attempt on his father. The bullet, micro-millimeters from his foot, missed and hit the step they were stood on. The sniper was instantly shot by their guard. After that Mem and his father returned to London to lead a more normal life. The feminine influences in his family enjoyed Mem’s love of performing to the distaste of his masculine father. Though Mem possessed an internal desire to act, he pursed a more academic future. His father adamantly discouraged him from being an actor, and encouraged him to pursue a legal career. He felt that acting was far too precarious. Interested in psychology, Mem studied at the University of London, and even extended his education to a Masters in business studies. But during his degrees, performing in one shape or another was never far his thoughts; his mind was always distracted by acting. He dabbled in amateur dramatics and fantasized of portraying Shakespeare. This overwhelming urge to perform Shakespeare in a real theatre became so un-repressible, it now transcended into a calling. From the world of academics, Mem found himself studying drama LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art). Ironically, the majority of the other students there were either ex-lawyers or other professionals that had surrendered massive earning potentials to pursue what is potentially a very dubious future. Perhaps it was their parents too that had almost used duress for them to be lawyers or doctors, but their calling for acting was too strong to resist. This proves that acting is in the blood.
Mem was aware of his appearance and how it would influence any hope of an acting career. Being able to act is one thing, but looking the part is paramount. Mem, a skinny kid, was growing up to be a skinny man, and a skinny leading man is not a good look. So being the proactive individual he is, he decided to bulk himself up with weight training and boxing. As a consequence the commercial work started to flow. First, he did modeling for the Athena Postcards and then other TV commercial work soon entailed. His breakthrough year was 1995 when he delivered his first line on ITV’s London’s Burning. And now because he was such an imposing figure of a man, he was offered a big part of stage.
So, the stage was set for Mem. He knew that acting was the life he should be leading. He was confident and defiant. He had been offered a great stage role to show case his skills. Everything was just perfect until he stepped on stage before an eagerly anticipating audience, and suddenly the greatest horror that haunts all actors struck him dead there and then. He was totally incapacitated with stage fright before the flabbergasted audience. This experience so traumatized Mem, that not even therapy could alleviate him from this predicament.
Turning his back on the stage, Mem now focused on the medium of television and fundamentally films. Mem is not extraverted enough for stage, but with a more introspective demeanour, which is far more suited to film work.
Soon came a string of roles where his appearance was essential to his portrayal. Because of his size he was selected to play a lot of unsavory Russian and Eastern European characters. He also discovered that he had a talent of doing convincing accents. In The Devils Double, he dyed his hair, eyebrows and eyelashes black. The look was so strikingly menacing that consequently he has maintained this look up and till today. This allowed him to expand his horizons to encompass Middle Eastern roles as well. You can only be cast in the types of roles that you are. Mem was fully self aware of who and what he was physically, and created a niche for him that film directors would want. Actors such as DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman are even typecast. And like his idle DeNiro, who would metaphorasie himself for each role he portrayed. Mem too changed his weight dramatically to 23 stone for The Devils Double with a diet of humungous portions of pizza. Then after the film was shot, he would change his diet back to eating chicken and broccoli until he was back to 17 stone. This is an example of Mem’s black and white attitude: no grey areas. It’s all or nothing, not half -hearted attempts. And it’s that attitude that has driven Mem from failure on stage to success in films and TV.
In 2004 Mem introduced to the nation his genuine London accent in Eastenders. Curiously that was the first time ever he had performed without putting on a foreign tone. Then in 2005, his life was jettisoned into the big time when he was in Guy Richie’s movie Revolver. It was a bit of a reunion for Mem when Madonna came on set for he had worked along side her as the first solider in Evita.
Films are definitely the right medium for Mem. His subtle use of his brilliant blue eyes are totally wasted on the stage, but on camera he compels the audience with them and takes us on a credible not theatrical journey. So what is Mem doing now? Well he is incredibly busy with the premiere of his latest film Plan B’s Ill Manors and three other films coming up including Pusher. Diversifying into production was an essential and natural progression for Mem since he likes to take the reins of his own destiny. He used all his gusto to become an executive producer thus relinquishing him of over reliance on his agent. He didn’t want to chase roles anymore or just sit there procrastinating waiting for the perfect script to land on his lap. Unless you are Robert DeNiro, which just doesn’t happen. In addition, he has established his own production company that seeks horror scripts to turn into short or feature length films. But alas out of every 300 scripts submitted, only 2-3 are possibly workable. Mem has also been working on his autobiography that he commenced in 2008, and hopes have concluded by 2013, but with all that he is accomplishing in films, his autobiography might need a few more years to ever reach conclusion.
by Darren Cheers
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