Turkish actor Cagatay Ulusoy plays the titular character in Netflix’s first Turkish original, “The Protector,” currently in production on its third season. His role as young antiques dealer Hakan Demir, who discovers he hails from an ancient line of superheroes and must protect present-day Istanbul from evil forces, marks the first foray into fantasy tropes for a Turkish show.
Ulusoy spoke to Variety about how Netflix is disrupting production models and storylines in Turkey’s TV market, which, despite the impact of the country’s economic turbulence, remains among the world’s top five exporters of serial dramas.
Why is “The Protector” such a novelty?
This series introduces a new genre [of Turkish dramas] to global audiences. It’s a unique mix of fantasy and superhero plot-lines mixed with the elements of social drama and romance that are typical of Turkish TV shows. Instead of a mainstream superhero narrative, it’s more an epic story with a modern hero at its center, but the plot is fast-paced and full of unexpected twists. There is also an element of comedy every now and then to balance the tone.
In terms of format, the episodes are much shorter (33-45 minutes) than typical Turkish dramas – shorter, for example, than in “Medcezir,” the Turkish adaptation of “The O.C.,” in which you starred previously. Has shooting shorter episodes made a difference for you in terms of your acting style, of the way you get into character?
It’s actually way better for me. It means I can really focus and give my character my full energy. It makes me more creative.
Netflix has greenlit four seasons, so it looks like ‘The Protector’ is going to be keeping you busy for a while. I’ve heard production schedules for TV series in Turkey can be quite tough. How tough is yours?
We are working under more humane conditions than those in most other Turkish TV series. Netflix uses a different production system. We work just 10 hours a day, five days a week. I feel more productive, and so do the other talents and the crew. Typically, each episode in a Turkish TV series is, like, 120-150 minutes long. That means you have to work much harder to wrap up an episode in a week. With this show, a lot is changing in terms of the approach to storytelling, locations, characters and also working conditions. It’s like the rules of the game are being rewritten.
Speaking of writing, can you talk to me about the rest of the show’s creative team?
I work with three different directors for each season, which has never been done in Turkey before. It seems like a complex system, but it’s actually not. Each director brings their point of view for the episodes they handle, and having different visions makes the show fresher and more varied. In terms of writers, one of them is Jason George [who also serves as executive producer], who did “Narcos.” He has been the “third eye,” as it were, of the show. His global experience and different vision has been immensely helpful.