HUNKS OF HORROR: SHARKTOPUS (2010): Interview With Kerem Bürsin
S-11, the Navy's shark/octopus genetic hybrid was supposed to be its next super weapon; but, instead, it got away from them during a Santa Monica show of force, swam south to Puerto Vallarta, and became the SyFy Channel original movie Sharktopus (2010): cheap, trashy and with a catchy theme song, directed by SyFy alumni Declan O'Brien. At Twitch, Todd Brown offered up the film's trailer and Twitch teammate Andrew Mack expressed his fun watching the film on screener, notably the Puerto Vallarta pool scene where Sharktopus's gun-for-hire Andy Flynn (Kerem Bürsin) holds his breath underwater, surfaces wearing a sombrero, and invites two lovely Latinas to tequila balls. What an entrance! The second in a series of research interviews with the hunks of horror--the first being Chris DiVecchio (Wolf Moon)--Kerem Bürsin candidly discussed going the way of low-budget genre to further his acting career.
* * *Michael Guillén: Judging by your name, I presume you come from a Turkish background? Where were you raised? When did you become interested in acting? How did you go about training for same?
Kerem Bürsin: I'm impressed, my name is indeed Turkish, I was born in Istanbul and my family's all Turkish. As far as being raised, that's a tricky question, because I've had somewhat of a nomadic lifestyle. I've lived in several parts of the world (Istanbul, Turkey; Edinburgh, Scotland; Medan, Indonesia; Jakarta, Indonesia; Ankara, Turkey; Dubai, UAE; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Sugar Land, Texas; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Boston, Massachusetts; Los Angeles, California). Instinctively you assimilate to these places and their cultures, and essentially these things rub off on you and the experiences produce "you".
I'll say I owe a lot of who I am now to my time spent in Sugar Land, Texas (my high-school days) and Boston, Massachusettes (my college days). I got my feet wet with acting in middle school but high school is when I started appreciating it. I did the school plays and musicals, but never took them seriously. I either played supporting or ensemble roles. At the time I was heavily involved with music, playing gigs and writing music is all I really cared about. In Texas, there's this competition between all the high-schools called UIL, its where you cut a play down to 40 minutes and perform it in a competition setting. So my senior year, all of the guys in our band were all going to audition for this play. I remember being livid because I felt like they weren't taking the band seriously, but if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I decided that I would audition, and I ended up getting the lead; go figure.
Anyways, the play director--who turned out to be my first real acting teacher--took a huge chance on me with this play, considering I had only done small roles previously. The play was, The Mariner by Don Nigro; I was Christopher Columbus. So after I graduated high school, I went to Emerson College up in Boston. [Check out Kerem on pages 10-11 of Emerson's "lifestyle magazine."]
As much as I wanted to study acting, I had to make a deal with my parents, telling them that I'd get my education in a field that offers "real" jobs. Now that I look back on it, I'm glad we did that. In my mind, the closest thing to acting was marketing, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I got lucky though, I originally wanted to stay in Texas, but my mom one day found Emerson College; and the great thing about Emerson is that it's known for its film and acting program, so I was surrounded by a bunch of talented film makers and actors who were eager to shoot anything and everything. In a sense, it was a mini Hollywood. So I was a marketing major during the week, and on the weekends I literally made sure I was on any and every student film. Then I got myself involved with doing the acting classes with local casting directors, studied with some professors, dialect coaches, did the plays, the student films, all the good stuff and now I'm currently with Eric Morris furthering my education.
Guillén: The publicity around Sharktopus focused largely on the production cred of Roger Corman. I can't help hoping that your involvement with Sharktopus will bring you the same good fortune it brought Jack Nicholson, who--as I'm sure you know--kickstarted his career in such early Corman productions as Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Raven (1963), and The Terror (1963), to name a few. That's my key interest: that precedent of young actors earning their first breaks in low-budget features. It worked for Nicholson. It worked for Mr. Depp. How did you become involved in this Corman production? Did you have the opportunity to interact with him much and, if so, have you any anecdotes to share about him?
Bürsin: I can only hope for a fraction of the amazing career someone like Jack Nicholson has had, but the bottom line is that it's no coincidence that tremendous actors like Jack Nicholson or Johnny Depp have achieved such successful careers. Regardless what my outcome may be in the long run, it's definitely an honor to say that Roger and Julie Corman were the ones to give me my first chance in Hollywood. To be a part of Roger Corman's alumni is priceless to me.
The way I got involved with this project is one of those freak accidents. You hear about it and you ask yourself, "Wow, that sort of thing really happens?" I had a 9-to-5 at a boutique marketing firm that paid my bills, but they were very supportive and were flexible enough to let me go to auditions. One day at work, a friend of mine who worked at ICM at the time called me and said, "Don't care you're at work, stop what you're doing, send me your headshot and resume now, ok bye." Confused, I sent her my stuff but didn't think much of it. I got a call a couple of hours later from another mutual friend who also works at ICM and he said, "You have an audition on Monday at 9:00AM, be there, you'll have the script tonight." Click. I had no idea what was going on, just that my two friends were pulling some covert ops stuff. The next few days, I'm thinking this is going to be your everyday audition, where you go to this casting bungalow, sign in, eye a few of the other actors and wait. Yay! There was no bungalow, no other actors, just me at the New Horizons Production office. I remember thinking, "I'm not supposed to be here and I'm gonna be escorted out very shortly by some security guard."
One thing lead to another and I ended up reading for both Julie and Roger Corman. I guess an anecdote would be my audition, during which I froze. Not a little stutter, but a full stop, where I had to start all over again. Roger should probably be on the World Poker Tour because he was absolutely unreadable. Julie was really nice and told me to start over again, and so I did and that was that. I left feeling miserable, thinking I had this amazing opportunity that I completely botched. A few days later, I got a call from my friend at ICM saying I got the role; I think he was just as surprised as I was. It was one of those moments in time where you'll always remember it like it was yesterday. Then before I knew it, I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Both Julie and Roger were there for a couple of days, and they were great. I really can't stress that enough.
Guillén: The project also gained some traction by casting Eric Roberts in the role of the truly misguided Dr. Sands. What was it like working with Eric?
Bürsin: Working with Eric was a blast! He's a ton of fun on set and a very generous actor. I was lucky to have worked with an awesome group of people because everyone was just looking to help one another out. I won't lie, having this be my first actual film, I was anxious as hell when I heard that Eric Roberts would be in this movie. You think of movies like Runaway Train, Pope of Greenwich Village, and even The Dark Knight (which I've easily seen a thousand times), and was nervous until the first time I actually met him. I didn't know what he'd be like to work with or any of that. I never had experience working with someone at his caliber, you know? But he turned out to be a great guy and I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him.
Guillén: When you responded to my request for an interview, you seemed almost surprised that I would have taken the time to watch the premiere of Sharktopus on the SyFy Channel. Does that imply a certain embarrassment on your part with the project? Or did you not have a sense that this is one of those big slabs of cheese that lots of folks--myself included--were looking forward to slapping on their sandwich?
Bürsin: Oh no, there is no embarrassment on my part whatsoever; I'm still amazed that I get to say that Sharktopus was my first. To me, the movie is an acquired taste, and if someone takes it too seriously than I fear they may be missing the point--and the fun. Before Sharktopus even came out, the internet was writing about it; I figured that the buzz would stay on the internet and the twitterverse and that would be the end of it. I call this a pleasant surprise.
Guillén: My understanding is that--along with its SyFy premiere--Sharktopus was also included in the lineup at this year's Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas where Roger and Julie Corman were honored with the "SyFy Imagine Greater" Lifetime Achievement Award. I know Sharktopus director Declan O'Brien was also in attendance; but, did you take part in that one-off screening/celebration?
Bürsin: No, I actually didn't get to go. But Declan called me when they were there and apparently it was a blast and everyone had a great time.
Guillén: How was Declan O'Brien as a director? As a young actor, what did you learn from the experience of working with him?
Bürsin: Declan was awesome, a great guy and a better director to work for; he's become a great friend. As someone starting off, and this being my first major production, Declan was well aware of it, and made sure to take care of me in that sense. When I wasn't working or in a scene, he'd have me next to him watching the monitors and he'd show what works, different kinds of shots, proper terminology, finding proper light, all those valuable things you learn with experience. He truly took me under his wing.
Guillén: To what extent did you and Declan shape your performance between playing it straight and hamming it up?
Bürsin: Regarding the performance, we knew what the film was: it was a campy movie. But as far as the characters go, they lived in a world where there are possibilities of Sharktopi running wild killing people, so there's truth in that. Movies like that simply don't work unless you take them seriously as an actor.
Guillén: What was the mood like on set?
Bürsin: It was a hectic shoot, and since this was my first experience I really had nothing to compare it to, but I was told from people with more experience that it definitely was one of a kind. I think that's what made this shoot a special one. By the end, I felt like everyone had a sense of closeness, almost like family, and it was because of all the crazy funny outrageous stories we lived through together. I was constantly on set even if I wasn't working. It was a great time.
Guillén: When you first read the script for Sharktopus, what did you think? What were for you the pros and cons of accepting the role of Andy Flynn?
Bürsin: When I first read the script it had a different title, but the character Sharktopus was still all over it and I totally ate it up, loved it! I mean, when I read the script I was reading the possibilities of the things I would be able to do as Andy Flynn. When you think about that, it's exciting: fighting a huge half shark half octopus! Not a lot people can say they've done that. I mean, who wouldn't want to be part of the team that kills a sharktopus? It was a no brainer.
Guillén: Your bracing good looks proved the perfect balance to the many bikini-clad bodacious babes bouncing around in Sharktopus, how did you get in shape for the role? And do you have any issues with edging into the industry through such beefcake performances? Was there any clause in your contract requiring a certain number of times your shirt had to come off? I'm kinda joking, but kinda not.
Bürsin: Well this is the perfect time to introduce my new product, the Sharktopus Survival Home Workout System! I'm kidding, unless Vince Offer is reading, then I'm serious. I guess I've always been the type that loves to be active. I don't feel comfortable in my own skin on the days I haven't gone for a run, swim, or a workout. To me it's time where I can put on headphones and really collect my thoughts. In the end I worked with my personal trainer to put together the "Andy Flynn" workout, which meant that my day started in the gym at 5:00AM and ended at the gym after work until I went to bed. The diet was tough, it really required a scheduled and strict lifestyle, which aren't adjectives people usually use to describe me. And no, there was no contractual stipulation for my shirt; in the script I think he only has it off once or twice.
Guillén: You handled the action in the film quite competently. Do you aspire to become an action star? What types of roles do you hope to play in the future and what's your strategy to compete in Hollywood?
Bürsin: I appreciate that. I don't necessarily aspire to be an action star, however much fun I do think it would be to jump off buildings, be in a badass costume, and learn some awesome fight choreography. My goal, overall, is to make my resume a colorful one. Strategy is to keep moving forward.
Guillén: I imagine that competition in Hollywood is fierce. How do you let off steam and bring yourself back to Earth?
Bürsin: I've lived in a lot of places, and Hollywood is certainly one of a kind. As weird as it may sound, I think that the roles I get were somewhat meant for me, and the roles I don't get are for someone else. Maybe that's not the right way to look at it, but it keeps me sane. There are definitely those days where I have to remove myself from me "the guy pursuing acting as a career" and invest in someone or something else, like read a book, play music or go for a run. But if it weren't for a couple of my friends, both in LA and not, I don't know what I'd do. They play a huge part in all this.
Guillén: Before Sharktopus, you played a role in Cameron Beyl's short film The Architect, for which you received a nomination at the 2008 Evvy Awards for Outstanding Performance in the Film or Television category. Tell me about your involvement in that project and accessing the conflicted sensitivity of your character Craig?
Bürsin: Wow, I can't believe you actually saw that. Cameron's a good friend of mine, and I think when you're working with a director that you know and are comfortable with, then it can be easier to express more complex emotions than it would be with a stranger. With the character Craig, I think timing was just perfect; I was going through a time in my life where my emotions and his just paralleled. I think with student films, I always took them as experiments and a chance to watch myself grow. I'm beginning to realize; however, that every day is sort of an experiment in and of itself.
Guillén: What's in the pipeline? Where do you hope your career to go in the next few years?
Bürsin: I can only hope for more projects to come through, and hopefully we'll be able to talk about another film in the near future.
Guillén: That would be welcome.
Sharktopus in 10 minutes:
Cross-published on The Evening Class.