From stunts to acting: Learn how ‘Knightfall”s Cengiz Dervis made the jump
It’s no surprise Cengiz Dervis wanted to be an actor. After spending his youth making short films with friends, and escaping into the magical world of film and TV, Dervis knew what he wanted to do. But in his career in Hollywood, Dervis has spent a fair amount of time both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
Initially getting a break in the industry working as a Fight Choreographer for a variety of big names, Cengiz Dervis finally got a recurring role on A&E’s Knightfall, as the villainous Roland. But acting is far from his only love, as Dervis also has jumped into the writer’s room and director’s chair.
We spoke with Dervis about his diverse career, and where he’s heading next. You can read our entire interview below.
Tell us about your journey into film. What did you do before working in Hollywood?
I left school when I was 15 and went through a very curious decade of different jobs. Started out casting precious metals for jewellers in Hatton Garden, an admin assistant in a law firm, a postman, worked Men’s Contemporary at Harvey Nichols where after 3 months I was poached by Versace for their new Versus store.
Did a stint working security on night club doors, was a lifeguard, a professional kickboxer and personal trainer / martial arts coach and eventually transitioned into acting.
Is there any particular film or TV show that inspired you to pursue a career in film?
Not really, life at home as a kid was very loving but tough when we were young until around 6 years old. My parents struggled to make ends meet and kids can be mean when you have holes in your shoes and very few clothes. So disappearing into my imaginary world where I could be anyone and do anything was the catalyst for me wanting to work in film and TV and live and experience many lives.
What was the first project you worked on, and what did you learn from the experience?
I landed a Saturday job when I was 13 and by 15 I’d saved enough money to buy a second hand camcorder. Me and a few friends started to make no budget short films and without any real idea how to properly do it and with no rules. We’d come up with an idea and go try and make it.
I learnt loads through this process, but mainly that you don’t need permission to make a film no matter how silly the idea! We had so much fun doing this, laughed till we cried on many occasions and though we only made a few films before life got busy a seed was definitely planted. At 26 I did my first of 40 student short films where I really started to learn about filmmaking on both sides of the camera.
Who are your current influences?
I’m inspired and influenced by so many people but to be honest it’s not the uber famous that I’m moved by. My mum was a nurse and carer for years until injury due to a patient hitting her in the back of the neck ended her career. It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse or a carer… Closer to home after my dad was diagnosed with an aggressive form of MS around seven years ago, I watched my dad deteriorate and sadly pass away in June 2019.
For years the carers who cared for him daily, getting him out of bed and seeing to his needs during their four daily visits floored me, their love and kindness never wavering and my mum always by his side. I will always be in awe and forever grateful for the carers of the world and they inspire and influence me more than anyone.
What’s your favourite part of the filmmaking process?
As an actor, creating a character is something I love doing. Playing with physicality, voice etc is super fun and my preparation makes my time on set really enjoyable, where my aim is to always add value and do great work that I’m proud of.
As a writer, producer I have a ton of ideas at various stages including film and TV series content. Taking an idea from mind to page to screen is a wonderful experience and one I hope to continue throughout my career.
As a new Director with my debut feature as writer / director currently in consideration at a number of global festivals with a few selections, nominations and awards already announced has fuelled my appetite to do more in this role.
What are five films you think everyone needs to watch in their lifetime?
Here’s six… Rocky, The Princess Bride, Gladiator, The Godfather, The Usual Suspects and Moulin Rouge.
Do you have any experience with mentors? If so, do you recommend them for up and coming filmmakers/actors?
I have been given very bad and very good advice along the way. Sadly more bad than good.
However, there are a few people along the way who have kept me on track, given great advice and in no particular order: professor Grand Master Shen (Shen Chi Do), Michael Duval (Instinctual acting, London), Margie Haber (Acting coach, Los Angeles), Valarie Colgan (Acting coach, London), The Second City Improv (Hollywood, Los Angeles), Les Brown (Inspirational Speaker), David Parfait (Producer, London), Karl Broadie (singer / songwriter, a dear friend who’s no longer with us).
Talk us through your creative process.
When it comes to storytelling and given the colourful and at times dangerous life I’ve lived, I’m currently focused on extracting these events into features and TV series. I do have a few fictional scripts that are at various stages and I also collaborate on occasions with other writers.
For quite some years I’ve been working with Craig Busek on a fictional feature film and a dark comedy TV series based on true events. We plan to shoot the pilot for the series as proof of concept.
Do you listen to any music to help you create?
ALWAYS, I’ve personally been quite musical my whole life and even have original material released under Cengiz, Cengiz Dervis and Strode Road on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. When I write, I have ambient, chill or classical music playing in the background. At times I select a piece of music to help me write a scene and this can be anything from Rap to Acid Jazz to folk…whatever fits and drives the scene forwards.
What do you think people misunderstand most about stunt performing/action choreography?
The amount of preparation required for some action scenes can be weeks even months before the actual scene is filmed. On screen action is all about selling the action to the camera/the audience and on most occasions, fight scenes run at half speed look so much better than full speed…
What made you want to switch from action choreography to acting?
Always wanted to be in front of the camera working as an actor. In the early days I found it hard to get seen for projects and was turned down by most agents as I had no experience/credits. So, I had to find a way to work in the industry and then transition. Utilising my physical skills, experience and knowledge as a fighter and martial arts coach and working with actors preparing for their roles helped on many levels.
How did you get involved with Knightfall?
A few years before Knightfall, I’d auditioned for Skyfall with the legendary Debbie McWilliams and found myself cast and at Pinewood Studios working with the outstanding Gary Powell’s stunt team on a Bond Movie. Unfortunately a few weeks into production a few roles were cut and one of those was mine…
Four years later, I received a call from Debbie McWilliams office to read for a recurring role in Knightfall. A few auditions, chemistry with the main director and a physical test (weapons, horse riding) all over a five week period landed me the villainous role of Roland.
What was your experience working on the set of Knightfall?
It was EPIC… I had the privilege of working with an outstanding and super fun cast and crew. Filming took place in Dubrovnik and Prague though all my scenes we’re in and around Prague at Barrandov studios and some other locations. I got to work with three very different though all very brilliant directors, Douglas MacKinnon, Metin Huseyin and David Petrarca.
he sets where amazing, the Director of Photography was outstanding, the stunt team was exceptional and the food was delicious and the showrunner, writer and executive producer Dominic Minghella is by far one of the nicest and most talented person I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.
Where do you find inspiration for your character Roland?
Roland had an interesting backstory and this along with some historical research and my physical skills and loss in my own life had me piece him together. A former templar, captured and held as prisoner during the crusades, left for dead and felt abandon by the brotherhood. He escaped, denounced god, recruited a motley crew of brigands and became swords for hire working secretly for the Pope.
You’re not just an actor: you’ve written multiple shorts as well. What made you get into writing?
I’ve started writing from a young age, firstly poems, then songs and short stories. When I write the words come to life. Every song I’ve ever written tells a story and once I started to travel for work in different areas; as a fighter, consultant, trainer or actor etc the global experiences (some good, some horrific) has given me huge amounts of content to write about.
You’ve worn multiple hats on the various projects you’ve worked on. How did you juggle so many responsibilities?
I don’t focus on everything all at once. I select and focus on one or two things at a time and get them done to the best of my ability. Most things take teamwork to go from idea to completion so I take time to pull together the right people to work with and we come up with a realistic plan, timeline etc and then get to work.
Do you prefer to be in front of the camera or behind the scenes?
Being in front of camera is my first love and my aim to continue growing as an actor. Working behind camera as a writer, producer or director has it’s pros and cons and in doing so has definitely better informed me as an actor.
Some of the tasks I enjoy and some I’d rather not be doing but when your generating content, creating working opportunities with small budgets you have no choice but to wear many hats to get the job done.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself as a series regular on a juicy show and working in film as both an actor and director. Also getting involved in interesting projects as an executive producer.
If any actor would play you in the story of your life, who would you choose and why?
It would have to be someone who has great physicality, depth and is not caught up in their head. A young Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Oliver Reed, or Tom Hardy wouldn’t be a bad match.
What has been your biggest success and failure to date?
Losing a five season option as a series regular due to not having the correct US visa in place and not enough time to get it sorted. Biggest success was meeting the love of my life in LA and convincing her to give me a shot to stand with her through whatever may come our way. #silviabusuiocreal
What advice do you have for up and coming filmmakers/actors?
Don’t wait for permission, find a way to make stuff on your own or with others, find ways to perform e.g. do a one person show, or put on a play. Quiet simply, if you really want to be an actor, create opportunities to ACT , if you want to be a Writer, WRITE, if you want to be a Producer, PRODUCE something, if you want to Director, DIRECT something and keep doing it.
If no one is hiring you, create your own opportunities and by doing so you’ll create traction, you’ll grow and more opportunities will start to present themselves to you…
What’s next on the docket for you?
On personal projects: I’ve just finished my debut feature in Italy titled: When the Mist Clears that’s now in consideration for a number of global festivals and recently placed with a sales agent to champion distribution deals. I’m now focused on shooting a pilot / proof of concept for a dark comedy TV series I’ve been working on for seven years titled The Studio.
Away from my content, I’ve just been confirmed on a new UK Detective TV series so I’m going to work on my character as filming starts in June 2021 . . .