His parents were the last to find out. «I knew it would be difficult so I put it off for as long as possible,» recounts Burak Ates. The 26-year-old from Solothurn had taken part in the casting for a film – for the very first time.
He was actually working as a production mechanic in the watch industry but was not especially happy in his job. «A friend then mentioned this casting to me.» They were looking for a good-looking, sporty young man of Turkish extraction. Why not, he thought, and went along with his then-girlfriend.
His girlfriend encouraged him
He only learned the details of the role at the casting: the character was Beyto, a second-generation Turk, who falls in love with another man. «I was hesitant about it at first because I was worried how those around me would react.»
But his girlfriend encouraged him. «She thought I should see it through – and said it would only be a problem for her if I had to kiss another girl in the film,» explains Burak with a broad grin.
He then told his friends. «At first they found it weird and I got ribbed quite a bit.» But then, he had always been the one to play the clown in that group. «And when they realised I really meant it they were supportive and maybe even quite impressed.»
But first of all he had to get the role, especially considering he had no acting experience whatsoever. «The only acting I’d ever done was in a kindergarten play – though I did get the leading role,» he says with a smile.
A few of the other candidates did actually pull out for fear of a negative reaction from their friends and relations. But Burak and his film partner Dimitri Stapfer got on brilliantly right from the start. Ultimately the budding actor from Solothurn was offered the role. «I got a phone call from director Gitta Gsell while I was sitting on the back seat of a car next to a huge rolled-up carpet, and up front my parents, who’d just arrived home from Turkey.»
He resolved to tell them the news there and then, while still driving home to Solothurn. «They weren’t thrilled to learn I wanted to play a gay man and tried to dissuade me.» But Burak stood his ground. In summer 2019, at the start of filming the movie, which was supported by Migros Culture Percentage, he did keep from them the real reason why he kept going to Zurich, instead saying he was meeting up with friends. In reality, he had rehearsals.
Nervousness after Pride
«The first day’s shooting was at Zurich Pride, with me and Dimitri in the thick of it. When I got home that evening, my parents were watching the news and up popped a feature on Pride. I thought – oh no, now they’re going to show us... because the shooting attracted quite a bit of attention.» But he was lucky. His father, though, was quite disparaging about the TV footage.
«My younger sister then blew my cover just before I was about to fly to Turkey for more scenes.» But somehow it all got sorted out. «They were still opposed to it but got the message I wasn’t a little boy anymore and was making decisions for myself.»
Filming was a challenge for the newbie. «But Dimitri helped me, I’ve learned a lot from him.» He even devised his own method to help him express the right emotions convincingly at the right moment. «I’d choose a specific object and kind of charge it up with the feelings I needed to show, with the help of music. At the appropriate moment I’d then spend a minute by myself with the object, which helped me evoke those feelings in the scene.»
Burak was quite nervous about the intimate scenes with his film partner. «I was worried they wouldn’t come across as genuine enough. But Dimitri was really professional and supportive.» And specifically those scenes are now among his favourites. «They feel authentic and are important milestones in Beyto’s development.» In fact his role has come to mean a great deal to him. «It’s a fabulous, important, moving story. Beyto breaks free and finds himself – and it feels like I’m doing something like that, too.»
The woes of gay friends
Burak describes the story, based on a novel by Winterthur-based Kurdish author Yusuf Yesilöz, as highly realistic. Beyto’s parents are so horrified that they lure their son back to their home village in Turkey on false pretences, for an arranged marriage to a childhood friend – then, once he is out there, take away his passport to prevent him from running away.
«I have a number of gay friends of Turkish extraction and they’ve had similar experiences.» Burak tells of one who was beaten and tortured, another who was thrown out of the home and disowned, and another who was sent to Turkey to be made «normal» again. «It’s bad. But love is love, whatever form it takes.»
The first positive signs of an impact
So Burak hopes this film will be seen by Switzerland’s Turkish community and will make a difference. «A gay colleague who was an extra in the film came up to me one day during filming, gave me a hug and thanked me for my courage. He told me I probably couldn’t imagine what it meant for him and others in his situation that this film was being made.»
«Beyto» has also had an impact on Burak’s straight friends. «They came to the première and love the film, which has given them a much greater understanding of the difficulties gays encounter.»
Fan mail from Turkey
By contrast, he received a surprising message from two uncles in Turkey who had seen the trailer for the film. «They congratulated me and hope I’ll one day act in a Turkish film.» He is not averse to the idea.
For the sake of his parents and to give himself something of a safety net, 26-year-old Burak is also taking a course in commercial IT. But his main priority since the start of this year has been to train as an actor. He has now moved to Zurich, where he lives in a flatshare.
In his free time the avid crossfitter regularly plays sport and is often out and about with his friends. What are his other likes? Songs by Mani Matter, good, expensive coffee – and kebabs: «I have to have them two or three times a week.»
Burak has since split up with his girlfriend and is currently single. «At the moment I’m content with that, to be honest. A relationship takes time and effort, and at the moment I’m entirely focused on my career.»
His aim is to become a recognised actor in Switzerland – then play in a similar league to his heroes Max Hubacher, Joel Basman and Dimitri Stapfer. He has since taken part in a few more castings. Nothing has yet been made public, but in «Beyto» Burak delivered a performance that is bound to open more doors for him.
Photo/Stage: Gian Marco Castelberg