By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer, What’s on London
Asli Bayram: if you haven’t heard the name yet, expect to hear it very soon. Because although this talented actress, writer and former model has already done a great deal, she’s got the talent, hunger and grounding to achieve so much more.
Having earned acclaim for a series of challenging stage and film roles overseas, it’s time for her to break through in the UK. And while she’s here, our politicians would do well to listen to her sensible views on tolerance and integration.
Writing about Asli Bayram isn’t easy, because it’s hard to know where to start.
Many choose her early career as a beauty queen, becoming the first Miss Germany of Turkish extraction in 2005. Others focus on the prejudice Bayram faced growing up as a second-generation immigrant. Some dwell on the awful tragedy in her life: witnessing her father’s murder at the hands of a neo-Nazi when she was 12 years old.
But while all these experiences have shaped her career, the best place to begin is the title of her 2009 book: Grenzgängerin – Leben zwischen den Welten or, in English, Border-Crosser – Life Between Worlds.
Because this is how Asli Bayram sees herself: as a ‘woman of the world’ – neither German, nor Turkish – unfettered by the choices expected of her and unafraid to speak out for others.
A Life Between Worlds
And she’s certainly true to her word. Although principally an actress, that label doesn’t define her.
Because this is someone who never intended to write until persuaded to put pen to paper on an autobiography at the age of 28. Someone never interested in producing a screenplay who finds herself – three years down the line – with a romantic comedy in development. Someone who – even in acting circles – has never trodden a traditional path.
Bayram got her break in the stage production of Anne Frank: The Diary. The casting was unusual and potentially very controversial: Bayram – of Muslim heritage – telling the most famous of Jewish stories. “It was such a big responsibility to play her,” she says. “Anne Frank’s diary touched me deeply when I was a kid. I was so happy to be a part of telling her story, as people should never forget it. And hopefully the story should never be repeated.”
In the one-woman production of Anne Frank: The Diary.
Bayram lived the role for two years, touring Europe, USA and Canada to great acclaim. Anne Frank’s cousin, Buddy Elias, enthused about her performances andThe Times said she was “emerging as one of Germany’s most convincing and subtle actresses”.
“one of Germany’s most convincing and subtle actresses“
Film and television offers inevitably followed but – despite her striking looks – Bayram has avoided being typecast, choosing diverse parts that have required her to act in eight languages.
Body of Work
Bayram’s strongest performance to date was in the 2012 film Body Complete,playing a journalist sent to Bosnia to track down a missing girl a decade after the civil war and reported atrocities. Her character, Nicole, finds that ethnic tensions still bubble away underneath the surface and her enquiries put her in danger.
Bayram played the lead role in Body Complete.
Although a fictional work, it’s steeped in authenticity, casting survivors in key roles. She says it was “emotionally challenging” to make, not to mention logistically demanding. “We had security on set all the time, as there were many in Bosnia who still denied the genocide. But overall the feedback we received was very positive.”
The film won seven awards. Bayram herself picked up Best Actress gongs at the New York International Riverlight Film Festival 2012 and the American International Film Festival 2012.
Her career has continued in this independent streak, interspersed with smaller roles in bigger films such as One Chance (starring James Corden and Julie Walters) andWoman in Gold (alongside Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds). But Bayram’s ability demands greater challenges and she recognises this.
“I feel the need to take on diverse characters – and sometimes different languages – because I don’t want to be stuck in one direction,” she says.
Currently, this direction is split between London and Germany. When over here, Bayram bases herself in Marylebone from where she can walk to auditions and soak up the best the city can offer. She’s enjoyed recent performances at the Arcola Theatre and has nothing but praise for our capital.
“I love that it’s so international and, as an artist, everything is here for me.” Bayram also speaks highly of its tolerance: “I know London, like many places, faces its challenges. But the great thing about the city is how welcoming it is to a wide mix of people.”
That’s not to say Londoners can afford to rest on their laurels. “Integration is only possible when everyone is willing to participate. We’re all responsible for creating the world we want to see.”
Integration and Tolerance
These aren’t just clichéd sound bites: Bayram knows what she’s talking about, channelling the difficulties she faced growing up in her work and outside interests. These include helping German schools and police academies in their approach to integration. She’s made such an impression that the Ministry of Justice in the state of Hesse has appointed her ‘Ambassador for Crime Prevention‘.
Despite her striking looks, Bayram has so far avoided being typecast.
Bayram thinks these efforts are more important than ever, given the challenges Germany faces with the recent influx of mainly Syrian refugees.
Although she’s careful not to align herself too closely with the politicians – “I’m an artist, so all I can do is empathise and help to tell stories; luckily I don’t have to balance everyone’s demands” – Bayram endorses her government’s approach so far.
“I think Angela Merkel did a great thing because we can all benefit by being more open,” she says.
“The fact is that Europe needs immigrants. There’s a strong economic – as well as a humanitarian – argument for it. I just really hope we start to see all countries – not just in Europe – becoming more welcoming.”
“I’m an artist, so all I can do is empathise and help to tell stories; luckily I don’t have to balance everyone’s demands“
After carrying out extensive research before taking on Anne Frank, she’s only too aware of the dangers in allowing an ‘us and them’ attitude to take hold. “Before it was the Turkish migrants and, before them, others of course. People want to point the finger whenever there are problems. History has a bad habit of repeating itself.”
But her outlook on life is anything but gloomy: she firmly believes that things have greatly improved since her childhood. And her future looks equally bright, with a host of film and theatre roles on the horizon.
“I just want to carry on acting, taking on good roles and enjoying what I do,” she says. From her career so far, it appears she’s got too much talent and perspective not to.
What’s On London wishes Asli Bayram the very best of luck with her future work.
A full filmography can be found on her website (www.asli-bayram.com) and her book, Grenzgängerin – Leben zwischen den Welten, is available on Amazon, although only in German at present.