Cengiz Dervis worked his way into the world of entertainment through years of focus and hard work. As a professionally trained martial arts fighter, Dervis has himself trained and prepared many stars for action scenes including Matthew Macfadyen, Rosamund Pike, Danni Minogue Seal, and Rowan Atkinson and Natalie Imbruglia for the Johnny English films. From there he segued into acting, appearing as Roland, the villain in A+E Networks and the History Channel’s series Knightfall. His other acting credits include CBS’s S.W.A.T. and the films Retribution and Chasing Shadows. Last year, Dervis made his directorial debut with the steamy romantic drama When the Mist Clears starring international model Gena Miller, Christian Howard (Street Fighter), Maddalena Ischiale (Unbroken), Silvia Busuioc (Lethal Weapon), and Dervis, which was filmed in Vicenza, Italy. In this interview Dervis talks with us about his career and his favorite movies—some of which may surprise you.
Jason: Can you tell us when and how your interest in martial arts training started? It was at a very young age I understand.
Cengiz Dervis: My uncle, Professor Grand Master Shen, was teaching a combination of Korean arts—Taekwondo Hapkido and Kuk Sool Won—and as I got older I started boxing, traditional Queensberry rules boxing, and then I started to compete in full contact karate competitions. Then I started to go on a curious journey with other kind of forms of combat. I trained in mixed martial arts and trained in a lot of ancient Eastern modern weapons, the weapons of the Knights, the weapons of the Persians. I trained for a year in the fluidity and philosophy and history that comes with the arts. Over the years, I did lots of things with épées, foils, and saber, Spanish swords, French swords. I went to play with stuff, to find people to teach me, and I used it in film. Then I taught other people to use them in film.
Jason: How has martial arts helped you personally?
Cengiz Dervis: I started training at five so at age nine I was pretty competent but I didn’t have the courage to use it outside of martial arts competitions. In martial arts competitions you’re competing, but in a real life situation, I didn’t have the courage to use it. Kids were quite mean to me growing up. We were quite poor and I think where it helped me was that in martial arts, the people that I was training with were there to grow, and were really supportive of one another. I heard my uncle say to students ‘whether you’re here or not, the session will run.’ I think it gave me a community and I think at some point it gave me skills where I started to have the confidence and courage to to use outside of a tournament environment. In real life if someone just walks up to you and punches you it’s shocking so it took me a while to be able to stand up for myself in the real world. But when I did, I realized that it wasn’t just about fighting, you were actually standing up for yourself in every area and actually standing up inside yourself first.
Jason: So then you later applied that all those techniques to kickboxing?
Cingez Dervis: I started I training in karate competitions from nine to about 14–15 and then I started to move over into kickboxing which is basically boxing with legs so you can kick to the head and depending on the rules like freestyle, you can low kick below the waist. It’s boxing only using no elbows or knees. So I competed in that and then I turned pro. Kickboxing has never really taken off, however. It had its moments but it’s never been fully used. It kind of collapsed because you have things doing well at the moment such as the UFC which is so organized and well funded it’s captivated a huge global audience and has massive money in it and fighters getting paid properly, which is wonderful because you put your life on the line. And then you’ve got Glory kickboxing, which is a mix of kickboxing and Thai boxing. That’s doing okay, as well. But nowhere in the same universe as the UFC. Really, all the money is in UFC and boxing.
Jason: You just touched on it a little few minutes back how you were poor growing up and worked a number of jobs and professions. Do you have one that you liked the most?
Cengez Dervis: I was a lifeguard for a while and that was cool because the job was more than just being a lifeguard. I worked loads of training courses so I got to golf and learn to play basketball and hockey and I got to work with loads of kids where I’d run pool sessions for able bodied children as well as disabled individuals. It was a fun environment. It was healthy and it made me gain exposure to lots of different groups of people. I’d finish, say, Sundays at six o’clock and it would be eight o’clock before I left because I was just helping out doing stuff and I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that I wasn’t making much money, I just enjoyed the environment, the people and that feeling of knowing I was part of the team.
Jason: Can you talk a little bit about how you got into into training others first outside of entertainment and then within entertainment?
Cengiz Dervis: The funny thing is that I always wanted to be an actor. Once I got to the level of Black Belt, and still competing, I started to teach classes and I was fighting on certain TV shows. I had people approach me and say, ‘Hey, man, I really enjoyed watching you fight. I’d love to get some sessions with you.’ Personal training really wasn’t a big thing 20 years ago, working with people one on one, and I certainly didn’t have access to the film or TV business. So having actors come up to me say, ‘hey, I’ve got a project coming up and I need to be able to do XYZ. I’d like to book some sessions with you.’ Then I started to get approached by production companies like Working Title Films which are pretty big to work. I was brought on to help on the Johnny English movies. So I was working with Rowan Atkinson and Natalie Imbruglia for the first one utilizing my skill as a martial arts fighter. That was a natural progression, but not unnatural. I wasn’t thinking, ‘hey, I’m going to start coaching actors and that will help me get into the industry.’ It just played out that way.
Jason: Was there any one performer in particular who really stood out? Who really impressed you as they went along and completely surprised you?
Cengiz Dervis: Matthew Macfadyen who’s currently in Succession. Great guy. We’ve become friends over the years. He’s a lovely, wonderful human being but he’s quite a big guy. When I met Matthew I was brought in to prepare him for the role of Athos (in the 2011 film) The Three Musketeers so we got to play with a lot of weapons. We had 16 weeks with him, sometimes twice a day training, in preparation for that role. I knew of him as Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice. It doesn’t look like he could move very well but he was surprising because he picked up things really quickly. He packs a hell of a punch. I never get star-struck or ever blown away by celebrities. Everybody’s just trying to be the best they can. It would always impress me that Matthew remembered the names of the crew members and remember the last thing they talked about and that tells you a lot that somebody. We trained for a couple of years together and I thought, well, this guy can actually have a couple of fights.
Jason: Was the desire to pursue acting before before that or was it after?
Cengiz Dervis: It was way before that. I got a job when I was about 13 and it took me almost two years to save to buy a secondhand JVC camcorder. We made so much crap, but it was just brilliant, thinking about the editing process. That was where the bug came from to do our own thing.
Jason: What’s your favorite aspect about acting?
Cingiz Dervis: Character creation, probably. When you get an audition you make some decisions, you go with it, put yourself on tape and if you get the job then you’ve got to go to work on this character’s life. That for me, how behavior, physicality, whatever it is you do to create that human, that process is really cool. I really enjoy that.
Jason: When you’re writing a graphic novel or when you’re writing a song, do you do it from perspective of a character or more from what’s within you?
Cengiz Dervis: All the songs I’ve written over the years are about capturing a moment and it’s either something that’s happened to me or something that’s happened to somebody close to me. All the stuff I’ve written is telling a little story of a present moment or a past moment. I’m not a great musician in terms of playing guitar, playing piano…I can do enough to play chords and I just feel the need to sit and mess around. I like getting something off my chest in the form of a song or a poem. I get an idea and I need to go with it. I do write a lot about what I know and things in my life. I’ve definitely met colorful characters and I feel grateful in that sense, even though some of it isn’t all nice.
Jason: And Knightfall was your first substantial role?
Cengiz Dervis: I’ve done a lot of independent stuff but that was the biggest production I’d been on up until that point. It was cast by a casting legend who I’d met a few years before on the Bond movie Skyfall but then my part didn’t go ahead. I was on the Skyfall set for two weeks in preparation for the scenes that we were going to shoot and then there were changes and some some things were cut and I was one of those cut. My Bond box was ticked and then it was un-ticked.
Jason: So your debut feature When the Mist Clears which you directed, wrote and produced—you made it during the pandemic?
Cengiz Dervis: That was unexpected. I was taking my projects around for about a year and a half, testing the water with executive producers and investors to see if anyone was willing to put some money into a film or a state of films. It’s hard to raise money. A lot of short films don’t make any money. Then everything shut down. It was March when we were in LA, we flew back. I just went back out to a few people who were looking at things along with my partner who’s also an actress, and she’s dipping her toe in producing. She went back to a couple of her contacts. She works in five languages which is quite handy. Somebody we had spoken to a couple of months before was looking to do a drama/romance. So we assembled and shot in mid-July. We had all the COVID restrictions. It was crazy. I went into post production as a producer, director and then I had to get it all done and find a sales agent and get it into festivals but it’s been doing really well, and I’m very proud of it. Our sales agent is taking it to Cannes and they’re looking to sell it globally.
Jason: What’s a fact about you people reading this may find surprising about you?
Cengiz Dervis: Well, I guess a lot of people associate me with action but I write music and I’ve written a couple children’s novels in the Jengito series. I’ve written a couple kids books in detail and I’ve got plans to finish two more books at the moment. I’ve actually mapped out five books to tell the whole story. I actually have an idea for a cartoon as well. I’ve even written the theme song.
Jason: The site I’m writing for is primarily a movie, TV and music site so I have to ask, do you have a couple favorite movies, movies that just inspire you? Not just in training, but in terms of filmmaking?
Cengiz Dervis: I got quite a quite a few. in no particular order, I’ll give you a couple. Rocky. For me, it’s a movie of human spirit. I have a very, very soft spot for Rocky. It’s just very truthful, very gritty, and very honest. Another favorite is Moulin Rouge. What a masterpiece! It’s probably not a film that people would associate me to like but it’s so beautifully shot and well told and the performances are unbelievable. They’re just so good. If people haven’t seen Moulin Rouge it’s a wonderful film to watch with the colors and the cleverness of the way it was told. Also The Princess Bride. I think it’s so brilliant in what it says about true love. The Usual Suspects is another really great one…I remember when the end credits rolled I felt so conned and I went right back and watched the whole thing again connecting the dots along the way. What a masterpiece. The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever. Some of these are old movies, they aren’t films with massive VFX budgets. These are films that are character-driven, story driven and are just timeless. I feel there was some kind of magic that happened on those sets where everybody knew that this could be something special. I’m sure people would say things like Shawshank Redemption. For me it’s not The Avengers or Marvel and DC movies that I respond to emotionally, even though I appreciate that universe and stuff. But these films I’m mentioning are ones I think that just are very special on so many levels.
Jason: What future projects do you have coming up?
Cengiz Dervis: At the moment I’m filming a detective series in the UK called The Chelsea Detective (starring Killing Eve and 1917 actor Adrian Scarborough) which was green-lit by the creator of Downton Abbey. I think it will be distributed by the BBC. It’ll be four 90-minute episodes and I play a not very nice person in one of them (laughs). I’m a vey nice guy but I just seem to play villains. Then I’m shooting one of my ideas, a dark comedy called The Studio, which we are in pre-production on. I’m the lead and I’ll also be directing it. I’m wearing many hats again but not so many because this time I’ve brought in a couple producers to help. Until then I’m trying to grow my little garden here outside my house.
Jason: Thanks so much for speaking to us.
Cengiz Dervis: Pleasure and thanks so much for taking the time to ask me some questions.
Visit Princ Films for info on When the Mist Clears from Fight Me Productions.
Follow Cengiz Dervis on Instagram