On an especially gray February afternoon in New York City, the five young stars of Mustang are gathered with their director around small, warmly lit tables at Cafe Gitane. Just weeks ahead of this Sunday’s Oscars, they’re taking a break from promoting their Best Foreign Language Film–nominated movie, which follows five young orphaned sisters in rural Turkey as they become literally and figuratively imprisoned by an increasingly conservative society. “The film is written in a fairy-tale way,” explains director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. “But it’s very much a reflection on the question of freedom in Turkey today and the place of women.”
The cast is passionate about the subject matter. “Even if we’re not living [in] the same situation [or facing] arranged marriages, by living in Turkey we are experiencing the pressure. Political figures, especially men, are talking too much about what women should do and what they shouldn’t do,” says Elit Iscan, who is referring to well-publicized speeches by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, in 2014, stated that women are not equal to men. In the film, another controversial speech from Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç blares in the background of a family dinner in which he declares that women shouldn’t laugh loudly in public and should lower their heads when they’re looked at by men. “We don’t live the same [lives] as the girls do,” says the youngest cast member, Günes Sensoy, of her relatively liberal upbringing in Istanbul. “But I feel like I’m kind of similar [to] Lale because that’s what I would do in that situation—say that it’s not fair and fight back.”
But at the moment, they can relax. As they pair off in conversations of hushed and accelerated Turkish, they peel into laughter, flip their lengths of brown hair in a sort of stadium-wave continuum, and shake their hands in the air in accidental unison as they entertain Gary, Ergüven’s 1-year-old son. So when Ergüven describes the cast she was hoping to build as “one character with five heads,” watching their studied harmony, it’s clear she accomplished what she set out to do.
If Iscan, Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Ilayda Akdogan, and Tugba Sunguroglu are at home with one another, it’s because they’ve had plenty of time to get familiar. Trips to film festivals and screenings in Cannes (where they received a standing ovation), Toronto, Odessa, Sarajevo, Venice, Los Angeles, and New York would be enough to earn the rapport of intimate travel partners, but there’s also the matter of the seven weeks spent filming in purposefully close quarters, during which they were locked into a seaside house together. Add that to their already uncanny resemblance and it’s truly hard to believe the girls are not actually sisters.
Their likeness even alarms the actors themselves, who range in age from 14 to 22. “When I first saw Tugba, it was like looking in a mirror,” says Doguslu, re-enacting how her jaw dropped when they first met. Casting-wise, as far as Ergüven was concerned, that was entirely the point. Starting with Iscan, the actress whom she admittedly had in mind while writing the script, the director searched for unknown faces in unlikely places, including the airport (where Sunguroglu was discovered), looking for physical similarities, lively spirits, and “long hair—it’s something Turkish teenage girls have and appreciate.”
Once the group was selected, Ergüven guided the five strangers together emotionally. “[I asked them to] exchange secrets, not necessarily the most personal things, but something heartbreaking or important. The girls would look into each other’s eyes while saying it and it would generate empathy.” These trust exercises cemented a sibling-worthy bond that they still maintain. Iscan says she leans on her costars for dating advice, and when they’re in need of a beauty pick-me-up, they’re just as quick to scour one another’s beauty bags as they are their own. “My mascara is out right now, so I’m using theirs,” admits Sunguroglu. But the favor is returned: Her castmates come to her when they’re in need of liquid liner application, and Akdogan handles contouring duties on everyone but herself. “I like doing it for other people,” she explains with a shrug.
Even if they usually share the minimal beauty routine of their characters, which Iscan describes as “moisturizer, sometimes,” the costars do enjoy an opportunity to wear lipstick, a pleasure that has become more adventurous since Chanel gifted them a case of it. “It was a surprise,” says Akdogan of the collection of colors. “I usually like red and dark red lipstick, but I found a brown lipstick that I really like.” The fashion house has been an early supporter of the film, dressing the band of six for red carpets and its own Fall 2015 Couture presentation, where the cast was invited to play roulette alongside Kristen Stewart and Julianne Moore. Aside from being every woman’s fashion fairy tale, the alliance, Ergüven says, leaves her feeling protected when she needs it most. “The clothing doesn’t [make you feel fragile].” In Turkey, where the film is more controversial, she calls the empowering wardrobe “our shield.”
When it comes to the cast’s swingy heads of hair, however, they need very little help. For shampoo and conditioner? “Nothing special,” says Iscan, examining her lengths. “Some masks sometimes.” Sensoy notes that she wouldn’t be able to run a brush through her waves without the help of a leave-in conditioner—though, being 14, she’s not loyal to a brand just yet. It makes for light traveling, like for this Sunday, when they’ll jet to Los Angeles to watch the Oscars together, likely draped in the tangle of limbs they embody throughout their film.
After that, Akdogan is thinking of dyeing her hair gray and possibly cutting it short. “I’m so curious about new things,” she says. Whatever she decides, she says, “for the people it needs to be okay, because it’s okay for me. There’s no room for their opinion.” Spoken like a true independent.
Sittings Editor: Alexandra Cronan
Watch Vogue.com’s most popular videos now:
The post Mustang Beauty: The Cast of the Oscar-Nominated Movie on Long Hair and the Best Chanel Lipsticks appeared first on Vogue.
Read More From Beauty — Vogue Categories — Vogue