Why Can’t We Let a ‘Game of Thrones’ Actress Move Past Her History in Porn?

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When I was at a bar a couple of Sundays ago, I got to talking with a guy in front of me in the bathroom line. I don’t remember how we got on the subject — perhaps a little Game of Thrones versus Mad Men talk, maybe I joked about boobs and “sexposition” and fantasy — but he told me, “Game of Thrones gives a second chance to former porn stars.” Specifically, he mentioned that German actress Sibel Kekilli, who plays Shae, had been in porn.

Unfortunately, it was his turn to use the bathroom before I got to say, “Yeah, and that basically got played out in the tabloids, which told her parents about her past — in an incident she referred to as ‘media rape’ — when the incredible 2004 film Head-On, featuring an intense and passionate performance by Kikelli, was released in Germany.” Kikelli is an actress, and a great one. She’s won, essentially, the German Best Actress Oscar twice, first for Head-On and then for 2010’s When We Leave.

Game of Thrones is a show that openly casts a lot of porn stars, former and current, in auxiliary roles because it needs actresses who are comfortable with nudity. Kikelli is often included in articles about this, even though that life is more than a decade behind her, and she’s been through plenty of trauma because of it. In an interview, Head-On director Fatih Akin recalled: “We really tried to protect her because her parents didn’t know. When it came out, she got into enormous trouble. Her parents read about it in the newspapers. Her sister said they were burning her photos. It was like a scene in the movie, witchcraft stuff.” But if you google her name and you’ll immediately see porn results, from Reddit to newspapers.

In most of Kekilli’s post-GoT finale interviews, the focus is on Shae, and it’s on the work. She’s discussed Shae’s motivations with Access Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter, and TVline, among others. But in a new interview with Vulture, she’s asked if her past in porn and the public fallout from it have given her empathy for Shae’s journey from prostitution to power. Kekilli replies: “Let me say it like this — you know, it’s my past. It’s a past. So I’m not … do you know what I mean? It’s nothing to do with my future, or with my present. It’s past. And with acting, I always try to understand my part when I act. It’s nothing to with my past, it’s nothing to do with me.”

This sounds fairly similar to what she said ten years ago, talking to German tabloid Bild: “Yes, I did make these [porno] films. But that’s the past. What counts is the Golden Bear.”

We live in a time when the Internet likely provides a permanent record of most people’s 20s (or even teens); something that’s worse when it involves porn, the fuel that keeps any search engine alive. Kekilli can handle herself when it comes to interviews that bring up her past in porn, however respectfully. But it’s screwed up that something from ten years ago, something she’s been keen to move past, is the first thing that comes up when researching her, as opposed to her wonderful acting or maybe her work as an activist. It’s screwed up that the bathroom guy knows her for having a past in porn, as opposed to her terrifically emotional and moving performances in films like Head-On. Perhaps that’s the price of appearing in a worldwide hit show that’s big in America, but it doesn’t seem like a fair price to pay.