Kekilli, who has a regular role in the popular German crime show Tatort, never planned to become an actress. It was her discovery at a shopping mall in Cologne by a casting director, that ultimately won her the lead role in Fatih Akin's 2004 film Gegen die Wand (Head-On in English).
The film went on to win awards and was a huge international success, changing Kekilli's life forever. “After that film, my acting career began. Nothing was ever the same again," she says.
Her character Shae in Game of Thrones is no stranger to having her life turned around by a single event either.
Working as a prostitute, her luck changes when she meets one of the series' main characters Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) from the powerful and noble House of Lannister, the night before he goes to battle. She is secretly whisked away by Tyrion with a promise of a better life and riches in far off lands.
“Shae runs away with Tyrion because they fell in love with each other," Kekilli said. "She started to believe she would have a family with a man who loves her exactly the way she is.”
Initially portrayed as an opportunist, Sibel does not believe her character is using Tyrion for his resources. “She is not interested in power or money. Yes, at the beginning she was but not anymore. Shae would die for Tyrion,” she says.
The 33-year-old says she is proud of the way women are portrayed in the show. She told The Local that Game of Thrones is one of the first shows where women are equal to men.
“They are manipulative, dangerous, fighters and intelligent. George R. R. Martin, Dan and David are wonderful writers and you can feel that they love their female characters. Shae is one of these strong women," she says.
There has been controversy about the portrayal of violence and sexual conduct towards women in Game of Thrones, but Kekilli dismisses the criticism. “The violence in the show is not only towards women, but in many scenes also towards children and of course men. It is an important part of the show. Every turn of the story seems to be consequent and somehow reasonable.”
Growing up in Baden-Württemberg in a Turkish Muslim family, Kekilli was faced with two completely different cultures, which she describes as “a German open-minded culture on one side and a traditional Turkish culture on the other".
As an active member of the organization Terre des Femmes (a non-profit women's rights organization founded in 1981 in Hamburg) the actress has publicly voiced her opinions on violence in Muslim families against women.
She told The Local, “I know that violence is part of the Muslim culture. Most of the violence is against women. It’s a shame that some people are using it as an excuse to beat or even kill out of religious purposes. Every religion can be peaceful if you really understand it.”, she told The Local.
After the astounding success of Game of Thrones, many actresses would be heading for the Hollywood Hills, but Kekilli says her plans are closer to home. “Games of Thrones has given me a very special start in Hollywood. There are indeed some movies in the pipeline, but they are here in Germany – although I would love to work in an English-speaking TV series or a movie. Let’s see...”