By Alina Weckström
June, 22 / 2021
How to stay true to your values?

Actress Dilan Gwyn on coping with loss and finding her true grit. Understanding your values in difficult times.

This article is a part of a series on human values. To learn more check out 29k's courses "Values" and "Values-based action".
After losing her father as a child, actress Dilan Gwyn fell into a depression as a teen which she never received professional help for. Today she's studying to become a psychologist so she can help children in similar situations.

"At least therapy should have been offered. I felt like I was on my own." Dilan says.


It's Friday afternoon in late March, another day of remote psychology studies for Swedish actress Dilan Gwyn. It will probably take her double the time to finish her five-year psychology programme because of her acting work and she's studying as much as possible now, hoping the cultural industries will soon be able to start coming back to life again.

Dilan is thirty-three. Her joyful demeanor and school-girl look make her seem much younger. She is wearing a checkered button-up blouse and a diadem hiding an overgrown fringe. She had the bob haircut for her most recent role as Alicia, a young upper-class woman in the new Swedish tv-series Two Sisters, premiering autumn 2021.

Dilan's international breakthrough came when she landed a role as one of the main characters in the American fantasy series Beyond in 2017. Her Swedish break came shortly after in Josephine Bornebusch's critically acclaimed rom-com drama 'Love me'. In the series, she portrayed Elsa, a hot-tempered but lovable dj, and girlfriend to the main character's brother Aron, played by Gustav Lindh.

Before her breakthroughs, Dilan had spent a decade abroad. She studied acting in Los Angeles and New York and then lived in London, Amsterdam, Istanbul and Stockholm, getting by on acting gigs wherever she could.
Childhood years and father's death
Dilan was born after her parents had moved to Sweden from Turkey in the eighties. Life was more settled for her family then. Her two older sisters had already learned Swedish. Her mother was engaged in local politics. She was the baby of the family.

"As a kid, I was such a jokester. I had all eyes on me - and I loved it. It was a safe environment to grow up in."

Dilan's father, Orhan Kotan, a Kurdish writer, poet, and journalist, encouraged her creative side. He showed her how to record her favorite movies on VHS, mostly classic old films or the latest action comedies. She watched these on repeat and learned to act by imitating her favorite characters.

As her childhood years passed, Dilan's father's health declined. He died when she was eleven. It came as a shock to the whole family, she says, because even though he had been struggling with his health for some time he never complained or discussed his illness at home.

"It was the worst thing, and it's still very much on the surface for me."
Aftermath of loss and the lack of support
After her father's death, Dilan lived alone with her mother. This was tough at first because she had been closer to her father. But eventually dealing with the loss together brought them closer, she says. They depended on each other.

At school, however, Dilan became more withdrawn. The other kids didn't know how to act around someone who was sad all the time, she says. Dilan coped by burying herself in her studies. She also developed obsessive-compulsive behavior.

"This was my way of feeling in control again when everything else felt so out of control." Dilan says.

One day a teacher took her aside, told her she was there if she needed to talk to someone. Dilan didn't want to talk to her teacher. What she needed most, she says looking back, was help from a professional psychologist who was impartial - not a part of her everyday school life.

"It should have been offered. I felt like I was on my own. I think that's wrong." she says.

When Dilan was sixteen and started high school in Stockholm's inner city, the change of environment helped her start fresh and move forward. The OCD stopped, but she wasn't able to fully tap into her creative side until later.

"Many colleagues started acting young. I didn't have time for that. I was focusing on getting through my teenage years in one piece. I still feel it's a real shame that I had no space in my head for creativity at the time."
Psychology and acting go hand in hand
Dilan's decision to study psychology came later. One day in 2019 she stumbled across Doctors Without Borders' website. She was fascinated by how they used their medical expertise to save lives in conflict zones and that they even put their own lives at risk in the process. She wanted to find her own way to help but felt she could not do this with acting alone. She had always been eager to understand people on a deeper level. Maybe psychology was the way in, she thought. When the lockdown came in early 2020, she joined the psychology programme at Stockholm University.

"Acting and psychology are both about learning to be in another person's state of mind."
Why are you interested in child psychology?
"Losing my father was tough, but I got through it. Not all kids are that lucky. Experiencing trauma can lead to lasting problematic behaviors as a way of escaping challenging feelings. I want to help them, using my own experiences."
Having strong role models as parents helped Dilan get through her depression without professional help, she says. Although Dilan's father died when she was young, his parenting style left a long-lasting impact on her. He was warm, true to himself, and loyal to the ones he loved. He was dedicated to using his work as a tool for good. Dilan strives to be like him in this way, she says.

Who is Dilan today, then? She's happy her dream career as an actress is moving forward. She's excited to deepen her understanding of people through psychology and that she will be adding a new skill into her professional toolbox. Dilan is back to her goofy, jokester self - but the grown-up version.

"I'm resilient and sensitive. When I was younger, this was confusing. Today I choose to embrace my contradictions."
Dilan Gwyn:
Age: 33

Does: Actress

Lives in: West Stockholm, Sweden

Education: Film studies in Stockholm. Acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts

Family: Husband, mother and two sisters

Known for: Willa in Beyond, Elsa in Love Me

Currently: Alicia in the upcoming Two Sisters tv-series based on fiction trilogy by Amanda Schuman and Hannah Widell, premiering later this year on Viaplay, and Shirin in The Evil Next Door, available June 25th on streaming sites
JUNE, 22 / 2021
Contributing author: Alina Weckström

Alina Weckström is a Stockholm-based Finland Swedish freelance journalist focusing on entertainment, non-profits, business and health. She has written for publications such as Aftonbladet Söndag and has studied English literature and music production.

Photos by Marica Rosengård

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