Feature: Riz Ahmed for British GQ
On 1 April 2020, nine days into the first Covid lockdown, Rizwan Ahmed was staring back at me over a WhatsApp video call. Across subsequent months, surrealism would become the new normal for us all. But for me personally this was where the madness began: a candid conversation with a star whose voice I first discovered nearly 15 years ago, as a wide-eyed teenager picking up RWD magazine. Riz MC was featured in the “About To Blow” talent-spotting section.
“Sometimes people talk about growth as something that you don’t invite, right? Sometimes growth just slaps you in the face. And I feel like that’s what it was for me,” Ahmed poses now, 18 months on, reflecting on his personal journey since the start of the pandemic. He is wearing a striped green collarless shirt and glasses. We’re poolside, facing each other across a small table, eating brunch beneath a clear blue West London sky on the roof of White City House. Ahmed’s answers are philosophically demanding but therefore rewarding, like sitting with your favourite professor during office hours. Yet between thoughts he pauses seamlessly to make in-the-moment observations: excitement at the colourful dragonfly that zips past us; polite inquisitiveness about whether his vegetarian breakfast will come with avocado. “I was pedalling so hard that sometimes I didn’t look up to see where I was heading. So that enforced me to stop, sit with myself, think about what really matters… It was difficult in many ways, but I am also strangely grateful for it. It gave me clarity.” After everything, he seems happy to be here.
In the spring of 2020, Ahmed’s album, The Long Goodbye, and its accompanying short film were released to critical acclaim. Months later came the UK release of Mogul Mowgli, a collaboration between Pulse Films and Ahmed’s production company, Left Handed Films. The feature film, which he cowrote with his friend director Bassam Tariq, drawing from their life experiences, traces the paralysing demise of rapper Zed as he navigates illness and a premature career halt. “It’s basically a pandemic movie: a workaholic gets hit with a health crisis; his life is thrown into a lockdown. He has to sit with himself, reassess what really matters,” Ahmed explains, noting the film’s atmospheric parallels with the timing of the real world. “I always find the making of a film, the telling of a story and the story itself, end up mirroring each other. Always. It’s like the lesson you need to learn, in your life, in that moment, the character teaches it to you. The story is taking you on that journey that you need to go on.” [More at Source]
Feature: Riz Ahmed for Variety
As Jennifer Aniston knows, a good haircut can make your career in Hollywood. But in Riz Ahmed’s case, so can a bad one.
At age 22, the actor-producer-rapper fell victim to a “horrific bowl cut,” he recalls to Variety. In his arts program at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, the students deconstructed Shakespeare by day and hustled for acting jobs at night.
“We were still doing headshots at drama school, so everyone was making sure they looked good,” he says. “I turn up with this hair and ended up looking like one of the Tipton Three. When Michael Winterbottom’s casting director saw my photo, I got a role.”
Ahmed is referring to his big break, Winterbottom’s 2006 film “The Road to Guantánamo,” in which he played Shafiq Rasul — one of three Muslim men from Tipton, England, who were detained at Guantánamo Bay in 2001. They endured two years of torture and interrogation at the American base in Cuba before being released with no charges, an example of the moral murk that accompanied the post-9/11 “war on terror.”
From that fateful coif grew an impressive screen career, one that has positioned Ahmed as one of the industry’s most compelling, blazingly modern performers. An Oscar nominee for 2019’s “Sound of Metal,” the 38-year-old represents a new class of leading man — one who showcases vulnerability, subverts traditional masculinity and ushers in a different type of Hollywood hero. Ahmed’s talent continues to unfold in fresh and exciting ways in two fall films: He plays an up-and-coming British Pakistani rapper in “Mogul Mowgli” and an ex-military officer grappling with a microorganism invasion in “Encounter.”
The two projects are perfect vehicles for Ahmed’s twitchy intensity and emotional daring, spanning genres in ways that highlight his versatility. At a time when one generation of actors seems to be falling over themselves to get into spandex and anchor a superhero movie, Ahmed is forging his own path, one that cuts through the world of streaming and indies while allowing him to create the kind of morally compromised, rough-edged characters that populated the greatest movies of the ’60s and ’70s. [More at Source]
Photos: “Encounter” European Premiere at 65th BFI London Film Festival
I’ve updated the gallery with photos of Riz attending the European Premiere of his upcoming movie “Encounter” at the 65th BFI London Film Festival.
Gallery Update: “Sound of Metal” Stills & Screencaptures
I’ve updated the gallery with high quality stills and screencaptures of Riz in “Sound of Metal”.
Feature: The Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion
Newly-minted Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winner Riz Ahmed has become just as well known for his activism as for his performances in projects like “Sound of Metal” or “The Night Of.”
Now the actor, musician and producer is taking his fight one step further, by launching a multi-layered initiative for Muslim representation in media, in partnership with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the Ford Foundation and Pillars Fund. Powered by USC Annenberg’s new study on Muslim representation in media — which found that less than 10% of top grossing films from 2017-2019 had a Muslim character on screen, with less than 2% of those characters having speaking roles — the coalition has created the Blueprint for Muslim Inclusion, as well as the Pillars Artist Fellowship, offering selected grantees an unrestricted award of $25,000.
The grantees will also receive mentorship from the fellowship’s advisory board, made up of Muslim artists, including Ahmed, Mahershala Ali, Ramy Youssef, Lena Khan, Sana Amanat, Karim Amer, Rosa Attab, Nida Manzoor, Jehane Noujaim and Hasan Minhaj.
The project spawned from Ahmed’s 2019 speech at CAA’s Amplify conference, where he made an impassioned plea for the entertainment industry to reevaluate its role in perpetuating negative stereotypes about Muslims and the real threats members of the community face in their everyday lives, no matter how famous they are.
“With all my privilege and profile, I often wonder if this is going to be the year they round us up, if this is the year they’re going to put Trump’s Muslim registry into action, if this is going to be the year they ship us all off,” he said. “The representation of Muslims on screen — that feeds the policies that get enacted, the people that get killed, the countries that get invaded.”
Looking back on that presentation, as well as his 2017 address to Parliament in his native England, Ahmed tells Variety, “It’s not a speech I wanted to give. No offense, but this is an interview I don’t want to have to give. This is a study none of us want to have to do.”
“But sometimes, when you’ve got a feeling anecdotally and experientially, and you’ve been gas lit, you need that data,” he explains. “You need to bring the big guns to come in, and show you that this isn’t just in your head.” [More at Source]
Feature: Riz Ahmed for Empire Magazine
I’ve updated the gallery with the digital scans and shoot of Riz’s feature in the july issue of Empire Magazine.
Photos: 93rd Annual Academy Awards
Feature: How ‘Sound Of Metal’ Changed Everything
Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal went into 2019’s Toronto International Film Festival without a distributor. Now, a year-and-a-half on, it’s a six-time Oscar nominee and perhaps the most hard-fought of all of this year’s crop of Best Picture candidates. Joe Utichi meets Marder and stars Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci to take stock of a film that transformed its key players in ways they hadn’t expected.
They say Oscar loves a narrative, and they don’t come much more inspiring than Sound of Metal’s. Even before he got his debut feature to set, Darius Marder spent more than a decade honing his tale about a heavy metal drummer and recovering addict who loses his hearing, butting up against the many hard realities of filmmaking that told him a movie like this could not work. As he did it, he learned more and more about deaf culture, and heard moving stories about people pursuing recovery in dedicated deaf sober houses. In Riz Ahmed, he found an actor willing to immerse so fully into his lead role that he would learn to play the drums and become fluent in American Sign Language. And in Paul Raci, he found a man whose own life story reflected almost directly on the character he and his brother Abraham had written into this script.
And so, as he kept facing reasons why it shouldn’t work, it became increasingly clear to him that it had to work. With the help of producers who saw the fire burning in Marder’s belly—Sacha Ben Harroche and Bert Hamelinck of Caviar, who had made a name producing ‘shouldn’t work’ films like Chloe Zhao’s The Rider—he got the film to set and presided over a production that would have a profound effect on everyone taking part.
That might have been the end of the story. Even with the film in the can, it went into its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 without a distributor. But the spirit and impact of Sound of Metal’s tale led to a bidding war that resulted in Amazon Studios taking US distribution rights. After the ‘odyssey’—Marder’s word—that got the film there, even the global pandemic that subsequently disrupted the film’s release plans might have felt like a trifling concern. After all, it hasn’t stopped the power of Sound of Metal working on audiences and awards voters the world over.
Now, as Marder and his cast and crew make plans for an Oscar night that will reunite them for the first time since TIFF in 2019, he sits down for a moment of reflection with Ahmed and Raci, and a deep dive into the transformative experience of making Sound of Metal.
DEADLINE: This film premiered in a whole other reality, at the Toronto Film Festival in 2019. It has been on quite the journey since, but how long did it take even to get it to that point?
DARIUS MARDER: It was a real odyssey trying to get this made [laughs]. It’s been a lot of years, but I think if I went back six or seven years, to the point where I was actually taking a script and thinking about getting it financed and made, what I had to realize the hard way is that the Hollywood model is that some producers back-pocket projects. And as a director, you don’t really know that’s happening, or I didn’t realize it was happening because I hadn’t been through it before.
What I didn’t fully grasp before I began is how impossible it is to make a first movie. Not a lot of people realize that it’s easier to finance a $100 million blockbuster, because with a film like this, there are three actors in the world who can finance your movie. So, before you’ve even started, you’ve narrowed the conversation down to something that isn’t a very creative conversation. You hav e producers that are used to saying, “That’s an interesting project, I’ll put it in my back pocket,” and if you happen to get one of those three actors, they’re all in. In the meantime, though, they’ll just let the director fly all over the world meeting actors and pay for their meals and hope he lands something.
RIZ AHMED: Hey, that’s bullshit. I offered to pay for the meal.
MARDER: Wait, you’re getting ahead. Because by the time I got to you, I actually had producers that would help me out by paying for the meals. That’s true.
AHMED: By the time you got to me you were broke and I had to pay for the meal.
MARDER: I also talked to the restaurant ahead of time about getting you the limited menu.
AHMED: The kid’s menu. It was just chicken nuggets and broccoli.
MARDER: It was a move I honed over the years [laughs]. [More at Source]
News: Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim nominated for lead actor Oscar
Riz Ahmed made history Monday as the first Muslim nominated for the Oscar for lead actor with the recognition for his role in “Sound of Metal.”
Actor Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar when he took home the statuette for supporting actor for “Moonlight” in 2017 and won the same prize in 2019 for “Green Book.”
Ahmed previously was the first Muslim, and first Asian, to win a lead acting Emmy in 2017 when he picked up the prize for lead actor in a limited series or movie for “The Night of.” The 38-year-old British Pakistani actor also has been seen in films such as “Rogue One,” “Venom,” “The Sisters Brothers,” “Nightcrawler,” “Four Lions” and the recent “Mogul Mowgli,” which he also co-wrote. He has a career as a rapper and musician and in 2020 released the album “The Long Goodbye.”
In “Sound of Metal,” Ahmed plays Ruben, a rock-and-roll drummer and recovering addict whose life is sent into a tailspin when he loses his hearing. For the role, Ahmed has been nominated for the Golden Globe, SAG Award, Spirit Award and BAFTA for lead actor. He won the Gotham Award and numerous critics prizes. [Source]