RIZ arrives at the agreed location for our interview, a two-storey house on a quiet residential street in north London. It is a grey Saturday evening. We enter through the front door but quickly make our way to the small backyard, a request he’s made with Covid-19 concerns in mind. The global film industry is just starting up again but not without strict health and safety regulations amid fears around the potential for delayed shoots and cancelled projects.
PAUL: What does the rest of the weekend hold for you?
RIZ: I’m flying to America, hopefully on Monday, to start a shoot. The project is one of the few things that’s able to shoot because of Covid. So, there’s all of that new protocol to run through.
Is insuring films much harder because of the pandemic?
It’s lawyers’ letters, all of that kind of stuff.
Were you in London for the entire lockdown? Is it still home?
So, I’ve spent a week in your company, going back through the full RIZ AHMED archive of film and music.
Thank you, man. You’ve been helping my YouTube views? Gently shifting the Netflix algorithm incrementally in my favour? The cheque’s in the post.
It has been a good place to be. The first time I noticed the muscular intimacy of RIZ AHMED’s acting was on a late-night UK Channel 4 screening of the 2008 low-budget thriller about petty drugdealers, ‘Shifty’. In the last scene of the film, his character turns to his old friend, played by British character actor DANIEL MAYS, and they laugh at the ludicrousness of the situation they’ve found themselves in. It’s a scene shot from behind, which consolidates the film’s undercurrent of fraternal tenderness and tension. The next film I saw him in, the terrorism-heist tragicomedy ‘Four Lions’, I still consider to be satirical writer and director CHRIS MORRIS’s masterwork. To be revisiting all these works and more has been a pleasure.
Have you been able to take a moment during the last few months of stillness to look back over the choices you’ve made? Do you allow yourself pride in them?
I think often most of us – actors, artists, anyone really – tend to look forwards rather than stop and look back. Particularly with the pandemic. As to how I want the future to be different? How do I want it to be the same? We’ve all been reassessing the future we want to carve out for ourselves and for everybody, collectively. What patterns do I spot in my past that I want to continue? What do I want to fix? [More at Source]
Very is an overused superlative but when it comes to Riz Ahmed, it’s necessary. He is a very thought-provoking human being. He is a 37-year-old British Pakistani very well versed in championing diversity and calling out the right from the wrong. He is a very thoughtful creative and society’s wellbeing hangs upon his conscience more so than most. , both of award-winning acclaim.
You will recognise Ahmed from the intense roles he nails on the big screen in Four Lions, Venom, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Nightcrawler and Jason Bourne as well as his small-screen-stealing parts in The Night Of and The OA. If you haven’t, watch him in The Road to Guantanamo too. His music, born from university days as Riz MC then that of underground Swet Shop Boys fame, has an avid following with hits like ‘Englistan’ and Cashmere respectively. More recently, his solo album The Long Goodbye—dubbed as a poignant break-up with Britain—was well received and perhaps presents the clearest indication to date of what Riz Ahmed is about.
Today, on an August bank holiday Monday, sitting two metres away from us in a Hackney studio, Ahmed is just playing himself. His jumper, like the exposed brick behind him and the wooden bench between us, is beige—noticeably unremarkable. His beard is tittering on unkempt and his brown eyes offer a semblance of security while in his periphery. His phone, visible in the pocket of his distressed jeans, remains there, untouched for the duration of our time together. He is relaxed and nowhere else but present.
We are here to discuss his two latest films, Sound of Metal and Mogul Mowgli, but currently we’re mulling over the cultural implications of being left-handed. “They say it’s linked to creativity,” muses Ahmed, which would make sense in his talented case. He proceeds to relay how his grandmother was left-handed but had her left hand tied behind her back and was forced to write with her right hand due to, we surmise, the social pressures of being left-handed and a cultural perception of bad luck dating back to biblical times. “It’s weird, isn’t it?” ponders Ahmed. “But not a completely flippant thing to bring up when talking about the evolution of our consciousness in today’s world.” [More at Source]
“The Greek word ‘apocalypse’ doesn’t mean final destruction, it means revelation,” Riz Ahmed writes in the September 2020 issue – his first as a contributing editor to British Vogue.
Like many of us, the Emmy winner has spent the last few months contemplating what “normality” should actually look like post-Covid-19 – and making plans to foster long-term changes for the better. “The board has been flipped over by a stray strand of viral RNA in Wuhan, by a brutal viral video from Minneapolis, and something has been stripped away – the facade of it all,” he stresses in a moving feature about his transformative lockdown experience.
Naturally, one of the key issues that Ahmed is keen to tackle moving forward is the lack of diversity within the film and television industry – a microcosm of today’s systemically racist world. “The issues in the industry are just a highly visible reflection of the imbalances in our society at large – and so in order to address them we need interventions at every level, from supporting young people in broadening their horizons and accessing a range of opportunities, all the way through to challenging agencies, studios, and distributors to question the biases they are compounding and take measurable action,” he tells Vogue.
“Change is overdue, and it’s coming with or without the people that have been standing in its way… I’m excited to be a part of the change that Edward’s British Vogue is making to our culture, at this pivotal moment.”
It’s no accident, of course, that Ahmed joins the masthead in an issue devoted to changemakers – particularly activists, whom Ahmed cites as his greatest source of hope. Among those inspiring him now? “Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, the educator and award-winning spoken word poet, who consistently blows my mind with her work and her activism. Jumoke Abdullahi, who is doing amazing work reframing disability with her group the Triple Cripples. Femi Nylander and the team behind the Rhodes Must Fall campaign to remove Rhodes’s statue at Oxford University. [More at Source]
Riz was in attendance in the 70th Berlinale International Film Festival where his upcoming movie “Mogul Mowgli” screened. Riz attended the press conference and photocall, head to the gallery for a full photo coverage.
Riz walked the red carpet yesterday to attend the 72nd British Academy Film Awards where he presented with Rachel Brosnahan during the award ceremony.
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