Riz Ahmed Oct09


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Riz Ahmed

Riz Ahmed

Actor and rapper Riz Ahmed stars in Mira Nair’s film The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He plays Changez, a young Pakistani man pursuing the American corporate dream, but who post 9/11 returns to his native Pakistan as a radicalised university lecturer.  I caught up with him about how the film affected him, what he’s working on now and his advice to young actors. 

In the course of making The Reluctant Fundamentalist, did you change your thinking about your own identity?

I think the story emphasises that you shouldn’t categorise yourself, or edit yourself in order to fit into other peoples boxes. That reinforced somethingwhich I have thought for a long time. On top of that it was also a great opportunity for me to reconnect with my Pakistani and North Indian roots, and it drove me to find out a little more about my ancestry.

Do you think British Muslims’ identity has changed since 9/11?

I don’t think you can generalise with an answer or question like this to be honest. I think different individuals have different responses to things. We don’t think in groups. We think in people. I think the films key point is that you can’t group people together based on their shared identity. People are individuals first.

“America is particularly good at supporting and giving a platform to fresh talent… Britain is more conservative”

You’re working a lot in the US – do you think the industry are less obsessed with ethnic pigeon holes there when it comes to casting?

I think that the industry here is bigger, so there are more of a variety of different roles, and that there is less of an emphasis on traditional English period dramas. I also think that America is particularly good at supporting and giving a platform to fresh talent, where as Britain is more conservative in this respect

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal. After that I will hopefully do ‘Violent Talent’ with Garrett Hedlund. And then next spring it looks like I will be doing HBO series with Robert De Niro (‘Criminal Justice’). I’m also hoping to do a one man theatre show in the UK at some point next year.

It’s always a challenge to balance them music and the film work, but it’s a challenge I greatly enjoy. I’m glad to say I am sitting on a lot of new music right now. And EP, a mix tape, and an album. Hopefully they will all be coming out next year.

A lot of young ethnic actors/performers in the UK feel – rightly or wrongly – that they’re limited when it comes to roles/casting – what advice would you give them about how to move forward?

Raise your game, and then once you are in you can hopefully you raise some of these bars that you have come up against yourself. I’d also say don’t sit and wait for someone to give it to you, if you are creative in any way whatsoever pursue that too, because you never know what doors it opens.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is out now on DVD