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Riz Ahmed Gears Up for ‘Englistan’ Series and ‘Hamlet,’ Talks U.S. and U.K. TV Biz

Having worked on both sides of the pond, “The Night Of” star Riz Ahmed thinks the U.S. TV biz could learn from the Brits’ “unpretentious” attitude toward the creative process and the U.K. industry could emulate the Americans’ openness to “new voices.”

“The British approach to creativity can be really helpfully unpretentious….That sets us apart and can be really helpful,” Ahmed told an audience of international TV execs at the BBC Studios Showcase event in Liverpool this week. He added: “Something we can learn from the Americans is their embrace of the new – new voices. I think that’s partly because it’s such a massive market [and] you need such a gigantic turnover.”

Ahmed was in Liverpool to tout his sweeping new period drama, “Englistan,” which BBC Studios is selling internationally. Tim Davies, CEO of BBC Studios, interviewed the actor onstage about his career and the show.

“It’s a saga about a British Pakistani family over 40 of the most eventful years of recent British history, from 1979 to 2019,” Ahmed said. “It’s about a lot of things and ideas that are highly resonant and provocative right now. It’s about identity, hope, belonging, and universal themes like family and looking for love.”

Ahmed promised his show will be a new type of period piece. “It is going to be a period drama – but unlike any period drama you have seen before,” said Ahmed, whose Left Handed Films is making the series with BBC Studios. “We’re doing nothing less than trying to write the epic poem of our England and a revisionist British history.”

He added that Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” had influenced him and shown the possibility of taking a different look at events of the past. “That’s kind of what we’re doing – we’re turning people’s idea of Britain and Britishness on its head,” he said. “We’re showing them a world they have never seen before, but in a way that is universal and relatable.”

Ahmed is set for a busy 2019 and confirmed he would star in a modern take on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” believed to be for Netflix. It was reported in 2017 that he was in talks to star in the adaptation and he said this week that he is working on the contemporary British adaptation of the Bard’s classic.

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