Riz Ahmed on How Chadwick Boseman Influenced Him, and Why His ‘Sound of Metal’ Role Is So Personal

Riz Ahmed photographed for Variety Remote Controlled podcast at the PMC Studio in Los Angeles by Dan Doperalski
Dan Doperalski for Variety

When Riz Ahmed is asked to name actors who’ve inspired him, he names two performers who died this year: Chadwick Boseman and Irrfan Khan. Ahmed recently spoke to Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast about his upcoming film, “The Sound of Metal” — listen below!

Ahmed says of Boseman, who passed away in August: “He’s someone who had their careers kind of came to fruition after such a long journey, who just held themselves with dignity and such a moral compass. So particular about his choices, and so clear-eyed about what success means and how you need to define success on your own terms.”

As for Indian actor Khan, Ahmed says, “I think he’s just a towering talent, whose work will live on for so many years. And I think about some of his wise words, about acting, but also about life, where he said, ‘Surrender to the dance of uncertainty.’ And I think there’s just such a profoundly wise kind of statement. And I think, I try and let those words guide me as an artist, and also in how I live.”

Ahmed, the first Asian male to win an acting Emmy Award for his 2017 turn in “The Night Of,” also spoke about the importance of representation and the unique honor of having “The Riz Test” named after him. The test lists five criteria to measure how Muslims are presented in entertainment and was inspired by Ahmed’s 2017 speech in the House of Commons concerning on-screen diversity.

Co-written and directed by Darius Marder, in his feature directorial debut, “Sound of Metal” stars Ahmed as Ruben Stone, a drummer who begins to struggle with hearing loss and learns a new way of living in a deaf community.

Olivia cooke plays Lou, Ruben’s girlfriend and guitarist in their band, Blackgammon. It’s Lou who understands what’s happening to Ruben and takes him to a small deaf commune in the country overseen by Joe, a Vietnam veteran played by Paul Raci, who teaches Ruben to accept his deafness.

The role hit home for Ahmed, who also performs as rapper Riz MC. “I think a lot of us, as artists, we kind of have this fear that we might not be able to continue doing what we love,” he says. “I was able to find an access point into moving through some of my own fears and questions.”

To portray Ruben, Ahmed spent seven months learning American Sign Language and also how to drum, all to shoot the film in four weeks. “It was a challenge,” he admits. “But something I learned in the making of this film is that the challenges are often the gifts, you know.”

“Sound of Metal” goes into limited release on Nov. 20 and be available on Amazon Prime to stream starting Dec. 4.

Also in this episode, Sofia Coppola discusses her new film “On the Rocks.” Coppola discusses working with star Rashida Jones and reuniting with her “Lost in Translation” star Bill Murray. In the Awards Circuit roundtable, the hosts dissect the supporting actor Oscar category and also look at contenders “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “Run.”

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.