Riz Ahmed broke through in 2014’s “Nightcrawler” as Jake Gyllenhaal’s sidekick and conscience. But 2016 is his year, as viewers and critics praised his grueling performance in “The Night of” miniseries on HBO. “It was very intense, it was physically intense, the physical transformation,” says the Brit about the story of a young man who wakes up after a wild night next to a dead woman whose murder is pinned on him. “I felt the burden of it, to be honest. It felt like a certain responsibility get it right.”
Coming up next, there’s a secretive part in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which he finished shooting a while back. Can he say anything about the role? “Not much, only what is already online,” he says.
Besides that sure-to-be-blockbuster film, Ahmed also worked on a couple of others: “Una,” directed by Benedict Andrews, and “City of Tiny Lights,” helmed by Pete Travis. “City” is a unique contemporary British film, he says. “It’s one of those films that stretches the archetype. I just really think that it’s the opposite of ‘Downton Abbey.’ It’s a contemporary portrait of Britain, neo noir. [There’s] something quite unique about that, we don’t see that too much.”
After studying at Oxford University and a stint at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, Ahmed, who is of Pakistani descent, came to the U.S. “All my training was Shakespeare,” he says. “I loved ‘Hamlet.’ I have an idea of how I’d like to tell ‘Hamlet’ in a different way you haven’t seen before.”
Besides acting, Ahmed is also a rapper. Riz MC with Heems are the Swet Shop Boys. His second album, “Englistan,” is a tribute to “multiculturism, something people are debating as an abstract idea, but we are part of the world.” — Shalini Dore
Adrian Booth, Chris Roseblade, David Brown, drama school teacher Rob Clare
Agency: CAA (U.S.), Gordon & French (U.K.)