Riz Ahmed

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Riz Ahmed
Riz Ahmed at the Rogue One - A Star Wars Story - World Premeire Red Carpet - DSC 0437 (31547570706) (cropped).jpg
Ahmed at the premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016
Born
Rizwan Ahmed

(1982-12-01) 1 December 1982 (age 39)
Wembley, London, England
Citizenship
EducationMerchant Taylors' School
Alma mater
Occupation
  • Actor
  • rapper
Years active2006–present
Spouse(s)
(m. 2020)
Musical career
Also known asRiz MC
Genres
InstrumentsVocals
Years active2006–present
Labels
Associated acts
Websiteriz-ahmed.com

Rizwan Ahmed (born 1 December 1982)[1] is a British-Pakistani actor and rapper.[2][3] As an actor, he has won a Primetime Emmy Award, National Board of Review Award for Best Actor, Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead, London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Actor of the Year, and received nominations for an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, two Emmy Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and three British Independent Film Awards. He was initially known for his work in independent films such as The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Shifty (2008), Four Lions (2010), Trishna (2011), Ill Manors (2012), and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013), as well as television series such as Britz (2007) and Dead Set (2008), before his breakout roles in the films Nightcrawler (2014) and The Night Of (2016).

In 2016, he appeared in the action film Jason Bourne, and played Bodhi Rook in the Star Wars Anthology film Rogue One. He also starred as a young man accused of murder in the HBO miniseries The Night Of, earning critical acclaim. At the 2017 Emmy Awards, he received two nominations, for his performance in The Night Of and his guest role in Girls; he won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for the former, becoming the first Asian male to win an acting Emmy,[4] and the first Muslim and first Asian to win a lead acting Emmy.[5][6] He went on to play Carlton Drake in the film Venom (2018), and Ruben Stone in Sound of Metal (2020), the latter of which earned him widespread critical acclaim, his second Golden Globe nomination (following The Night Of) and his first Academy Award nomination, making him the first Muslim to be nominated for Best Actor.[7]

As a musician he was formerly known by his stage name Riz MC,[8] he was a member of the Swet Shop Boys, earned critical acclaim with the hip hop albums Microscope and Cashmere, and earned commercial success with the US Billboard 200-topping Hamilton Mixtape, with his song "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)" winning an MTV Video Music Award.[9] In 2020, Ahmed released The Long Goodbye, a critically acclaimed album with an award-winning accompanying short film.[10] As an activist, he is known for his political rap music, has been involved in raising awareness and funds for Rohingya and Syrian refugee children, and has advocated for representation at the House of Commons. In 2017, he was included on the front cover of the annual Time 100 list of the world's most influential people.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Rizwan Ahmed was born on 1 December 1982 in Wembley, in the London borough of Brent, to a British Pakistani family.[3] His parents are of Urdu-speaking (Muhajir) background.[11] His father is a shipping broker.[12] His parents moved to England from Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan, during the 1970s.[3] He is a descendant of Sir Shah Muhammad Sulaiman, the first Muslim to become the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court during the British rule in India.[13]

Ahmed attended Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood, through a scholarship programme. He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford University, with a degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics). He experienced a culture shock at Oxford, nearly dropping out due to the isolating atmosphere. Instead, Ahmed organized parties to celebrate cultures which did not conform to the dominant "elitist, white" and "black-tie" culture of Oxford.[14] He later studied acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.[3]

Acting career[edit]

2000s[edit]

Ahmed's film career began in the Michael Winterbottom film The Road to Guantanamo, in which he played the part of Shafiq Rasul, a member of the Tipton Three. He and another actor involved in the film were detained at Luton Airport upon their return from the Berlin Film Festival where the film won a Silver Bear Award.[15] Ahmed alleged that during questioning, police asked him whether he had become an actor to further the Islamic cause, questioned him on his views of the Iraq War, verbally abused him, and denied him access to a telephone.[16]

In 2007, he portrayed Sohail Waheed in the Channel 4 drama, Britz. Ahmed then portrayed Riq in the five-part horror thriller Dead Set for E4 and Manesh Kunzru in ITV1's Wired in 2008. Also that year he played a primary school teacher in Staffroom Monologues for the specialist channel Teachers TV. In July 2009, he appeared in Freefall alongside Sarah Harding.[3] He featured in the title role of the 2009 independent film Shifty, directed by Eran Creevy. Ahmed plays a charismatic young drug dealer in the film which sees a life in the day of this character. He was nominated for Best Actor at the 2008 British Independent Film Awards.[17]

2010s[edit]

Continuing his film career, he featured in the 2009 Sally Potter production of Rage and in 2010, in Chris Morris' satire on terrorism, Four Lions, for which he received his second British Independent Film Award nomination for Best Actor. Ahmed also had a supporting role in Neil Marshall's historical thriller Centurion.[18] In 2012, he starred as one of the leading roles in the London-based film Ill Manors, directed by Plan B. Ahmed received his third British Independent Film Award nomination for Best Actor. He assumed the lead role in Mira Nair's adaptation of the best-selling novel by Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, alongside Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, and Liev Schreiber.[19]

Ahmed is also known for his stage performances such as in the Asian Dub Foundation opera Gaddafi and a starring role as psychotic serial-killer-turned-born-again-Christian Lucius in the Lighthouse Theatre's acclaimed production of Stephen Adly Guirgis's Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train (directed by Jack William Clift and Thomas Sweatman) as well as in Shan Khan's Prayer Room.[20]

Ahmed at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival

Ahmed directed and wrote a 2014 short film, Daytimer. It won the Best Live Action Short award at Nashville Film Festival, and was nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.[21] In 2014, Ahmed appeared in Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler.[22] Ahmed received acclaim for his portrayal in the film and gained numerous awards nominations during awards season.[23] Riz Ahmed was one of seventy-five actors to audition for the role of Rick.[24] The British actor was attending a friend's wedding in Los Angeles, when his talent agent suggested he meet Gilroy to discuss the film's script. Gilroy told Ahmed that he had seen his previous work; he was not fit for the role, but still allowed him to audition.[25] Within the first minute of his audition tape, however, Gilroy felt confident in the actor's abilities.[24] To prepare for the role, Ahmed met with homeless people in Skid Row, and researched homeless shelters to "understand the system". He found that most of the people dealt with abandonment issues, and attempted to replicate this in Rick's abusive relationship with Lou.[25]

In 2016, he appeared in Rogue One, the first film in the new Star Wars anthology films as Bodhi Rook, a defected imperial pilot.[26] The film garnered critical acclaim and earned Ahmed a nomination for the Best Male Newcomer at the Empire Awards.[27] The film was a commercial success and became Disney's fourth of 2016 to earn $1 billion in ticket sales.[28] It is the second highest-grossing film of 2016, the third highest-grossing Star Wars film, and the 22nd highest-grossing film of all time, all unadjusted for inflation. In the United States, it was the top-grossing film of 2016.[29][30] Deadline Hollywood calculated the net profit of the film to be $319.6 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenues for the film, making it the 3rd most profitable release of 2016.[31]

In 2016, Ahmed played the role of Nasir "Naz" Khan in the HBO miniseries The Night Of,[32] and once again received universal praise for his performance, earning him Emmy,[33] Golden Globe[34] and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.[35] He also appeared in the final season of Girls, earning him another Emmy nomination.[36] At the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Ahmed won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his performance in The Night Of,[4][37] winning over Robert De Niro, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor, Geoffrey Rush and co-star John Turturro.[4] This made Ahmed the first Asian and first Muslim to win in the category, the first South Asian male to win an acting Emmy,[4] and the first Muslim and first South Asian to win a lead acting Emmy; the only previous South Asian to win an acting Emmy was British Asian actress Archie Panjabi for a supporting role in 2010.[5][38]

Ahmed at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con

In 2017, it was rumoured that Ahmed was to play Hamlet in a Netflix adaptation of the Shakespeare play,[39] which Ahmed later confirmed.[40]

In 2018, Ahmed starred in Venom as Carlton Drake, the Life Foundation's leader experimenting on symbiotes.[41][42] Ahmed explained that Drake is trying to save the future of humanity when he discovers the symbiote,[42] with Fleischer adding that Drake has a positive goal but a "moral ambiguity" that leads to him testing his science on other people.[43]

As of 2018, films that Riz Ahmed has been involved in, have collectively grossed $2.4 billion at the worldwide box office.[44]

Following his mixtape under the same name, Ahmed's Englistan, an original TV series was commissioned by BBC Two and Left Handed Films in 2018.[45] The series will tell the story of three generations of a British Pakistani family.[46] Ahmed describes the series as "a period drama – unlike any other period drama you have seen before."[46] More currently, his production company secured a first look deal with Amazon.[47]

2020s[edit]

Ahmed starred in the American drama film Sound of Metal, which was distributed by Amazon Studios and released in 2020, after having premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019. Ahmed plays a drummer who loses his hearing. The film co-stars Olivia Cooke as his girlfriend, and Paul Raci as the leader of a Deaf retreat. IndieWire film critic Eric Kohn praised Ahmed's performance, writing "Ahmed's so believable that he keeps the suspense of the drama in play even as it pushes into contrived circumstances during the prolonged final act, and eventually takes a melodramatic plunge."[48] For his performance he has received Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, Bafta Award, Critics Choice Award, and Independent Spirit Award nominations. He is the first Muslim and Pakistani actor to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

In 2021, Ahmed also executive produced the animated documentary film Flee which made its international debut at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was universally praised, and has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was set to have a world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2020, but the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[49]

In February 2021, Ahmed was nominated and won in the best debut screenwriter category for the film Mogul Mowgli at the delayed British Independent Film Awards 2020.[50] Starring in the main role as a British-Pakistani rapper, The Guardian film critic Wendy Ide praised his "blistering performance" on screen.[51]

In August 2021, Ahmed was named as head of the Platform Prize jury for the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.[52]

In November 2021, Ahmed was announced as a recipient of the Richard Harris Award, which is given to an actor or actress who has "contributed significantly to British films throughout their career". Ahmed thanked the award and also thanked all the support he received.[53]

Music career[edit]

Ahmed performing at Occupy London NYE Party 2011.

Inspired by jungle and hip hop music, his music career began in his mid-teens, appearing on pirate radio and in freestyle rap battles.[54] While at university, Ahmed co-founded the Hit & Run night in Oxford, which has since moved to Manchester and gone on to become one of Manchester's leading underground music events.[55] At Oxford, he was also part of a 12-person jazz-house/electronica band called Confidential Collective.[54] After graduating, he competed in and won many rap battle competitions.[54] He competed as Riz MC on JumpOff TV's "Spin the Mic" freestyle rap battle contest in 2006. He beat contestants Stig and Skilla Mic,[56] before a controversial loss to contest winner Whatshisface; according to JumpOff TV, Riz was at a disadvantage due to racial double standards from the crowd.[57]

In 2006, Ahmed recorded a satirical social-commentary rap track entitled "Post 9/11 Blues", which was leaked by friends and first gained popularity through the internet.[54] The song was initially banned from British airplay because the lyrics were deemed "politically sensitive", including satirical references to 9/11, terrorism, the post-9/11 climate, Iraq War, death of Jean Charles de Menezes, MI6, and Belmarsh prison.[58] The resulting press coverage, however, prompted some independent radio stations to play the track. He soon founded his own independent record label, Battered Records, officially releasing "Post 9/11 Blues" for the CD and MP3 formats in August 2006. He went on to win Best MC at the 2006 Asian Music Awards. He released his second single in 2007, the garage rap song "People Like People".[54] He was selected as a BBC Introducing artist in 2007, playing the Glastonbury Festival and the BBC Electric Proms. He opened the Meltdown Festival with Bristol-based trip-hop group Massive Attack at the Royal Festival Hall in 2008, and was appointed 'Emerging Artist in Residence' at the Southbank Centre in London. He played at the London Camp for Climate Action in August 2009.[20]

In 2011, he released his debut album, Microscope,[59] which was re-released with additional remixes in 2012.[60] On 1 December 2011, it was announced that Riz MC had signed to Tru Thoughts, an independent label in Brighton.[61] From Microscope, he released "Sour Times" which was accompanied by a video featuring Scroobius Pip, Plan B, Tom Hardy,[62] and Jim Sturgess.[55] Formed in 2014, Ahmed is half of the hip hop duo Swet Shop Boys along with Heems.[63] Their debut release, Swet Shop EP, was released in 2014.[64] The group's debut full-length effort, Cashmere, was released on 14 October 2016,[65] and received critical acclaim.[66] In 2016, he also released a mixtape, Englistan.[67] He was featured on the song "Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)" in The Hamilton Mixtape, which topped the Billboard 200 chart. This put him in the unique position of sitting at number-one on both the Billboard 200 album chart and the movie box office chart (with Rogue One) at the same time.[68] At the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), "Immigrants" won the award for Best Fight Against the System,[69] giving him the rare distinction of winning both the Emmy and VMA awards.[70]

The Riz Test[edit]

In 2018, Sadia Habib and Shaf Choudry, two researchers in the UK, were inspired by Ahmed to think of the Riz Test which aims to identify the nature of Muslim representation in film and TV.[71] The test, which has been compared to the Bechdel test,[72] came about following a speech given by Ahmed in 2017 at the House of Commons, in which he addressed what he views as a lack of diversity in film and television.[73] Ahmed has spoken about the lack of accurate representation of Muslims in the arts, and often expresses these views on social media.[74]

The Riz Test has five parts which, according to the creators, serve to highlight and combat the stereotypes of Muslims found in characters in films and on TV:[75][76]

  1. If a character is identifiably Muslim, is the character talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
  2. Presented as irrationally angry?
  3. Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
  4. Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  5. If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?[76]

One of the tests' creators, Shaf Choudry, describes the test as not being "a scientific measure of Islamophobia, it’s more to prop conversation."[76]

Ahmed acknowledged the test in 2018, expressing his surprise at the test being named after him and writing on Twitter that he was "glad to see this" and that he thought it was "much needed."[76][77]

Personal life[edit]

Ahmed is married to novelist Fatima Farheen Mirza (pictured here in 2019).

Ahmed is a Muslim. He has spoken candidly about negative stereotyping of Muslims, both in a personal and societal context.[78][79] As an activist, he has been involved in raising funds for Syrian refugee children and advocating representation at the House of Commons.[2] He has also been involved in raising awareness of the displacement of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, and raising funds for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.[80] In 2013, Ahmed provided journalist Hardeep Singh with a formal apology for a tweet he had published in which he called Singh a "bigot" and falsely accused him of attempted assault. Ahmed also agreed to pay him substantial damages for libel and his legal costs.[81][82] In 2016, he contributed an essay on racial profiling at airports, auditions and the implicit need to leave himself at a door to be waved through for the anthology book, The Good Immigrant.[83]

An aunt and uncle of Ahmed died during the COVID-19 pandemic.[84]

In January 2021, Ahmed revealed on the podcast Grounded with Louis Theroux that he had recently married.[85] Several days later, he revealed that he had married American novelist Fatima Farheen Mirza.[86][87]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2006 The Road to Guantanamo Shafiq
2008 Shifty Shifty
Baghdad Express Talal Short film
2009 Rage Vijay
2010 Four Lions Omar
Centurion Tarak
2011 Black Gold Ali
Trishna Jay
2012 Ill Manors Aaron
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Changez Khan
2013 Closed Circuit Nazrul Sharma
Out of Darkness Male Short film
2014 Daytimer N/A Director, writer; Short film
Nightcrawler Rick
2016 Jason Bourne Aaron Kalloor
Una Scott
City of Tiny Lights Tommy Akhtar
Rogue One Bodhi Rook
2018 The Sisters Brothers Hermann Kermit Warm
Venom Carlton Drake / Riot
2019 Sound of Metal Ruben Stone Also executive producer
Weathering with You Takai (voice) English dub
2020 Mogul Mowgli Zed Also co-writer
2021 Flee N/A Executive producer
Encounter Malik Khan

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2006 The Path to 9/11 Yosri 2 episodes
Berry's Way Amir Television film
2007 Britz Sohail Wahid 2 episodes
2008 Wired Manesh Kunzru 3 episodes
Staffroom Monologues Primary Teacher "How Are You?" Episode for Teachers TV
Dead Set Riq 5 episodes
2009 Freefall Gary Television film
2011 The Fades Neil Episode: "Episode 1" - Unaired Pilot
2016 The Night Of Nasir Khan Miniseries; 8 episodes
2016–19 The OA Elias Rahim 5 episodes
2017 Girls Paul-Louis 2 episodes

Audiobooks[edit]

Year Title Role Production company
2020 The Sandman The Corinthian Audible
Assassin's Creed: Gold Omar Khaled

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

List of albums, with selected details
Title Album details
Microscope
(as Riz MC)
  • Released: 31 January 2011[59]
  • Label: Confirm/Ignore[59]
  • Formats: Digital download
The Long Goodbye
  • Released: 6 March 2020[88]
  • Label: Mongrel
  • Formats: Digital download, streaming

Mixtapes[edit]

List of mixtapes, with selected details
Title Album details
Englistan
  • Released: 26 May 2016
  • Label: Riz MC
  • Formats: Digital download

Singles[edit]

List of singles, showing year released and album name
Title Year Album
"The Post 9/11 Blues" 2006 Non-album single
"People Like People" 2007
"Radar" 2008 Microscope
"Shifty" (with Sway & Plan B) 2009 Shifty
"Don't Sleep" Non-album single
"Hundreds and Thousands" 2010
"Get on It"
"All of You" 2011 Microscope
"Mogambo"[88] 2018 The Long Goodbye
"Once Kings"[89] 2020 non-album single

Appearances[edit]

Title Year Album
"Flush" 2010 Beautiful Losers
"Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)" 2016 The Hamilton Mixtape
"Stand Up" 2019 Ninja TED: A benefit for the Vancouver Food Bank
"Let the Sunshine In" (with Full Ninja TED cast)

Accolades[edit]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Self-owned indie hip-hop label.

References[edit]

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