Riz Ahmed

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Riz Ahmed
Reluctant Fundamentalist 01 (8063950731).jpg
Born Rizwan Ahmed
(1982-12-01) 1 December 1982 (age 34)
Wembley, London, England
Nationality British
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Central School of Speech and Drama
Occupation Actor
Years active 2006–present
Musical career
Genres Hip hop
Labels Tru Thoughts
Associated acts Swet Shop Boys, Heems, Plan B, Sway, Distance

Rizwan Ahmed (Urdu: رضوان احمد‎; born 1 December 1982), also known as Riz MC, is a British Pakistani actor, rapper and activist. As an actor, he was initially known for his work in independent films such as The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Shifty (2008), Four Lions (2010), Trishna (2011) and Ill Manors (2012), before his breakout role in Nightcrawler (2014), alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. In 2016, he starred in the films Una, Jason Bourne, and the first Star Wars Anthology film, Rogue One. That year, he also starred in the HBO miniseries The Night Of as Nasir Khan; the show and his performance were critically lauded, earning him Golden Globe and SAG nominations. In 2017, he received two Emmy nominations, for his performance in The Night Of and for his guest spot in the final season of Girls. Also in 2017, he was included on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.[1]

As a rapper, he is a member of the Swet Shop Boys. His music has earned critical acclaim with the hip-hop albums Microscope and Cashmere, as well as commercial success featuring in the Billboard 200 chart topping Hamilton Mixtape. As an activist, he is known for his political rap music, and has been involved in raising funds for Syrian refugee children and advocating representation at the House of Commons.

Early life[edit]

Rizwan Ahmed was born in Wembley, London, to a British Pakistani family in 1982. His parents are of Muhajir background and moved to England from Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan during the 1970s.[2] He is a descendant of Sir Shah Muhammad Sulaiman, the first British Indian to become the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh during the colonial era.[3]

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), which he has said he found to be a bizarre experience.[4] He later studied acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama.[2]

Acting career[edit]

Ahmed at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival

Television and film[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.[5] 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. In July 2009 he appeared in Freefall alongside Sarah Harding.[2] 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 for this role, alongside Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.[6]

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.[7]

In 2012, he starred as one of the leading roles in the London-based film Ill Manors, directed by Plan B as Aaron. 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.[8]

In 2014, Ahmed appeared in Dan Gilroy's directorial debut film Nightcrawler where he played role of Rick, opposite Jake Gyllenhaal.[9] Ahmed received acclaim for his portrayal in the film and gained numerous awards nominations during awards season.[10][11]

In 2016, Ahmed played the role of Nasir "Naz" Khan in the HBO miniseries The Night Of,[12] and once again received universal praise for his performance, earning him Emmy,[13] Golden Globe[14] and SAG nominations.[15] Also that year, he appeared in Rogue One, the first film in the new Star Wars anthology films as Bodhi Rook, a defected imperial pilot.[16] He also appeared in Girls, earning him another Emmy nomination at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards.[17]


Ahmed played a role 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.[7]

Music career[edit]

In 2006, Ahmed released a satirical social-commentary rap track entitled "Post 9/11 Blues". The song was initially banned from British airplay because the lyrics were deemed "politically sensitive".[18] Other tracks he has released include "Sour Times" which was accompanied by a video featuring Scroobius Pip, Plan B, Tom Hardy,[19] and Jim Sturgess.[20]

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.[7]

Ahmed co-founded the Hit & Run night in Oxford, which has since moved to Manchester. Hit & Run has gone on to become one of Manchester's leading underground music events.[20]

In 2011, he released his debut album, Microscope, which was re-released with additional remixes in 2012.[21] On 1 December 2011, it was announced that Riz MC had signed to Tru Thoughts, an independent label in Brighton.[22]

Ahmed is half of the hip hop duo Swet Shop Boys along with Heems.[23] Their debut release, Swet Shop EP, was released in 2014.[24] The group's debut full-length effort, Cashmere, was released on 14 October 2016,[25] and received critical acclaim.[26]

He was featured in The Hamilton Mixtape, which topped the Billboard 200 chart. This puts 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.[27]

In 2016, he released the nine-track mixtape, Englistan.[28]

Personal life[edit]

One of Ahmed's relatives was Sir Shah Muhammad Sulaiman, the first Indian judge to be appointed by the British in Uttar Pradesh,[29] who also had interests in Urdu poetry, penned some of the very first critical articles on Einstein's theory of relativity,[30][31] and himself was the descendant of Mulla Mahmud Jaunpuri (d. 1652), one of the most important philosopher–scientists produced in the region during the Mughal Empire.[32]

Ahmed is a Muslim.[2] He has spoken candidly about Islamophobia, both in a personal and societal context.[33][34]



Year Title Role Notes
2006 The Road to Guantanamo Shafiq
2008 Shifty Shifty Geneva Cinéma Tout Ecran Award for Best Actor
Nominated — British Independent Film Award for Best Actor
2008 Baghdad Express Talal Short film
2009 Rage Vijay
2010 Four Lions Omar Nominated — British Independent Film Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor
Nominated — London Film Critics' Circle Award for British Actor of the Year
2010 Centurion Tarak
2011 Black Gold Ali
2011 Trishna Jay
2012 Ill Manors Aaron Berlin International Film Festival Award for Shooting Star
Nominated — British Independent Film Award for Best Actor
2013 The Reluctant Fundamentalist Changez Khan
2013 Closed Circuit Nazrul Sharma
2013 Out of Darkness Male Short film
2014 Nightcrawler Rick Nominated — Georgia Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Actor
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male
Nominated — IndieWire Critics' Poll Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — London Film Critics' Circle Award for Supporting Actor of the Year
Nominated — Online Film & Television Association Award for Best Breakthrough Performance - Male
Nominated — Online Film & Television Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated — Village Voice Film Poll Award for Best Supporting Actor
2016 Jason Bourne Aaron Kalloor
2016 Una Scott
2016 City of Tiny Lights Tommy Akhtar
2016 Rogue One Bodhi Rook
TBA The Sisters Brothers Morris Filming


Year Title Role Notes
2006 The Path to 9/11 Yosri 2 episodes
2006 Berry's Way Amir Television film
2007 Britz Sohail Wahid 2 episodes
2008 Wired Manesh Kunzru 3 episodes
2008 Dead Set Riq 5 episodes
2009 Freefall Gary Television film
2011 The Fades Neil Episode: "Episode 1"
2016 The Night Of Nasir Khan Miniseries; 8 episodes
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film
Pending — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie[13]
Nominated — SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series
2016 The OA Elias Rahim 4 episodes
2017 Girls Paul-Louis 2 episodes
Pending — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series[17]




  • Englistan (2016)


  • "The Post 9/11 Blues" (2006)
  • "People Like People" (2007)
  • "Radar" (2008)
  • "Shifty" (with Sway & Plan B) (2009)
  • "Don't Sleep" (2009)
  • "Hundreds and Thousands" (2010)
  • "Get on It" (2010)
  • "All of You" (2011)

Compilation appearances[edit]


  1. ^ "Riz Ahmed: The World’s 100 Most Influential People". Time. Retrieved 2017-07-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Riz Ahmed: 'You don’t need to tell me we live in scary times. I'm Muslim'". The Guardian. 23 July 2016. 
  3. ^ "London meets Lahore". India Today. 1 May 2017. 
  4. ^ "Skin Deep meets Riz Ahmed". 
  5. ^ "Guantanamo duo 'held' at airport". BBC News. 21 February 2006. 
  6. ^ "Winners 2008". BIFA. Retrieved 23 July 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c "Riz Ahmed Trivia: 33 interesting facts about the actor! — Useless Daily: The amazing facts, news & trivia free newsletter!". www.uselessdaily.com. Retrieved 2017-04-09. 
  8. ^ Debesh Bannerjee (December 8, 2009). "'Politeness can kill you in movies'". Screen (magazine). Retrieved August 8, 2012. 
  9. ^ Black, Claire (2 November 2014). "Riz Ahmed winning rave reviews for new film role". The Scotsman. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  10. ^ Pond, Steve; Travis, Reilly (December 1, 2014). "Gotham Awards 2014: Complete Winners List". TheWrap. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  11. ^ Pond, Steve; Travis, Reilly (December 1, 2014). "Gotham Awards 2014: Complete Winners List". TheWrap. Retrieved September 19, 2016. 
  12. ^ Birnbaum, Debra (29 August 2016). "Riz Ahmed on the ‘Devastating’ Finale of HBO’s ‘The Night Of’ (Spoilers)". Variety. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  13. ^ a b https://www.forbes.com/sites/maddieberg/2017/07/13/2017-emmy-nominations-the-full-list/
  14. ^ Mitovich, Matt Webb (December 12, 2016). "Golden Globes: People v. O.J. Simpson, Night Manager, This Is Us, Westworld, The Crown, black-ish Lead TV Nominees". TVLine. Retrieved December 12, 2016. 
  15. ^ "SAG winners list: Who won what". CNN. February 2, 2017. Retrieved January 29, 2017. 
  16. ^ Levine, Nick (20 December 2016). "Riz Ahmed reveals how his ‘Rogue One’ character changed during shooting". NME. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  17. ^ a b http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/07/2017-emmy-nominations-list
  18. ^ O'Keefe, Alice (9 April 2006). "Rapper asks BBC to play 9/11 song". The Guardian. 
  19. ^ "Riz MC - Sour Times". YouTube. Retrieved April 21, 2017. 
  20. ^ a b "Riz Ahmed: Extraordinary double life of a bright British talent". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-09. 
  21. ^ "Microscope by Riz MC". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  22. ^ "Quantic presents The Western Transient A New Constellation | News". Tru Thoughts. 2015-07-10. Retrieved 2015-07-17. 
  23. ^ Holub, Christian (7 September 2016). "The Night Of star Riz Ahmed drops a new song with Heems, Zayn Malik". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  24. ^ Sacher, Andrew (5 December 2014). "Swet Shop Boys (Heems + Riz MC) released an EP, playing Baby’s w/ Wiki; Ratking playing Brooklyn Night Bazaar". BrooklynVegan. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  25. ^ Nordine, Michael (9 October 2016). "‘The Night Of’ Star Riz Ahmed Releases New Album ‘Cashmere’ With Heems — Listen". IndieWire. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  26. ^ "Cashmere by Swet Shop Boys". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 18, 2016. 
  27. ^ "Rogue One star Riz Ahmed shares childhood Star Wars drawings: 'Keep your inner child alive'". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 22 December 2016. 
  28. ^ Lee, Chris (13 December 2016). "'Rogue One' Is the Cherry on Top of a Wild Year for Riz Ahmed". Complex. Retrieved 12 January 2017. 
  29. ^ London Meets Lahore India Today, 24 May 2013
  30. ^ Robert S. Anderson, Nucleus and Nation: Scientists, International Networks, and Power in India, University of Chicago Press (2010), p. 71
  31. ^ KARACHI: Sir Sulaiman Dawn News, 14 March 2005
  32. ^ Karimullah, A. R. Ghani, Biographical Notes on Eminent Muslim Scientists of South-Asia in the 14th Century Hijra: 1877-1979 A.D, Pakistan Science Foundation and Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1989), p. 5
  33. ^ Ahmed, Riz (15 September 2016). "Typecast as a terrorist". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 June 2017. 
  34. ^ Trendell, Andrew (19 June 2017). "Riz Ahmed hits out at portrayal of Muslims and acts of terror in the media". NME. Retrieved 28 June 2017. 

External links[edit]