British actor Riz Ahmed, who also raps under the name Riz MC, has been slowly climbing the Hollywood ladder since his star-making role alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014’s Nightcrawler. Since then, he’s starred in Jason Bourne, earned a Golden Globe nomination for HBO’s The Night Of and is now a member of the Star Wars universe. He plays the pilot Bodhi Rook in the first stand-alone film in the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards, the film stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, who leads a group of rebels to steal the Death Star plans from the Galactic Empire. The film opens on December 16, but screenings start on the night of December 15.
The 34-year-old Ahmed is not married. He has an estimated net worth of $3 million, Celebrity Net Worth estimates.
Here’s a look at Ahmed’s life, career and his character.
1. Ahmed Said That When He First Read the Script for ‘Rogue One,’ Bodhi Rook Was Radically Different & Had Another Name
Ahmed stars as Bodhi Rook in Rogue One. Before joining the Rebel Alliance and Jyn Erso’s team, he was a cargo pilot for the Empire.
In an interview with Screen Crush, Ahmed said that his character was radically different in the first script.
“I don’t want to talk about that too much before the film’s out because I don’t want it to color people’s perceptions, but the character was really a different character,” Ahmed told Screen Crush. “It wasn’t like that character doesn’t still exist, it was just … that character evolved dramatically.”
In that same interview, Ahmed made it clear that he is a Star Wars fan, admitting to tearing up after seeing the first trailer for The Force Awakens. He even defended George Lucas’ prequels and told Screen Crush that he enjoyed The Clone Wars series.
“If all Star Wars movies were the same, it’d be boring,” Ahmed told Screen Crush. “I hope each new movie adds a new dimension, and I think that’s certainly what Rogue One does.”
Below is an appearance Ahmed did on Good Morning America, showing his reaction to seeing the first Bodhi Rook figure:
2. Ahmed Says a British Intelligence Officer Asked Him if He Became an Actor ‘to Further the Muslim Struggle’ at the Airport
Ahmed, whose parents moved to England from Pakistan in the 1970s, wrote in an essay for The Guardian in September that he was once racially profiled by a British intelligence officer at the airport. He wrote that the incident happened in 2006, after he was coming home from a festival screening of his first film, The Road to Guantanamo. It was about two Birmingham, England friends who were illegally imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
When he arrived at the airport in London, an officer took him to an unmarked room “where they insulted, threatened, and then attacked me.”
“What kinda film you making? Did you become an actor to further the Muslim struggle?” Ahmed recalls the officer asking him.
Ahmed wrote in The Guardian:
The question is disturbing not only because it endangers artistic expression, but because it suggests our security services don’t quite grasp the nature of the terror threat we all face. A training presentation outlining Al-Qaida’s penchant for “theatrical” attacks may have been taken a little literally.
It turned out that what those special branch officers did was illegal. I was asked by activist lawyers if I wanted to sue, but instead I wrote an account of the incident and sent it to a few journalists. A story about the illegal detention of the actors from a film about illegal detention turned out to be too good to ignore. I was glad to shed some light on this depressing state of affairs.
In the same essay, Ahmed wrote that he eventually went to America because it was really hard for him to find a gig in Britain. The actor wrote:
The reality of Britain is vibrant multiculturalism, but the myth we export is an all-white world of lords and ladies. Conversely, American society is pretty segregated, but the myth it exports is of a racial melting-pot, everyone solving crimes and fighting aliens side by side.
3. Ahmed’s First Single, ‘Post 9/11 Blues,’ Was Banned by British Radio for Being ‘Politically Sensitive’
Ahmed’s first single under the name “Riz MC” was inspired by the making of The Road to Guantanamo and his experiences at the airport on his way home. He called it “Post 9/11 Blues” and the track also referenced the death of Jean Charles de Menezes and the Iraq War.
“It is about how the contours of our society have been distorted since 9/11, and how that affects every area of our lives,” Ahmed told The Guardian in 2006. “But it’s not a rant from an angry young Muslim, it’s funny, and the music is quite poppy and radio-friendly. It’s a shame that a satirical song like this is seen as a threat.”
Ahmed asked BBC Radio 1 and FXM to play the song and had to wait on verdicts from the stations. However, the track was banned from British radio for being “politically sensitive.”
Ahmed didn’t let that derail his career as a rapper. He released an album called MICroscope in 2011 and made an album with dubstep artist Distance called HalfLife that was released in 2015.
In 2014, he joined with Himanshu Suri to create Swet Shop Boys. In 2016, they released their first full-length album, Cashmere.
4. Ahmed Starred in an English National Opera Musical Called ‘Gaddafi’ by the Asian Dub Foundation in 2006
In 2006, the English National Opera staged Gadaffi: A Living Myth, a collaboration with the hip-hop group Asian Dub Foundation. The musical was about Mummar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator who killed in 2011. Ahmed had a part in the project.
In its review, the Independent noted that director David Freeman said there wasn’t much music in it. “One can readily accept that this is basically a spoken drama plus soundtrack. It begins pretty creakily, like an old-fashioned son et lumiere, but soon builds momentum,” The Independent’s Michael Church wrote.
Ahmed’s other stage credits include a production of Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and Prayer Room. “Riz Ahmed is genuinely disconcerting as the street-talking, dope-smoking young Muslim who turns into a murderous firebrand,” The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer wrote in his 2005 review of Prayer Room.
5. Ahmed’s Performance in ‘Four Lions’ Convinced Steve Zailliann to Cast Him as Naz in ‘The Night Of’
The Night Of had a difficult time coming to the small screen. Based on the BBC series Criminal Justice, it was first announced in September 2012.
At first, HBO passed on it as a series, but picked it up in May 2013 as a limited series. James Gandolfini was going to star, but the lead role went to Robert De Niro after Gandolfini’s sudden death. De Niro later dropped out, and John Turturro stepped in.
Ahmed won the role of Naz, which Zaillian said in an HBO interview was a hard role to cast. Ahmed actually got the part long before his star-making turn in Nightcrawler. Zallian said it was Ahmed’s performance in Four Lions (2010) that convinced him to cast the actor.
“At the time, all I’d heard about him was that he was in a not-yet-released Mira Nair film called The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” Zallian explained to HBO. “I went on YouTube to find something else he was in and saw a clip of a film he’d done called Four Lions. I thought he was very good in the scene, and so had him audition. That did it for me. I could see him as Naz.”
Ahmed’s performance was so integral to The Night Of that he earned aa Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Limited Series or Made For TV Movie. Unfortunately, so did Turturro so they will be competing against each other. The series was also nominated for Best Limited Series or Made For TV Movie.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Ahmed described the research he did for The Night Of:
I’m playing a working class college kid, and he defers some of his credits. That was something that came up a lot in talking to college guys. I spent a lot of time at Queens College and in Queens in general, mostly Jackson Heights. And I went and visited Richard Price, who wrote the series. And he’s written so many iconic New York tales like Lush Life and Clockers. Such an interesting guy, and he told me he’d been to Syria right before the revolution started. And he’s been to Pakistan. I met someone who’d just come out of Rikers Island at his house. I met a lot of people like that.