Riz Ahmed plays the volatile Rebel pilot Bodhi Rook in the huge box-office hit Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In this BBC Radio clip, he admits to being relieved when he found out he landed a part in the film. After all, he thought he’d burned all his bridges with the director. Ahmed explains it this way:
“I started spamming [Director Gareth Edwards] really aggressively….He sent me the kind of script to record the audition, and he made the mistake of giving me his email address. And I’m like a bit psycho-obsessive with my work. I love it, but I go down a black hole. It stops even being about getting a result. It’s like, ‘Oh, what if I did it like this?’ So, over the next three days I sent him like fourteen different versions of the scene. I just kept spamming him.”
Right off the bat, Ahmed emailed two approaches to the material. But when he awoke the following day and realized Edwards had not yet replied, Ahmed says:
“So instead of thinking, ‘He must be busy,’ I thought, ‘Let me just send him more.’ I just kept doing that every few hours….I kept doing like different accents and different costumes.”
Continuing, he says Edwards eventually emailed him back, writing, “Thank you for sending me all the auditions. Please stop sending me all these auditions. I’ll let you know.” A few weeks later, Ahmed was offered the role! Ahmed now jokes, “It’s amazing that I’m not in prison with a restraining order to be honest.”
Ahmed’s career is certainly on the upswing these days. He also starred in HBO’s critically lauded crime drama The Night Of playing accused murderer Nasir Khan opposite John Turturro. Indeed, both Ahmed and Turturro have received Golden Globe nominations for best actor in a miniseries or television film for their performances. Ahmed is stunned by the popularity of the eight-episode series, describing the process of getting it made “a rollercoaster.”
Riz Ahmed was born in Wembley to Pakistani parents who moved to the UK in the 1970s. His breakout role was in Nightcrawler as Rick, a jittery sidekick of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, the thief Lou Bloom. When first invited to audition, Ahmed was told he was not fit for the role, but was still permitted to audition. One of 75 actors to try for the part, Ahmed managed to stand out. Within the first minute of his audition tape, the director Dan Gilroy grew confident in Ahmed’s capabilities. Ahmed also recently played Aaron Kalloor, CEO of a social media enterprise, in Jason Bourne.
Additionally, Ahmed is a rapper known as Riz MC–half of the hip-hop duo Swet Shop Boys along with Himanshu Suri. Riz MC is featured on The Hamilton Mixtape performing in the song Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) with K’naan, Snow Tha Product, and Residente. This means two of Ahmed’s projects are simultaneously rated number-one: The Hamilton Mixtape nabbed the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart, and Rogue One ranked number one on the movie box-office chart.
It’s most likely unwise to “spam” a director you’d like to work with, or even a casting director or a producer. But it’s clear Ahmed’s single-minded focus and determination has yielded significant results in relation to his career goals. Riz has made a habit of trusting his talent and instincts with both acting and music–and it’s certainly paid off.