Exclusive: Riz Ahmed On Joining The Cast Of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

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Exclusive: Riz Ahmed On Joining The Cast Of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Posted by Wilson Morales

December 14, 2016

Coming out this week from Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm is the new standalone Star Wars stories series, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Directed by Gareth Edwards, “Rogue One” tells the story of resistance fighters who have united to steal plans to the dreaded Death Star.

Felicity Jones leads the cast as Jyn Erso alongside Mads Mikklesen who plays her father, Galen Erso. Diego Luna stars as Captain Cassian Andor with Donnie Yen as the blind spiritual warrior Chirrut Imwe, Jiang Wen as his heavily armored best friend Baze Malbus, Alan Tudyk as the droid K-2SO, Riz Ahmed as the Rebel pilot Bodhi Rook, plus Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, a character first introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Ben Mendelsohn as the film’s main antagonist, Director Orson Krennic.

For Ahmed, the English actor and rapper is having a banner year after earlier appearing in a lead role to HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Night Of,  for which he just received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. He also had a strong supporting role opposite Matt Damon in Jason Bourne, the fifth installment of the Jason Bourne series. Prior to that, he had a breakout role opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014’s Nightcrawler.

In speaking Blackfilm.com, Ahmed talks about getting the role, his character Bodhi and comparisons with other Star Wars characters.

In the last few two years, you’ve been part of the Jason Bourne and now Star Wars franchise. How does it feel to be involved with two magnificent and hugely, internationally successful franchises?

Riz Ahmed: I feel really lucky to be a part of these stories where you’ve kinda got a dedicated audience and you know some people are going out to see it. I guess it adds to some kind of pressure in terms of people’s expectations. It’s ah, ah a fair trade, I think.

So, take me through the process of being in Rogue One. Is this something they came after you or did you audition for it?

Riz Ahmed: I did audition for it. Gareth Edwards contacted and asked told me a little bit about the movie. I know they were doing these stand-alone movies. So he explained that a little bit and the story and the character, and sent me some audition pages. Then I sort of kinda went overboard a little bit and kinda kept jamming him with different auditions tapes. I think I sent him about 12 takes. And over four days, or so. Then he finally emailed me to ask me to stop emailing him. I was pretty sure I screwed that up. A few days later he got in touch and said he wanted me to come to the apartment. So it worked out.

When he called you up, did you have to go back and re-watch the films, even though it was a stand-alone?

Riz Ahmed: I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to re-do those films cause they happened off the old movie but also because there is enough pressure and expectation on, in being in these stories. That can take you out of it a little bit. In a way I wanted to focus my attention more on our story, on our world. But really I think we are doing something a bit totally distinct from the other Star Wars films. It has a little bit more edge and grit to it. You’ve got “Blackhawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan” and so it definitely has that edge to it. Of course I think it makes it quite distinct from the other Star Wars films.

From what I have read about the character and what you have told other people, Bodhi is a rebellion, a pilot going through identity issues. How much more can you say?

Riz Ahmed: He is a pilot. He is like a long distance truck driver. His character works on the Empire, not because a really bad guy but just because he is trying to earn a living and he lives on a planet that is occupied by the Empire. They’re the main employer in town. He is just trying to earn a living but the name Bodhi means awakening, and he goes through this awakening where he says “Wait a minute. Just because I am not a politician or belong to an important family doesn’t mean I can’t stand up for what I believe in and still make a difference.” I don’t know, I think that is quite an inspiring character and an inspiring message for the times we live in.

Just based on the trailers we have seen so far, obviously there are some similarities between your character and John Boyega from The Force Awakens. He’s going through something similar where he doesn’t know what’s right or wrong. Based on what your saying, you’re trying to find out what is right or wrong. Would you compare/contrast the two?

Riz Ahmed: I think so. I think there are differences as well as whereas, in John’s character in The Force Awakens is an anomaly in that, in that movie in the terms as someone who has a murky past and switching sides. In Rogue One I think that is kind of the standard mold for all the characters. They all have messy backgrounds and murky pasts and they’re trying to redeem themselves or settle a debt in some way or another. So as I said this film was a little bit grittier, and so rather it being about black and white there is a lot of gray areas in it in terms of people’s motivation and allegiances. I would say that.

How’s Bodhi’s pilot skills? Is he on the same par as Hans Solo or is he in the early stages just being a good driver?

Riz Ahmed: He’s not a military guy but he is getting good to know his way around a cargo shuttle for sure. He’s not a fighter pilot is what I would say. Again I think what is kind of cool about Bodhi is that he is not like some harden assassin or rebel spy or soldier. He is actually someone who is just an average Joe. I know characters described him as a character in a war movie that maybe shouldn’t be in a war movie. But in a way, if he wasn’t in it then we don’t have anyone he can to relate to. I’m glad he stumbled his way into an existing war if he isn’t.

One of the coolest things when watching the trailer, your character says Rogue One, which is obviously the title of the film. How cool was that?

Riz Ahmed: It was actually a very last minute thing. It was like a last minute addition on the last day of shooting on the last day of re-shoots. It was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, try this addition.” I was like, “Oh yeah, okay. Thanks for that. Throwing me a bone in the last possible minute.” It’s cool. It’s a nice feeling.

This is one of the first Star Wars films that obviously has a diverse cast. You can’t say the same for all the films. They all have diversity but this one is more obvious. How was it working on this film and gaining that chemistry with the cast?

Riz Ahmed: I thinks it feels like a no-brainer. It feels natural and right that any stories you tell these days are as diverse as the audiences are for them. If you tell any kind of story today and you are telling it to the world, whether they’re streaming it online at home or going to theaters. It just makes sense our stories are diverse as our audience is in the global age.

You stated earlier that you didn’t go back to re-watch the previous Star Wars films, but having seen them at one point, which ones of those was your favorite?

Riz Ahmed: I really like “Empire Strikes Back” and I always am a fan of “Clone Wars.” I think “Empire Strikes Back” has an edge to it again. I think we take it even one step further. And that is something that will exhume me. I think it is something that is quite bold in these movies.

Between the “The Night Of” and “Jason Bourne” and this movie, you’ve had a huge 2016 year. You have been working for nearly 10 years in this business. What’s changed in the last two years? Was it a new agent? Was it a new outlook of life and what you wanted to do as an actor? Or was it just having one role that just made everything else happen?

Riz Ahmed: I started doing handstand push-ups and that changed everything for me. (laughter) I am joking. I think that sometimes you just keep plugging away something for long enough then you hit a lucky streak. I was always told that work means work. I guess if I knew the answer to that I think a lot of actors would be willing to pay for that information. Ultimateley I don’t think you can control the tradjectory of your own career. All you can do is try to work hard in any given job you are given the opportunity with. Then after that it is sort of out of your hands.

It wasn’t a given the people that would watch “The Night Of” and they were received so well. We started shooting in 2012 and it took years for us to get to the point of filming it even with the passing of James Gandolfini. So, it feels kind of weird even that it went down as well as it did and it just easily as things could have gone another way. Maybe no one would see that or we didn’t make the series or maybe Gareth decided I was insane and didn’t want to work with someone who emailed him 12 times after a three minute conversation. So, it is luck as much as anything I think.

When you think about obviously being a part of a Star Wars franchise and shooting this movie and going back and forth to Skywalker Ranch, was there anything you wanted to take as memorabilia? Was it part of your outfit? Was it something from the set?

Riz Ahmed: I think they probably already knew the temptation to steal from a Star Wars stage was very real so they bought us off with really nice memorabilia and gifts to show us that we were part of this special experience. So, yeah, they kind apparently bribed us to not steal from them.

Have you collected all of your action figures?

Riz Ahmed: I got a bunch of them. I don’t have all of them. No, I don’t have all of them. Mainly because I am traveling so much, I really don’t have that much room in my suitcase. I think I really want to get the Deluxe Set.

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