Riz Ahmed: I get pulled aside every time I come here


As part of the press junket for The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a group of seven of us had a roundtable interview with Riz Ahmed (who plays Changez Khan) and Kate Hudson (who plays his girlfriend, Erica).

On a purely gossipy notes, one could not help but notice that Ms. Hudson was wearing this massive emerald-cut rock.

Riz, did I read correctly somewhere that you were detained for several hours at an airport in the UK when you returned from the Berlin Film Festival a couple of years ago?

RA: I was, yes, you did read that correctly.

Then let me ask you, did you have any concerns coming to the US, and have you had any issues here?

RA:  Concerns… I get pulled aside for three and a half hours every time I come here.  Not so much the last 3 or 4 times since I got a work visa, but it’s funny, this film nearly fell apart because my US visa was delayed indefinitely.   There’s something called sec 221.G which is a blanket security measure American authorities impose on most Muslim males ages 18-50.  They check your name against an international database of suspected or known terrorists and associates, and it’s a process that can take up to nine months and we needed to start shooting in a month.  So, yeah, it’s something that’s a reality and it’s sad and in my opinion it’s a slightly ham-fisted and counterproductive way of leading an intelligence operation, or managing your borders.


Kate, you said that taking on this role was a no-brainer, could you tell us why?

KH: When I met with Mira I was eight months pregnant  and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do the movie because of that, but Mira somehow didn’t know and I walked in and was so excited to talk about the movie and she says “Wow, you’re so pregnant!”  And  I said “I thought you knew!  I just wanted to talk to you, it’s such an interesting script!”

We talked, we fell in love with each other, she just felt very familial to me.  I don’t if it’s my mother’s going to India since the ‘70s, I’m just surrounded by my mother’s Indian friends, I just felt like it was meeting a soulmate and I just felt like if it wasn’t this, whatever she would ever want me to do, I would be there to do with her.  Fortunately, the movie pushed and I was able to do it.

I had just had Bing, I showed up and it was more than just Mira, it’s when I read it I had to read it two times in a row because there was just so much material and it was so rich in its themes.  I really wanted to know how Mira was going to tackle it.  It felt like a really brave project.  When I heard her talk about using these themes and this political thriller backdrop as a way to tell a story about a young man’s journey in finding himself and human connection and the human spirit and how do you find it and get to that place in your life and being authentic with yourself, and I thought only Mira could tell this story.  I’m happy I was able to be a part of it.

What’s she like as a director?

KH: Wonderful, nurturing.  Riz likes to say “holistic”.  She knows the story she wants to tell and I like talking about Mira and the sense of she’s very sensual in how she brings people together and how she gets the creative juice out of whether it be your DP or her actors.  When she knows she has to say something to tell her story, she is adamant about getting what she wants and I think within that, she creates that world where everybody wants to deliver for her.  And she’s very passionate, on a daily, hourly, minutes, seconds basis as you can tell if you’ve already spoken to her just now.  It’s infectious and you can’t help but go there with her.

For both of you, what stayed with you after shooting the movie was over?

RA: Wow, I mean, there’s a lot that stayed with me.  Going to Istanbul was amazing.  I’d never been, always wanted to go, and a lot of the film is about trying to get beyond the labels or divisions that we try and put up between people and even different sides of ourselves, and Istanbul is a city that kind of evaporates lots of dichotomies, East and West, secular – religious, it’s a special place.  Going there and visiting ancient Roman temples that were turned into grand Byzantine churches and then turned into huge mosques, in the same building.  That says something, it has an important energy.  So ending this film’s shoot in that city was amazing – it felt really fitting.

KH: For me, it was how exhausted I was by the end of it, emotionally & physically…breastfeeding and handing Bing to Riz, ….. It was funny, I was so into it when I was there I didn’t realize how much I was working.

RA: It was kind of amazing, to be honest.  I found it really impressive, you were hardly sleeping, breast-feeding, hand over the baby, “Action!”, burst into tears – you were amazing!  (laughs)   Like…what the hell – she’s a machine!

KH: When I got home I did say only Mira could – if I had another child – she’s probably the only one to convince me to do that again, because I was tired and it wasn’t even that long of a shoot.  But I think it worked because I really was emotional.  I had no moment where I had to take time to get there.  Between the material I was working with and how closely connected I felt to Erica, and her guilt and her trauma, and the exhaustion that I was feeling somehow connected and made for a good harmonious experience for me to get it out.

Riz, you guys have really good chemistry together.  What really struck me was the theme of an inter-racial relationship and how the challenges that there are already in one, then set against the backdrop of 9/11.  Could you talk about that and how you portrayed the relationship in the film?

RA: Well, I think the important thing for those characters is they don’t go into it, or at least they don’t go into it consciously thinking of each other as a collection of labels.  He doesn’t think “Oh, Upper East Side, comes from money…” and she doesn’t think “Pakistani, Muslim…”  I think what emerges down the line is they start realizing maybe there is a hint of exoticism in the attraction and the extent to which that is healthy – just to want to investigate that which is previously unknown to you – and the extent to which is kind of objectifying and turning someone into this kind of fashion accessory or something.  I think there is that tension in this relationship, but I don’t think it’s common to all interracial relationships.  I think the kind of prevalence and rise of interracial relationships is one of the beaut things about modern cosmopolitan societies and there are many that are totally healthy and just grow and blossom.

Riz, can you talk a bit about the audition process – is that right that you were asked to come to Mira while you were in the recording studio?

RA:  I was on my way to the shoot the album cover for MICroscope, my debut album, and at that point I’d already been turned down like, four times, because I kept sending in tapes and Mira just didn’t vibe with them.  My agent said “Look, Mira Nair’s in London, go and see her.” And I said ”I’m done with that.  There’s no point.”  But I went and met her and it’s so different when you’re in the room.  We just clicked and it just kinda’ went from there very naturally.”

Riz, any Hindi movies in your future?

RA:   I want to work with this new wave of Indian filmmakers and Pakistani filmmakers, not quite Bollywood.  I don’t have the dance moves for Bollywood.

Note: After its initial release last Friday in Manhattan and Los Angeles, today The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens across the US in these cinemas:

Camera 3 – San Jose CA
Cinema 100 – White Plains NY
Clairidge – Montclair NJ
Manhasset Cinemas – Manhasset NY
South Coast Village – Costa Mesa CA
Rancho Niguel – Laguna Niguel CA
Garden Cinemas – Norwalk CT
Montgomery Cinema – Rocky Hill NJ
Playhouse – Pasadena CA
Town Center – Encino CA
Bethesda Row – Bethesda MD
Century Centre – Chicago IL
Embarcadero – San Francisco CA
Kendall Square – Cambridge MA
Mayan – Denver CO
Frontenac – St. Louis MO
River Oaks – Houston TX
Ritz 5 – Philadelphia PA
Shattuck – Berkeley CA
Magnolia – Dallas TX
Seven Gables – Seattle WA
Smith Rafael Film Center – San Rafael CA
Uptown – Minneapolis MN
Kew Gardens – Kew Gardens NY
Malverne – Malverne NY

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