Riz Ahmed: “Even in bad shape, I have always chosen my films”

The hero The Sound of metal carries on his shoulders, by his genius composition of ambiguity, Encounter, available on Amazon Prime. Meeting with an actor as instinctive as he is cerebral

Film of alien invasion, survival, initiation story of two kids not knowing how to react to Malik, this ex-marine and borderline father that you play. Encounter takes pleasure in losing its spectators. Did he lose you on the first reading too?

Ahmed Rice: I was already well prepared! I had seen and loved Jersey Affair, the previous film by Michael (Pearce) so I know it is not one-armed in twists and turns because I spent the whole story trying to ask myself where it was going to take us. In his scripts, Michael has this talent that by the time you think you have figured out what is going to happen, the exact opposite is happening. So I was prepared for it. And I must say that this game was as fun in writing as it was on screen. Because just as much as the goal, it is the journey he offers that is fascinating.

Don’t try to drown the fish: did you manage to guess the end?

I admit: absolutely not! I’m not a Michael Pearce graduate yet. I still have to work! (laughs)

How is this path made towards such a complex, multiple and ambiguous de facto role?

Michael first provided me with all his preliminary work around this character who was not in the film. All his past. From there, I went to meet former Marines to try to understand in detail the duality of this character. It’s funny because this film starts in a science fiction atmosphere, I experienced it as something deeply realistic. It tells about our world which lives in permanent fear. From one virus to another, from abroad

But which Malik have you chosen to favor in your game: the protective father and whistleblower of an alien invasion or the ex-marine with failing sanity?

Once I’ve worked up front, I try to have as few preconceived ideas as to what I’m going to do. Having worked allows me to be prepared for any eventuality because nothing guarantees that the vision of a character that you have formed in your little head corresponds to that of the director. Nothing tells you that you are going to follow the script to the letter either. Even less like when you work with children. I challenge you to know what they will do the next second but me, my job is to have the spontaneity to be able to answer anything. It matches my way of seeing my job. I see the game as jazz, nourished by regular improvisations. You know how to play the piano, but you have no idea what precise keys you are going to press in the next moment.

So you are the anti-WC Fields who explained that we had to flee like the plague from children and animals as partners?

Sort of. There is only one reason to shy away from children as partners: they are better than you! It’s like going back to school: they give you free masterclasses precisely because they throw themselves in without preconceived ideas. I am jealous of this authenticity there because I know that I will never find it again

Did you rehearse?

Michael wanted to see if the current passed between the children and me, if we were going to believe straight away in the father-son relationship. More than repetitions of the game, we took time to get to know each other, to tame, to trust each other

What do you like best about the way you work with him?

This collaborative spirit that drives it. He is a director who can be very open because he knows where he is going and wants to take us.

Were you also free in your interpretation when you first started?

Oh no ! I was more school. When you start you want to do well. You prefer that nothing sticks out. You want to be seen at the same time but not to be noticed. Squaring the circle. It’s the sequence of roles that allows you to have more confidence, to dare to try things because you understand that it is that a director expects from you And to have more and more fun

Is there a game-changing movie?

No, really the accumulation of roles. It is also the cruelty of this profession. Minus you No, all of you! This profession is cruel. The less you play, the less you will dare to let go, the less you will be good and the less you will work. I have kept a little diary for each of my films since The Road to Guantanamo 15 years ago. And when I go back to it, I realize that I have almost the same questions before taking on a role! It’s reassuring. I like the idea that we keep learning and then forget. It helps keep freshness. But if I have evolved, it’s on one point: before, I thought that playing was about building a character. Today, I understood that it is above all to make the emptiness in oneself and of the place to let things enter.

Among these films, there are two directed by French people: Black gold by Jean- Jacques Annaud and The Sisters Brothers by Jacques Audiard. What memories do you keep of them?

On Black gold, I remember a shoot like a trip, from Tunisia to Qatar, each one more sumptuous than the next. Here is a director with crazy energy. He has this part of childhood in him. And then I met Tahar (Rahim) with whom I became very good friends and whom I have not lost sight of

You have Audiard in common …

Jacques has a different, more rigorous creative process. It’s a metronome. I had the impression of watching a master of cinema at work. And then I was happy to have the opportunity to practice my French.

You speak French ?

Yes a little but I never get the chance to practice

How do you choose your films since you have the opportunity?

From day one, even when I had almost no proposal, I decided to make choices. In particular, not to lock myself into roles that are too stereotypical because of my origins or my skin color. It pushes you to the requirement because we read a lot of very cartoonish things. Even in the rough, I did not want to make any compromises. Because I believe in the power of cinema. I believe stories can make a difference. And that the question of representation is therefore central. To be an actor is also to have this responsibility. After that, obviously, that’s not everything. Here, a role must take me out of my comfort zone. But I still have this double reflection: personal and political.

Have you ever written to a director to tell him that you want to work with him?

Yeah, you could say I made Michael’s seat for Encounter ! (laughs) I called him, I wrote to him, I asked some friends to pass the message on. It also happened to me with Mira Nair on The Integrist in spite of himself where I had learned that she hated my attempts to be able to see her again for even 5 minutes. And you see, it works!

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