Riz Ahmed's First Kiss Was on Stage, and He Didn't Know What He Was Doing

In a new video interview, Riz Ahmed talks about everything from how he became an actor and what it's like to be a minority in Hollywood, to the movies that always make him cry and his traumatizing first memory.

Released on 6/30/2017

Transcript

00:03
First time I left London was at the age of two
00:05
to go to Pakistan to be circumcised.
00:08
Yeah, it's a whole song and dance about it.
00:11
That's my first memory, still traumatized.
00:13
I was always kinda like the class clown.
00:15
I was always messing around in class,
00:18
getting sent out, making jokes and stuff.
00:21
That's how I got into the school plays
00:23
'cause I used to get into so much trouble in class
00:26
that one of the teachers said,
00:27
If you wanna muck about, then do it on stage,
00:30
and you'll get a round of applause for it.
00:32
You do it in my classroom, and you'll get a detention.
00:35
So, that's how it kinda started.
00:36
My first acting job was The Road to Guantanamo.
00:39
It was funny because as I was leaving drama school,
00:41
I thought, The world is a scary place right now,
00:44
and I've always been interested in the world
00:47
and in social issues, and I thought,
00:49
How am I gonna engage with that as an actor?
00:52
And this job, it just fell out of the sky into my lap.
00:56
Wow, there is a part.
00:58
There is a way in which I can be a creative person
01:00
and make art but still engage with the world around me.
01:03
It was a way forwards that I could see for myself.
01:07
It's interesting because I do think
01:08
sometimes it works in stages
01:09
where sometimes you start off
01:11
with stereotypical portrayals of minorities.
01:13
So, we're always a terrorist or a shopkeeper.
01:16
If you're a gay person, you're a flaming queen
01:18
or a black person will be a drug dealer,
01:20
and then you move on from that
01:22
to subject matter that is about some of those issues
01:27
but flips them on their head.
01:28
My hope is now we've moved on to almost like a stage three
01:31
where I can play a character
01:32
where it's not directly tied to race
01:34
or any of those kind of ethnicity issues at all.
01:39
I don't get stopped in the US because I've got a visa,
01:41
but I get stopped in the UK before I board the plane.
01:45
What's funny is that the neighborhood
01:47
that Heathrow Airport is in
01:49
is a heavily South Asian neighborhood,
01:51
and so the kids working there are often fans of mine.
01:55
So, the kids that pull me aside to search me
01:58
are also asking me for selfies,
02:00
while they're swabbing me for explosives and stuff
02:03
or going through my underpants
02:04
and quoting my raps back at me,
02:07
so quite a surreal experience,
02:10
but I guess that speaks to the dichotomy
02:12
and the insider/outsider status
02:14
that I know I've felt all my life.
02:16
What movie doesn't make me cry, man?
02:19
I'm an actor.
02:20
You know, I'm this far away from crying most of the time.
02:24
This interview's been emotional.
02:26
E.T.
02:27
E.T. made me cry a lot.
02:29
I relate to the alien.
02:31
If you're a child of immigrants,
02:32
you relate to the alien on E.T.
02:34
They're coming to take me.
02:35
They say I can't stay here.
02:38
They're gonna burst into our homes and take us away.
02:40
I was E.T. in that film.
02:42
You know, my first kiss was onstage.
02:45
I think I was like 12 or something like that,
02:48
and it was in the school play.
02:49
We did South Pacific.
02:51
I was one of the kids or something, and I was like,
02:54
I don't know if I'm doing this right.
02:56
Lied about it obviously.
02:57
I was like, Just follow me,
03:00
if you're not sure what you're doing.
03:02
I think she knew that I didn't know what I was doing.
03:05
We did not have a relationship.
03:07
My secret skill
03:10
is...
03:12
I don't know if I'm humble enough
03:13
to keep any skill of mine secret.
03:15
If I'm even vaguely skilled at anything,
03:17
I will do it in the most public setting possible.
03:21
I have no secret skills.
03:22
If I was half good at anything, I'd be shouting about it.
03:25
It's tragic but true.