10 Things You Never Knew About Riz Ahmed
Since beginning his career nearly 15 years ago, Riz Ahmed has built an impressively varied résumé, shifting between intriguing TV roles (Girls, Dead Set, The Night Of – for which he won an Emmy) and movies ranging from the pitch-black satire Four Lions to the Star Wars blockbuster Rogue One. He's now promoting his latest film Mogul Mowgli, which he co-wrote and stars in as British-Pakistani rapper who returns to his family after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
To whet your appetite for his appearance on the season premiere of The Graham Norton Show, which airs Friday (October 9) at 11pm EST on BBC America, here are 10 things you might not know about this extremely talented and politically engaged British actor.
1. He's a descendant of Sir Shah Suleiman, an eminent Indian judge.
During the British colonial era, Suleiman was the first Indian to be appointed Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court – one of India's highest authorities. In 1929, he was knighted by King George V for his distinguished public service. Ahmed tells a brief anecdote about learning of this, reported by IndiaToday.com.
2. He graduated from the University of Oxford after studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).
It's the same highly prestigious Oxford degree attained by former British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson, Edward Heath and David Cameron, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, and current Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan. Ahmed met Yousafzai when he returned to his alma mater to give a speech in 2018.
3. While studying at Oxford, he launched the popular club night Hit+Run, which later moved to Manchester.
"It drew in quite a mixed crowd both from the universities there and people who lived in Oxford, who had nothing to do with being students," Ahmed recalled in a 2015 interview with Skin Deep. "I guess it became a kind of meeting point for a lot of like-minded people who also felt that they didn’t fit into the dominant culture, which is very much a kind of elitist, white, dinner-jacket culture, the black-tie culture. That really saw me through it, both financially and socially. It saved me, really, taking that punt and doing that."
4. He wrote and directed the 2014 short film Daydreamer, a coming-of-age story inspired by his own formative years in north London.
Ahmed has said the film is "about growing up in the '90s during the heyday of [the] Brit-Asian scene and living that double life." You can watch it in full below.
5. He's an acclaimed musician who's released music under his own name as well as the moniker Riz MC.
Ahmed is also a member of hip hop group Swet Shop Boys, in which he joins forces with Queens rapper Heems and London producer Redinho.
His most recent release, however, is this year's solo effort The Long Goodbye, a concept album in which Ahmed explores the U.K.'s complicated contemporary and historical relationship with South Asia and the British Asian community. You can watch a very powerful and poignant short film Ahmed made to accompany the album below.
6. He had an "awkward" encounter with Queen Elizabeth II a few years ago.
During an appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show, Ahmed recalled waiting in line to meet the monarch and being introduced by her aide as: "Riz Ahmed, actor, writer and rapper."
"Because he said rapper as I looked up," Ahmed continued, "I thought she was trying to spud [fist bump] me and all the people around her were like, 'He's going to punch her," so I ended up weirdly just touching her fist. It was so awkward."
7. In 2017, Ahmed attended U.K. parliament to deliver a stirring speech about the power of diversity in film and TV.
"If we fail to represent, we are in danger of losing people to extremism," Ahmed warned many of the U.K.'s leading politicians.
8. His speech inspired the "Riz Test," which uses five criteria to measure how Muslims are portrayed on film and TV.
The test operates as follows:
If the film/show stars at least one character who is identifiably Muslim (by ethnicity, language or clothing), is the character…
Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of terrorism?
Presented as irrationally angry?
Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? Or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?
If the answer for any of the above is "yes, "then the film/ TV show fails the test.
9. He's been friends with his Venom co-star Tom Hardy since 2006, when they met on the U.K. reality series The Play's the Thing.
"Tom's just all heart, man, he's really so passionate about everything he does," Ahmed said on Jimmy Kimmel's chat show in 2018. "And I kinda knew that from the first time I met him ’cause, like, we'd be talking, and actually I had just started doing my music and I played him some and he was really enthusiastic. But every time there was a gap in conversation, he would just start doing push-ups. He'd just drop and start doing push-ups. So I was like, 'This guy's gonna do it. This guy's gonna go all the way.'"
10. He and Hardy teamed up to teach us all British slang in a 2018 video for Vanity Fair.
And, credit where it's due, they did a terrific job.
Do you have a favorite Riz Ahmed moment?