Riz Ahmed Q&A: ‘The Night Of’
“It’s like a caterpillar going into a cocoon of Rikers, and what comes out isn’t a butterfly, it’s a wolf,” says Riz Ahmed about the story of his character in the HBO miniseries “The Night Of” (watch our video chat above). He plays Nasir Khan, a New Yorker whose life is upended after he’s accused of murder and thrown into Rikers Island jail to await trial. But the entire project spent years in a cocoon of its own before finally premiering in July 2016.
“I’ve never been part of a project that takes place across four and a half years,” Ahmed explains. “It was a big part of my life, and the person I was when I shot the pilot was totally different from the person I was when we finished shooting, kind of like Naz’s journey in a way … For it to then go on and be so well received is kind of insane because all the associations we had with this project were about struggle.”
When Ahmed was first cast in “The Night Of” it was spearheaded by James Gandolfini, who was producing the project and playing the role of defense lawyer John Stone. But Gandolfini died after the pilot was shot. “It was a big blow to everyone,” Ahmed remembers, “not just those of us involved in the project, but everyone who knows how amazingly gifted and talented he was.”
After Gandolfini’s death the role was recast with Robert De Niro, but then he stepped away and the project was in jeopardy again until John Turturro stepped in to to play John Stone. “So it was definitely a roller coaster even getting to that point,” says Ahmed.
But “The Night Of” seems to have been worth the wait, scoring rave reviews and ratings that increased with each passing episode. And it came during an especially good year for Ahmed, who will next be seen in a markedly different project: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” which opens December 16.