Riz Ahmed on the ‘insane’ success of ‘The Night Of’ after four-and-a-half year struggle to make it [WATCH]

“I’ve never been part of a project that takes place across four-and-a-half years,” says Riz Ahmed about the long process of making HBO’s crime series “The Night Of.” We talked to the actor last November about the unusually long journey from shooting the pilot to finally completing the eight-part mystery. “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.”

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Insane indeed — “The Night Of” not only earned praise from critics, it also earned Ahmed Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Best Movie/Limited Series Actor for his performance as Naz, a seemingly mild-mannered young man who is accused of a brutal murder. He is imprisoned at Rikers Island as he stands trial, and just surviving his dangerous environment transforms him. “It’s like a caterpillar going into a cocoon of Rikers,” the actor explains, “and what comes out isn’t a butterfly, it’s a wolf.”

It took years for the miniseries to get made due to circumstances out of Ahmed’s control. It started with the death of James Gandolfini, who was “one of the key driving forces as an executive producer on the project, and it was a big blow to everyone.” Gandolfini was to play the co-lead character of John Stone, the attorney who defends Naz against his murder charge. The character then passed to Robert De Niro, and ultimately to John Turturro, who also earned Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his trouble. “So it was definitely a roller coaster even getting to that point.”

But it definitely seems to have been worth it. He’s currently the frontrunner to win the Emmy for Best Movie/Limited Series Actor for his performance according to our racetrack odds. And “The Night Of” leads the race for Best Limited Series.

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