Actor Riz Ahmed’s grueling preparation for the intense TV role that won him an Emmy left him close to a “physical and mental” breakdown.
The British star of HBO show The Night Of dove deeply into background research with inmates and minority communities to play murder suspect and Pakistani-American student Nasir Khan who is incarcerated in Rikers Island prison after becoming the prime suspect in a murder investigation.
In his acceptance speech in September (17), he thanked the South Asian Youth Action and the Innocence Project for helping him to prepare for the role. But while all the prep led to him becoming the first actor of Muslim descent to win a major acting Emmy, he admits the responsibility of the role – which highlighted the inequality of America’s criminal justice system – exacted a heavy price.
“It weighed quite heavily on me. It’s weird to say this, but at points I almost felt like I was on the verge of a breakdown… while I was filming that. Physically and mentally,” the actor sighed during a chat at the New Yorker Festival. “Because of… its connection to people and concerns and situations that were much bigger than me, my desire to give a performance.”
The 34-year-old Rogue One: A Star Wars Story star also said his performance was informed by growing up in multicultural London and described how “special” he found it as a city.
“To me there’s something very special about London. It’s like this prodigal son story of this city that went out, spread its tentacles over the world… Now some seeds are coming back to London to heal and absolve it of that legacy,” the actor explained.
“Whereas a lot of American cities… can be very segregated, London people share physical space… The idea, the project, the promise of what London represents is very close to my heart.”