Actor Riz Ahmed talks ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

Actor Riz Ahmed, whose film credits include “Four Lions” and “Trishna,” recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about his role in director Mira Nair’s new thriller “The Reluctant Fundamentalist.”

In “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which opened Friday, May 10 exclusively at Harkins Shea 14, Riz Ahmed plays a young Pakistani man who, while chasing corporate success on Wall Street, finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis and the enduring call of his family’s homeland.

Question: Describe your character in terms of his journey. In other words, what is he experiencing over the course of this story?

Answer: I think that his condition is a very modern one, which is about trying to make sense of who you are when who you are is very complex and multilayered. I think that my generation have multiple different selves. We have many different influences from a very young age and have these sides of ourselves that are almost contradictions. I think that when you are younger and you are kind of coming of age and trying to figure out who you are, that can be really confusing and kind of disorienting. But I think that you get to a point later on in life when you can embrace that and realize that it is enriching. So I think that this character’s journey is one about not fitting neatly into any of the old boxes in this newly globalized world. His views are complicated. His allegiances are complicated. His feelings are complicated. So it is about him trying to embrace that messiness and make peace with it.

Q: Did you at all identify with your character? What are your similarities and differences?

A: I feel that at least on paper he and I have some similarities. We both grew up between cultures and classes. But that was actually a mistake on my part because what this whole film is about is about not reducing people to the sum of their labels. And when I thought about it, I realized that he is completely different than me. I am very much a Londoner – born and raised – while this character if from Lahore. I have never even been to Lahore. So I had a lot of homework to do – especially about trying to learn how to be a management consultant and private equities analyst. I am someone who is kind of scared of math and economics.

Q: Tell me more about that homework with respect. What did you discover during the research part of this project?

A: I interviewed a lot young Pakistani men who are working on Wall Street. It was very interesting getting to grips with the allure and the potency of the American dream. To this day, people have faith in its transformative power. I also had to get a grip on a different way of seeing the world. Management consultants and financial analysts see the world in terms of profit and loss. They view every situation – even very human situations – as technical Rubik’s Cubes that need to be solved. So that was interesting.

Q: And what did walking in this character’s shoes teach you about yourself when all was said and done?

A: To try and be at peace with my own messiness and to cultivate my contradictions. I am more embracing of my own creative confusion rather than trying to make sense of who I am. It is other people’s job to try and make sense of who you are. And they always like to draw a neat outline around you. It is up to us to not buy into that. Sometimes you can internalize the limitations that other people place on you. I think that the lesson for me is to not allow that to happen.

Q: Finally, tell me about the production. And what was it like working with director Mira Nair?

A: It was very intense. We had a lot to do but not a lot of time or much money. So everyone was on constantly. We would very often do 16- or 18-hour days. But Mira is so energized and impassioned, she kind of makes you feel like you can get through it and it will all be OK. She is committed. She is giving 200 percent so the least that you can give is 110 percent.

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at

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