Riz Ahmed

On the way back from the premiere of his first film, The Road to Guantánamo—Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s 2006 docudrama about three Tipton, England–based men who were held in a U.S. detention camp in Guantánamo Bay for more than two years—Riz Ahmed found himself up against his own experience with detainment and interrogation. Returning home to the U.K. from the Berlin International Film Festival, where Guantánamo had just won a Silver Bear award, the 29-year-old London-born actor was separated from his travel companions Ruhel Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul—two of the actual Tipton Three—and placed in an unmarked room in Luton Airport for questioning. “The officers ran through the contents of my phone,” Ahmed recalls. “It was pointless and humiliating.” The uncanny mishap was only a taste of the kind of hardship endured by his character, the real-life Rasul, but Ahmed says the event left a lasting impression. “I felt it was more surreal and ironic than it was terrifying.” That same year, Ahmed’s motives were brought into question again, this time in his musical career, when “The Post 9/11 Blues,” his first single under the name Riz MC, was banned on several U.K. radio stations. But that period of mix-ups and snags seems long behind him now. Since then, Ahmed has earned a British Independent Film Awards nomination for his turn as a young drug dealer in the 2008 thriller Shifty and landed a lead role in Trishna, Winterbottom’s reimagining of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, set in contemporary India. As Jay, the half-British scion of a wealthy hotelier, Ahmed pursues Freida Pinto’s titular character, with whom he runs away to Mumbai. “It’s completely improvised—literally no script,” says Ahmed. “We had to re-create fluid, intimate moments, but still address the same stuff Hardy did in his time: class, rapid modernization, and sexual taboos.” His other projects include Mira Nair’s upcoming adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s international best seller, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, with Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, and Liev Schreiber; a hip-hop musical directed by British rapper Plan B called Ill Manors; and Black Gold, an Arab oil-boom drama set in the early 20th century. Riz MC is also releasing his debut album, MICroscope (Tru Thoughts), early this year.