I feel so lucky that I got to sit down and chat with Riz Ahmed about his role in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story while at the LucasFilm Headquarters earlier this month. In case you missed it, he is a Golden Globe Nominee, guys! That means he is super good at what he does – so I was thrilled that he joined the cast of Star Wars. His interview was one of my favorites of the day.
When asked to talk about his character, Riz explained, “My character is called Bodhi Rook and he actually works in the Empire. He’s a cargo pilot and he’s from this planet called Jedha, which is occupied by the Empire. He’s just trying to earn a living [with] the main employer in town – the only show in town, really, is working for the Empire. The name Bodhi means awakening [and] he goes through a kind of awakening, and realizes that that’s not the way. He’s got to try and stand up for what he believes in to make a difference. So he takes a big risk and he defects from the Empire to try and help the rebels.” This is not a spoiler, don’t worry. If you have watched pretty much any of the trailers or read anything about Rogue One, you know this.
Riz arrived for his interview a tad early (or perhaps our interview with Diego Luna (Cassian) ran late), but either way, we got to see them interact a bit and could tell that they had a lot of fun together. This led us to ask about the relationship of the cast on set. “We ended up spending a lot of time together because it’s quite an ensemble [in the] film and story. It’s really about this gang. It’s about myself, K-2SO, Cassian, Jyn, Baze, and Chirrut. We’re this troop and so we spent a lot of time together closed off in sweaty space ships. We got to keep each other alive, and awake, and we cracked a lot of jokes. We definitely had to make each other laugh and keep each other’s energy up. We bonded, definitely.”
Being a part of Star Wars is a big deal – a BIG deal. We asked Riz what it was like to be a part of something so huge – and if there were any difficulties associated with it. “The difficult thing wasn’t so much of ‘Oh my god, I’m in Star Wars’, because in a way, that was a joyous thing. That was something that was exciting and makes you want to work really hard. If you love a job, that’s not a bad thing. The thing that was difficult is when I’m playing a character, I like to try and interview people who are close to that character. [For example,] when I was doing The Night Of, I went to visit Riker’s Island prison [and] I interviewed lots of people that [have] been to prison. But you can’t interview anyone who’s an Imperial cargo pilot – none of them wanted to speak to me. You don’t really know where the reference points are, where starting points are. In the end I realized that the reference point is the world that is around you. When you turn up on set and they’ve built these mountains and space ships, and there’s alien creatures walking past you – the preparation doesn’t have to be in your head – it’s right there in front of you. You just have to soak it up. So that was quite a big exercise in letting go when I can be a bit of a preparation freak.”
Since we were already talking a bit about Bodhi, we asked Riz what character traits, if any, the two of them share. “I’d like to think that he’s quite a relatable character for a lot of people. He’s just an everyman – an average Joe. He finds himself in a crazy situation. He’s not like Cassian, who is a rebel spy. He’s not like Baze, who is a hardened assassin, or Jyn, who is a criminal rebel. He’s just a truck driver, basically, and he finds himself in the middle of this crazy intergalactic heist movie. He freaks out a little bit! I think I’d freak out in that kind of situation. I think most of us would.”
Riz was a lot of fun to talk to and he kept us laughing. For example, when we asked him about his physical training for this role, his immediate response was “I was so muscly, I had to lose weight so that Diego didn’t look too bad. That was the main issue for me. No, my character isn’t a soldier. So he’s not super physically fit. He needs to look like when he’s running through a war zone with a 50 kilo backpack on him, he’s out of breath, and it’s difficult. My preparation was to get really out of shape and just kick back.”
My absolute favorite part of the interview was when Riz was asked to describe his character, Bodhi, in just three words. The response he came up with? FULL OF REGRET. He then explained, “That was deep! I think it’s true for a lot of the people in this film. A lot of the people in this film have got quite a dark history. Or have got a past that they’re not proud of. And they’re trying to make things right. And that’s what drives them to take big risks and to link up with other people, who they’ve got nothing in common with, to try and fight a cause that’s bigger than any one of them. It’s about redemption – people trying to make things right for themselves and for people around them.”
When you watch the trailer, you will notice that Bodhi essentially names the team “Rogue One”. We asked him to give us the spoiler free version of how that went down, and what it meant to his character. We ended up finding out something really interesting – that it wasn’t even in the script! “It was the last day of shooting – in the reshoots. So this is the very, very, very last day of shooting. John Swords, one of the producers [said] ‘Can you do a take when you say this?’ So it was a very last minute thing they threw in. It wasn’t like I read the script and I was, like ‘yes! I get to name the team!’ It just happened. It’s really interesting, a lot of the film took shape like that – it evolved. My character started out as a totally different character with a different name and a different job – and with a different relationship to the other characters. I think that’s kind of cool. When you do these big movies, there’s a lot of people think that it’s quite stiff and everything has to be planned out beforehand. Actually, it is kind of the opposite, at least with these guys. They’re willing to move around as much as they have to to make things work and make them as good as they can be.”
Another really interesting story that Riz told us was about how he got the part. He had been in the same circles as Gareth Edwards (the director) for a while since they both worked in the Independent British Film industry. Gareth had seen some of Riz’s previous work and had contacted him to audition for Rogue One. Riz laughed as he said that Gareth made the mistake of giving him his email address. “I emailed him one version of the scene – and then a few hours later, I had another idea, and I sent him another version. Then I did that again. The next morning I didn’t have a reply, so I thought, oh! I should maybe send him some more. In four days I sent him 12 takes.” Gareth then emailed him back letting him know he got the auditions and to please not send any more. Riz was worried that he had screwed up his chance, but about a month later Gareth called him to tell him he got the part – and that it was the first audition that got it for him.
Since Riz had worked on many independent films, we asked him what the differences were between those and a big budget film, like Rogue One. “It’s a lot of differences in terms of scale. I remember turning up on the first day of shooting and cranes were carrying palm trees and inserting them into the ground. We were in a field in Buckinghamshire in England. Two hundred storm troopers stood around, taking a break with their helmets off, just talking to each other – and everything about that is surreal. But it’s remarkable how much is the same – in terms of being surrounded by a bunch of people who really care about their work, and they’re working really hard. I’ve heard a lot of stories that on these bigger blockbuster movies, people are there just for the money. They don’t care. Maybe that is true for some of these films, but for this movie, almost all the crew have grown up watching Star Wars, so this is their childhood dream to be doing this. If you pick up any random prop that’s on set, you’ll see they’ve got alien writing on it, and touch screen things, and buttons, and dials – [and it isn’t] even gonna be on camera. You realize people just love their job and they loved being a part of this world and helping create this world.”
We closed the interview by talking about what Riz wants people to take away from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. “Even normal people can make big contributions. You might think that someone else is gonna stand up for what you believe in. But at some point, it’s on you to stand up for what you believe in, and make a contribution for what you think is right.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th!
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