Actor Riz Ahmed is the first Muslim to be nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his role as deaf drummer in Darius Marder’s film ‘Sound Of Metal’. If he lifts the trophy at the main gala that is set to take place at the end of this month then he is certainly going to create history.
But it has not all been smooth sailing for the British actor, who has had to face down racism at many turns in his life.
In an interview with Thesun.co.uk, The 38-year-old said how he experienced a knife held to his throat by a skinhead, is repeatedly searched by airport security teams, faced offensive rhymes in his other career as a rapper and kept getting offered roles as a terrorist.
However, it’s his determination not to be stereotyped, coupled with a “workaholic” nature that kept him going.
Riz’s parents came to Britain from Pakistan in the 1970s and he grew up in Wembley, North London.
“As children in the 1980s my brother and I were stopped near our home by a skinhead who decided to put a knife to my brother’s throat. A decade later, the knife to my throat was held by another ‘P***’, a label we wore with swagger in the Brit-Asian youth and gang culture of the 1990s. I grew up dancing between different worlds a lot. Wembley went through a lot of transitions in the time I lived there,” he said.
“It went from being quite a lower-middle-class, white area to recently becoming an Asian immigrant area. When I was a little kid, I remember we suffered a lot of racism as well,” he added.
The actor also started his own drum and bass nights, which were regularly attended by his fellow student Felicity Jones during his study days.
In a recent podcast with Louis Theroux, Riz told how in 2005 he got booed off stage because the crowd mistakenly thought he had made a racist slur against a black rival.
“I got up there, the only South Asian kid, I got a lot of racist digs, they’d say, ‘corner shop’, ‘kebab’, ‘smelly’, all that.
“I was up against this black rapper. I said, ‘You’re so ignorant, calling me an immigrant, you obviously haven’t seen your own skin pigment’. I was trying to say, ‘You’re an immigrant like me’, but it didn’t land as I intended,” he said.
Riz spent seven months training for his Oscar-nominated performance in ‘Sound Of Metal’.
“I spent seven months learning drums, learning sign language, being immersed in these communities. I’m a workaholic. I really love structure. I could be a bit of a control freak.
“Some people really connect with the idea that I was the first Muslim nominated for lead actor. That’s beautiful and I support that. If some people are overjoyed to see it’s a film that focuses on deaf representation, then that’s beautiful.
“If for some people they’re rooting for the fact that it’s someone from Wembley, then that’s cool,” he said.