Riz Ahmed Acts His Way Out of Every Cultural Pigeonhole

Carvell Wallace in The New York Times:

When I let it slip that the press kit I’d been given had referred to him as a ‘Renaissance man,’ Riz Ahmed looked angrily down into his breakfast, a chicken-quinoa bowl with extra chicken. It lasted for just a moment, but the image stayed with me, because it was the only time during our approximately 10 hours together — breakfast in Brooklyn, private sessions with the Islamic art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, YouTube sessions listening to 1970s Qawwali-inspired Iraqi disco, talks on park benches in Fort Greene, tea on the sidewalk of Fulton Avenue and even dinner in Boston, where Ahmed was filming an independent feature about a heavy-metal drummer who’s losing his hearing — that the 35-year-old actor seemed to be truly, genuinely upset.

It’s not that he doesn’t get animated. He does. Talking with Ahmed can be a little like sparring, a little like co-writing a constitution, a little like saving the world in an 11th-hour meeting. He interrupts, then apologizes for interrupting, then interrupts again. He can deliver entirely publishable essays off the top of his head. He pounds the table when talking about global injustices, goes back to edit his sentences minutes after they were spoken, challenges the premises of your sentences before you’re halfway through speaking. This is what happens when you cut your teeth on both prep-school debate teams and late-night freestyle rap battles, as Ahmed has. He is like someone who wants to speak truth to power but now ispower — famous enough, at least, to have people listen to his ideas. He is like someone very smart who also cares a lot. He is like someone who doesn’t want to be misunderstood.

More here.