Riz Ahmed is an Oxford educated man and a DJ. One day, he took a chance and emailed his audition tape to the director. Then another. Then nearly 10 more. It almost ruined his chances of landing the role as Bodhi Rook in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but instead, his persistence paid off.
“So my character is called Bodhi Rook and he actually works in the Empire,” Ahmed said of his Rogue One character, Bodhi Rook. “He’s a cargo pilot, and he’s from this planet called Jedha, which is occupied by the Empire. And so, you know, he’s just trying to earn a living. The main employer in town. The only show in town, really, is working for the Empire.”
Just an honest man trying to make an honest living with the most dishonest and hated organization in the galaxy. He is abrasive and hot-headed, but when it comes to his piloting skills, it’s no wonder he’s such a value to the Rebels.
“The name Bodhi means ‘awakening’. So 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.”
Despite the differences in all the Rogue One characters, there seems to be a common theme among the actors, which was family. Since they had only each other to rely on during filming, not able to share details of the film with even their closest family and friends, they cast became each others’ confidantes.
“We kind of ended up spending a lot of time together because it’s quite an ensemble film and story,” Ahmed told us. “So, it’s really about this kind of gang. It’s about myself and K-2SO, Cassian, Jyn, Baze, and Cherrut. We’re like this little troop. We spent a lot of time together closed off into sweaty space ships. And we got to kind of keep each other alive, and awake, and we just would crack a lot of jokes, you know? We definitely had to kind of make each other laugh, and keep each other’s energy up. So it meant we bonded, for sure. Definitely.”
Hear why Riz Ahmed’s method of acting was the most difficult part of filming Rogue One!
We can all find a Star Wars character to which we can relate, and we all have our favorites. We asked Ahmed about how his character is relatable and how that compares to some of the other characters in the film.
“I’d like to think that he’s quite a relatable character for a lot of people,” Ahmed said about Bodhi. “He’s just an everyman, an average Joe. He finds himself in a crazy situation. He’s not like Cassian, who’s a rebel spy. He’s not like Baze who’s kind of a hardened assassin, or Jyn, who’s this kind of criminal rebel. He’s just a, like a truck driver, basically. You know? And he finds himself in the middle of this crazy intergalactic heist movie. He freaks out a little bit! So I think I’d freak out in that kind of situation. I think most of us would. So hopefully that’s kind of relatable.”
Like Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed didn’t have to prepare much physically for his role, but for an entirely different reason. Yen has an extensive background in martial arts; Ahmed, on the other hand, used Netflix and donuts.
“I mean, I was so muscly, I had to lose weight for… so that Diego didn’t look too bad,” Ahmed said, laughing. “That was the main issue for me. No, I mean, I think the issue really is that my character isn’t a soldier. So he’s not, like, 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. So, my preparation was to get really out of shape. And just kick back.“
“A lot of Netflix and donuts. That was my preparation.” – Riz Ahmed on preparing for Rogue One filming.
Riz Ahmed describes his character as one that is “full of regret,” but noted that Bodhi Rook isn’t the only one that has regrets.
“I think it’s true for a lot of the people in this film,” Ahmed said. “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. They’re trying to make things right; that’s what drives ’em to take big risks and to link up with other people who you’ve got nothing in common with and fight a cause that’s bigger than any one of them. And, you know, it’s about redemption. People trying to make things right for themselves and for people around them.”
The scene that is perhaps most memorable for Riz Ahmed, and one that we’ve actually been able to view, is the moment when we learn where the name of the film comes from. It’s the moment that the call sign of the ship is requested. “Rogue. Rogue One,” Bodhi responds.
It was interesting to learn that this scene was, in fact, not part of the original filming but instead, part of the reshoots that had so many fans concerned about the fate of the film.
“It was the last day of shooting, in the reshoots. Like, the very, very, very last day of shooting. Just kind of last minute. That wasn’t one of the lines that was scheduled for the day or anything. Just last minute, I think, John Swords, one of the producers, like, ‘Oh yeah! Can you do a take when you, when you say this?’ And so it was just, like, a very last minute thing they threw in. It wasn’t, like, I got to read the script and I was like, ‘Yes! I get to name the team!’”
Ahmed told us that some of the film, just like this scene, were scenes that just happened organically.
“It evolved. You know? My character just started out as a totally different character with a different name. With a different job. With a different relationship to the other characters. Comes into the story a different time, and by the end, it was… It was just totally different guy.”
Riz Ahmed is a highly educated man, graduating from Oxford with a degree inPolitics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) and he’s a rapper known as Riz MC. So how does an Oxford graduate and rapper find his way into the Star Wars Universe?
Hear Riz Ahmed share how he landed his Rogue One role, or might have gotten him a restraining order!
So which of the 12 takes proved as a huge pay off for Ahmed?
“He said it was the first one. And he said every take after that made him think, ‘Maybe I don’t want to work with this guy.’ Seemed kind of crazy. Yeah.”
Like many of us, the actors are also fans. Ahmed knew what he was going into when he took the role; the silence surrounding the film, the casting, and, of course, the script. He told us how each actor would have to sign for their script and return it by days end. Some days, they weren’t even allowed a script. There was a website that they had to access to get their lines. He said it was “tense” but definitely worth it to be a part of such a huge legacy.
“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,” Ahmed said with such passion, it’s hard not to see the Star Wars fan in him.
“So this is their childhood dream to be doing this. So if you pick up just any random prop that’s on set, you’ll see they’ve got alien writing on it. And, like, touch screen things, and buttons and dials. And you’re, like, this isn’t even gonna be on camera! You just realize, people just love their job. And they loved being a part of this world and helping create this world.”
See Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook taking down the Empire this Friday when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters.
Thank you to MomStart for providing photos from our interview.