The Night Of star Riz Ahmed wrote about his troubling experiences both in acting auditions and in airports for a powerful piece that will be published as part of the The Good Immigrant, a collection of essays about race in the U.K. that was excerpted on The Guardian’s website Thursday.
Ahmed, who is appearing in upcoming Star Wars spinoff Rogue One, started by talking about being “handed a necklace of labels to hang around your neck, neither of your choosing nor making, both constricting and decorative.”
“Part of the reason I became an actor was the promise that I might be able to help stretch these necklaces,” he wrote, “and that the teenage version of myself might breathe a little easier as a result.”
He goes on to explain how he began professionally acting after 9/11, when he avoided being cast as “the two-dimensional stereotype — the minicab driver/terrorist/cornershop owner” and instead tried to nab roles that focused on “taking place on ‘ethnic’ terrain but aiming to challenge existing stereotypes.” One of those films was 2006’s The Road to Guantánamo, which went on to win an award at the Berlin International Film Festival. After the fest, though, Ahmed was detained at the airport, something that would continue to happen again and again.
“In the end, I was always let in, so these airport auditions were technically a success,” Ahmed wrote. “But they involved the experience of being typecast, and when that happens enough, you internalize the role written for you by others. Now, like an over-eager method actor, I was struggling to break character.”
Things have slightly changed for Ahmed since, but he admits his “isn’t a success story.” “These days it’s likely that no one resembles me in the waiting room for an acting audition, and the same is true of everyone being waved through with me at US immigration,” he wrote. “In both spaces, my exception proves the rule.”
Read the full essay here.