Riz Ahmed on the appeal of ‘The Highwaymen’

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage Riz Ahmed has made it his mission to bring the bravery and triumph of global heroes to a mainstream audience. The British actor — best known for his roles in both the…

Riz Ahmed on the appeal of ‘The Highwaymen’

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Riz Ahmed has made it his mission to bring the bravery and triumph of global heroes to a mainstream audience. The British actor — best known for his roles in both the Night Of and Girls — first made waves with 2017’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Then, just a year later, Ahmed starred in his directorial debut, The Night Of, as a Londoner wrongly accused of murder. And now, the star brings the adventure to your home in Amazon’s miniseries adaptation of David Guterson’s bestselling novel series, Encounter.

Based on Guterson’s best-selling debut novel, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin and Ahmed’s own company, Riz Ahmed Presents The Highwaymen (known for its inspiration from 1969’s The Highwaymen), Encounter takes place in the aftermath of the Iraq War, and follows two characters who are at the center of that war: Dana, an Army officer with PTSD, and William, a post-traumatic stress disorder amputee who runs through Iraq with William, in a wheelchair, on his back. Consistently haunted by their experiences, the two are pulled into the bizarre story of David Fenton, a Marine rescue pilot who served two tours in Iraq and died in an airplane crash. When the U.S. military announces it will be taking possession of Fenton’s remains for a space station at some point in the future, the men begin plotting to get the body home.

Unwilling to go alone in the mission, Dana eventually asks William to sign on for the mission and joins forces with him. “You don’t need a co-pilot,” William says to Dana. “You can just plan it yourself.” The stakes become more tangible when an unknown bioterrorist is unleashed. Led by David Fenton’s captor, Elena Robles, the rogue group of Marines forces Dana and William to go on a deadly odyssey through Iraq in order to get Fenton’s body. And — as you’d expect — such a high-stakes mission would be dangerous for the men, who lack experience and training. “At its heart, Fenton is a great love story,” Ahmed told Inc. Magazine earlier this year. “A dangerous love story. But that love doesn’t just arise out of a political or social situation, it comes through who you are.”

The actor spoke to us about how he approached the story and what he learned about character development in the process of creating the drama.

“Sometimes it’s so hard to find words,” Ahmed told us. “Writing is so much more intimidating than acting. I think that’s part of why someone with no experience in writing might write a novel — to start asking himself, ‘What am I trying to say? What am I trying to encapsulate here?’ ”

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What did the role of William mean to you? What did you learn about character development from the process of adapting David Guterson’s original novel?

Riz Ahmed: I think first and foremost, it was about bringing something that David already did in the novel to life. It was one of those projects where your first read, when you read the book, it’s almost what you hoped it would be. It’s full of the things I’m thinking of doing. [Guterson] connected with that. And I think he connected with that on my part as well. He said one thing I always ask myself when I make a casting decision — that I never worry about the challenges as much as the challenge as a project to make. I’m not worried about it being someone you haven’t seen before; I’m not worried about whether they have a great range. It’s how will we pull it off, what do we do to get that person to try the stuff they didn’t want to do because they didn’t know how to do it? Those things are both things I think about, and that’s what it came down to with the casting, which is very rarely something that makes

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