Hello. Nice to meet you.
Hi, you, too.
What's your hobby?
(Lengthy pause) ... I need to get one.
Are you working too much, ya think?
I just work, man, y'know? I like it! I like either acting, or writing my screenplays, or I'm writing a TV series and developing some films. Or if not, I'm recording music, or if not, I'm touring music, and if not one of those I'm doing this.
So, work is your hobby. Though I guess that doesn't really count as a hobby, by definition.
No, no. I need a hobby, though. Do you have any suggestions?
Well, I --
I tried at one point to develop a hobby, by buying a lot of video game consoles and games. But I have no time to invest to play them.
The problem with games right now is that they're like a 200-hour investment.
It really is!
It's ridiculous. I don't have time for that.
They're so immersive! Whereas back in my day, it was like Street Fighter. Dip in and out. Which I did go ahead and buy again, and I'm still ready to challenge you on that one at any time.
I think you'd kick my ass.
I probably would. But other than that? I need a hobby.
I'm trying to think of what my hobby is now, and I don't think I have one. I work a lot, too. In fact, I just had to quit a side job.
Really, why was that?
Well, it just got to be too much. I had no free time. Had to take everything down a notch.
It's hard, y'know?
But I like being busy, I know what you mean by that.
Same. But at some point you have to wonder if being busy isn't a way of (mock dramatic voice) running away from stuff inside, y'know? Or, like, that the restlessness is coming from a place of wanting to avoid stillness. Or maybe not. Maybe we just like to move fast and think fast. I like to think it's the latter, but maybe there's some other issues tied up in there.
I would argue that stillness is great creatively. So you are getting something done.
Right. I have the best ideas when I'm on the plane, or in the shower, when you can't connect to everyone else. So, I think, yeah, there's something to be said for periods of hibernation. I'm gonna take a little holiday after (Rogue One) comes out, which will be a brand-new idea for me.
Yeah? What're you gonna do?
I'm just gonna go to another country and sit on the beach and see my brother and ... y'know what? That's a lie, actually. I have to turn in a screenplay at the end of the month, so.
A working holiday.
I asked Mads this, but when you originally got the offer to do this movie, was there any trepidation on your part about becoming a part of this thing? Y'know, you're part of a huge mythology now. From now on, this is a part of your life.
There was some anxiety. It means a lot to a lot of people, you know a lot of people are gonna see it. You don't usually think that. Usually you think, "Oh, if a lot of people are gonna see it, that's lucky". But you go into this knowing that a lot of people are going to see it and care about it and you better not break it. You gotta do your best work. And then you realize, y'know, you can't really control how things turn out - your performance, let alone the movie itself. It's about trusting the Force, y'know? Putting yourself in other people's hands.
I can be a bit of a control freak. And this movie was a good lesson in sort of riding the wave and rolling with the punches. The story evolved a lot while we were shooting, the script evolved a lot. My character initially had a different name. Was a different person! That evolved a lot. Also, I like to go into crazy amount of prep. I've interviewed people for hours and hours and hours. Like, for The Night Of, I interviewed all these people who'd been in prison. For Nightcrawler, journalists. For this, I mean, how do you interview an Imperial cargo pilot?
You can't. So what you do is you have to commit to the present moment and the things they've built on set and the alien creatures walking past you. Rolling with the punches, riding that ... swimming in the current, is that Taoist thing. So this was a good exercise in that.
It must be astounding to walk onto sets of this magnitude, right?
It was, man. Everything I'd done up to this point was, like, independent movies or The Night Of. Me in small rooms. There weren't armies of Stormtroopers running around on my first day of filming.
What was the most surreal thing you experienced while shooting Rogue One?
That. First day, day one, I turn up and cranes are carrying palm trees and planting them in the ground. Like, they built a desert island for real. Hundreds of Stormtroopers are running around, and half of them are on break with their helmets off having a cigarette or a cup of coffee, talking to each other. That's just weird. And thrilling! You become a bit of a fanboy in that moment and you think, "Oh, wow, I gotta stay in-character".
But again, I realized: roll with those punches. If seeing a Stormtrooper gives you a little bit of an adrenaline spike, or reminds you of your childhood, roll with that. Don't try and shut it out.
I was going to ask you if you would've taken this job for any character, or if you took Rogue One for this particular character. But now there's an interesting wrinkle to that, because you just said that your character changed during filming.
So I guess my question then would be: when you get the call to do Star Wars, is it an immediate yes, or did you want to know more--
It was like, "I'll come and make tea if you want me to. I'll be a Stormtrooper that gets shot in the first ten seconds of the movie! Need someone to hold your coffee? I'm there."
You sign up for the experience, for the privilege of being part of the family. I mean, there's a little kid in all of us who wants to be a part of these stories that we grew up watching.
Sure. I imagine it's just playtime from when you're a kid, writ large.
What'd you enjoy most about working on something of this scale?
Well, I think the biggest difference --
No, no, not necessarily the biggest difference. I wanna know what you liked about it. Is it cushier?
I don't really care so much about that. Most of the things I've done, I haven't even had a trailer. So it's not like I'm used to that, or I need that, really. Although, as I get older...(laughs).
It'd be nice to have a trailer!
Sure, but I'm good at cat-napping. But the thing I liked about it? I like that you know someone put some money behind marketing it, to try and find an audience. Genuinely. So many of the films I've done, I've been like, "I really love this film and I hope it finds an audience." And they didn't have marketing budgets to push it out there and let 'em know it exists. I mean, they did well over time through word of mouth or whatever, films like Shifty or Four Lions or Nightcrawler, they found an audience. But that's a crapshoot.
So, having that anxiety taken away - like, this is something you don't have to worry about! - that's pretty cool. You should never really have to worry about it, but I think that's only human. You don't want to create art in a void. Maybe that's egotistical, but you do want to know that it's being seen. Even if they hate it! So that's a big thing, definitely.
Another thing that's nice is that you've got the time and resources to go back and do things. Because you always do reshoots on every movie, but the bigger the movie, the more budget's been allocated for reshoots. And I like that! I'm obsessive. When Gareth asked me to audition I sent him like twelve audition tapes in three days, until he emailed me and said, "Please stop emailing me" (laughs). So I like the idea of, oh, we get to do that again? I'd love to do that again. It panders to my obsessive compulsive tendencies.
The last thing I want to talk to you about is Nightcrawler.
Nightcrawler was possibly my favorite movie, the year it came out--
Thank you for saying that!
I love Nightcrawler so much. And I just wanna know: in retrospect, what's your takeaway from the experience of making that movie? What do you think of that piece of work?
Wow, yeah, I'm really proud of it. I tend to enjoy things that are not easy to pigeonhole, and I think that one walks a tightrope between horror and kind of a rags-to-riches thing--
And a comedy! It's funny!
Yeah! A horror-comedy-rags-to-riches...
...indictment of the media...
...satire. I like that! Movies like Network. Four Lions is like that, a tragicomedy. Rogue One is similar in a way, because it's Star Wars, but it's also a gritty war movie. It's sort of this chimera, and I like that, maybe because I feel like I personally haven't fit into categories that are neatly laid out. I'm a fan of hybrid stuff. So I'm proud of it on that level. It was intense, making it. I think Dan Gilroy's an amazing writer and director. Jake Gyllenhaal is such a dedicated actor, Rene Russo's amazing and I wish she was in more stuff ... it was awesome. The one downside was I didn't get to see any daylight for six weeks, which literally does something weird to your brain. You become this weird, vampire-like coyote, y'know? But I loved it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens on December 16th. You can read my thoughts on the 30-minutes' worth of footage I previewed from the film here, and you can read my interview with Ahmed's Rogue One co-star, Mads Mikkelsen, here.