I had such an amazing time at Skywalker Ranch and Lucasfilm HQ a little over a week ago viewing some footage from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and interviewing some of the cast and director! I’ve been bringing you new interviews all week and today is Riz Ahmed who plays Bodhi Rook. Riz is also a Golden Globe and SAG award nominee as of this week for the HBO mini-series The Night Of!
The Character of Bodhi Rook
Riz started off the interview by telling us a bit about his character, “My character is called Bodhi Rook. He actually works in the Empire. He’s a cargo pilot. And he’s from this planet called Jedha, which is occupied by the Empire. 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. So he’s a cargo pilot. But 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.”
Audition for Rogue One
“The way I got this role is because, you know, Gareth comes from a British independent filmmaking just like I do. I remember actually, the British Independent Film Awards one year, this film won. Best film, Monster. And I was…who’s that guy…and we’re, like, oh yeah! Some guy who wrote, directed, produced, shot, and did the effect on his movie for like 60 grand. And it’s really good! I was, like, oh! I want to meet that guy one day.
So we were kind of on that same circuit, you know? Of really low budget, British films. So he’d seen my work. So he called me up, asked me to audition. But he made the mistake of giving me his email address. So, I literally emailed him one version of the scene. And then a few hours later, I had another idea, and I sent him another version. And then I did that again. The next morning I didn’t have a reply, so I thought, oh! I should maybe send him some more! And in four days, I sent him 12 takes.
Then he finally emailed me back and he said… Hey Riz. Just wanted to say please don’t email me any more. I’ve got your auditions. Thank you. So I was, like, oh man! I screwed it up! And then he then called me a month later when I assumed I’ve screwed it up, to say yeah, you know. Come and do this. But I was just glad it wasn’t his lawyers calling me…
I guess I can be kind of obsessive with my work. Luckily this time it didn’t cost me a job.”
When asked if Gareth Edwards ever told him which audition tape convinced him, Riz said, “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.”
Becoming Bodhi Rook
“The difficult thing wasn’t so much of, oh my god, I’m in Star Wars, because that was… In a way, that was a joyous thing. That was something that was exciting and makes you want to, you know, work really hard. If you love a job that’s not a bad thing. The thing that was difficult is when I’m playing a character, I like to try and interview people who are close to that character…
So when I was doing The Night Of, I went to visit Riker’s Island prison or I interviewed lots of people that been to prison, and spent time in high schools in the Bronx and interviewed people for hours. But you can’t interview anyone who’s an Imperial cargo pilot. So I didn’t know what to do. That’s confusing! You don’t really know where the reference points are, where starting points are. In the end I realized that the reference point is the world that is around you. When you turn up on set and they’ve built these mountains and space ships, and there’s alien creatures walking past you…the preparation doesn’t have to be in your head. It’s right there in front of you. And you just have to soak it up. So that was quite a big exercise in, in letting go when I can be a bit of a preparation freak. You know?”
Bodhi is a Relatable Character
“I’d like to think that he’s quite a relatable character for a lot of people. He’s just an every man, and, you know, 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 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.”
Three Words to Describe Bodhi
When asked three words to describe his character, Riz said, “Full of regret.”
“That was deep! I think it’s true for a lot of the people in this film. 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. And they’re trying to make things right. And that’s what drives ’em to take big risks. And to link up with other people who you’ve got nothing in common with, really, to try and fight a cause that’s bigger than any one of them. It’s about redemption. People trying to make things right for themselves and for people around them.”
When sharing what he wants people to take away from his character, Riz shared, “I think I want them to understand that even normal people can make big contributions. You might think that someone else is gonna stand up for what you believe in. But actually, at some point, it’s on you to stand up for what you believe in. Try and make a contribution for what you think is right.”
Bodhi Names the Team
“In a trailer for the movie, you see that Bodhi essentially names the gang “Rogue One”. Riz told us more about the scene, “It was the last day of shooting in the reshoots. So this is 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. And just last minute, one of the producers says,oh yeah! Can you do a take when you say this? So it was just a very last minute thing they threw in.
It wasn’t like I got to read the script. I was, like, yes! I get to name the team! It just happened…It’s really interesting, a lot of the film is kinda took shape like that. It evolved. 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.
I think that’s kind of cool, you know? When you do these big movies, there’s a lot of people think that it’s maybe quite stiff and everything has to be planned out beforehand. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite, at least with these guys. They’re willing to move around as much as they have to to make things work, to make ’em as good as they can be. So it’s interesting. It was kind of organic, yeah.”
“We kind of ended up spending a lot of time together because it’s quite an ensemble film and story. So it’s really about this kind of gang, you know. It’s about myself and K-2SO, and Cassian and Jy and Baze and Chirrut. We’re like this little troop. We spent a lot of time together closed off into, like, sweaty space ships. We got to kind of keep each other alive and awake, and we just would cracked 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.”
Is there a difference between a big budget film and an independent film?
“It’s a lot of differences in terms of scale. You know, I remember turning up on the first day of shooting, and cranes were carrying palm trees, and inserting them into the ground. We were in a field in Buckinghamshire. You know, in England. It’s like two hundred stormtroopers stood around taking a break with their helmets off, just talking to each other. And everything about that is surreal.
It’s like the stuff you kind of play acted as a kid. There’s loads of things that are different. It’s remarkable how much is the same in terms of just being surrounded by a bunch of people who really care about their work, and they’re just working really hard. 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.
So this is their childhood dream to be doing this. If you pick up any random prop on set, you’ll see they’ve got alien writing on it, touch screen things, and buttons and dials. And you’re like, this isn’t even gonna be on camera! The shot’s that way! You just realize, people just love their job. And they loved being a part of this world and helping create this world. So that sense of going above and beyond, that was almost felt like being on an indy film.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters on December 16th! Watch the trailer below and don’t forget to grab your tickets for it now!
Disclosure: Thanks so much to Disney for bringing me out to San Francisco for the event. All thoughts and opinions are my own.