2016 was the year Riz Ahmed went from cool, critically acclaimed actor to bona fide star. Ahmed has appeared in big-budget Hollywood franchise films from Star Wars: Rogue One to Jason Bourne, hit TV series including The Night Of (for which he along with the show got a slew of SAG nominations) and your new holiday obsession, The OA, and of course, we can’t forget his music as part of the hip-hop duo Swet Shop Boys with rapper Heems. Now that the year is wrapping up and Ahmed just looked at pictures of Darth Vader and Luke that he drew when he was 7 years old, he’s understandably getting a little verklempt. “I was reimagining these characters ‘when they got old,’ reshaping their world, and nothing about that seemed weird. But somehow in the years between then and when i [sic] myself ‘got old,’ the constant message that someone like me couldn’t ever belong, or shape the world around them, had taken hold,” Ahmed wrote on Instagram. “Finally, at that point I stopped doing and making things to prove myself to others, and started doing things for my younger self.” That kid must be pretty damn proud.
As I was walking off Jimmy Fallon’s tafter doing a little freestyle rap, he leaned in and said “dude, you’re in the #1album & #1 film in the country!” I fell silent, nodded and grinned like he had mistaken me for someone else, but it was too awkward to correct him…a few days later I was told The Good Immigrant was voted the UK’s book of the year, I got these award nominations for The Night Of, and Swet Shop Boys made a load of ‘best of the year’ lists. None of this felt real. Now I’m back home I just saw these pictures I drew at age 7 of Darth Vader & Luke, after watching Empire Strikes Back. I was reimagining these characters ‘when they got old’, reshaping their world, and nothing about that seemed weird. But somehow in the years between then and when i myself ‘got old’, the constant message that someone like me couldn’t ever belong, or shape the world around them, had taken hold. I had no road map or template to follow in trying to prove those messages wrong. I started believing them. Only a year ago, for various reasons, I wasn’t sure I could carry on doing this. I had a realisation through some really tough moments that we have no control in this life. And it got me down, but then, seeing no other way forwards, I had to embrace this helplessness, and through it, rediscover a sense of childishness, and of play. Finally, at that point I stopped doing and making things to prove myself to others, and started doing things for my younger self. The work I have been a part of for the last 11years in film and music, including this year from Englistan, The Night Of, Swet Shop Boys, The Good Immigrant, Star Wars, Bourne, to the OA - I have been privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants. I cannot be more grateful to those who have allowed me to be a part of their vision and those who were kind enough to watch, listen, read, and notice. It’s been a crazy ride and I hope I can continue to justify your support. I’m incredibly grateful for this moment in time. Walking off Jimmy’s chat show that night, I felt about as cool as I did in this photo age 7. But the best part of it wasn’t feeling cool, it was feeling like a kid. Keep your inner child alive. Keep dreaming.