Riz Ahmed Reflects On Transformative ‘Sound of Metal’ Experience



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Sound of Metal features Riz Ahmed as Ruben, a punk-metal drummer whose dramatic hearing loss leads him to check into a sober house for the deaf. Ahmed’s locked in and inspired work is one of this year’s finest performances, and expect his name to be mentioned come awards season. My video interview with Ahmed is in the post.

SOUND OF METAL Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Directed by Darius Marder (he co-penned the film with brother Abraham Marder), Sound of Metal is receiving its share of accolades thanks to its insightful and uncompromising storytelling. Apologies for my Zoom video having a slight lag at moments, as there was a slight connection problem during the chat.

That said, connection is what Sound of Metal is all about. The feature, which also features engaged work from Olivia Cooke (she plays Ruben’s bandmate and girlfriend), should receive a healthy share of supporters once it hits theaters November 20. Sound of Metal receives a wider release December 4 when it debuts on Prime Video.

SOUND OF METAL Courtesy of Amazon Studios

You have said in previous interviews that this was a transformative experience which allowed you to be yourself. What was the process for you in regard to playing Ruben?

It is tricky but I always feel like the journey the character goes on, the actor goes on as well, whether you realize it or not.

For me, I was thinking that Ruben had this different life than me. He’s had such a different life to this point and he’s had such a different experience in the movie. How am I going to close that distance? There was some distance to close by learning how to play the drums and learning sign language for much of the year. All that technical stuff.

And speaking to people in deaf community and immersing myself in the punk scene and all that kind of stuff. But the more I did that prep, the more I realized, underneath it all, there is a core of humanity that we all share. The way to inhabit Ruben and bring him to life was to bring more of myself to the character and not bring more of the character to myself if that makes sense.

It’s funny because that is also the realization Ruben has. Ruben starts off this movie saying “I’m this kind of guy. I’m a guy who plays the drums and is in a relationship. I’m not this kind of guy who lives in a sober house in the deaf community and is single.”

Over the course of the movie, he starts to realize all that stuff is just circumstantial. That is not the core of who you are, and maybe sometimes when you switch up those circumstances you actually don’t lose your identity; you get closer to finding out who you really are underneath it all.

In a way, for both me and Ruben, I think having to transform our identities in this story kind of maybe brings us closer to who we are.

What was it like for you to community and connect with members of the deaf community? I am sure that is hard to put into words.

It was a privilege and an honor to be welcomed into the deaf community by Jeremy Stone, my instructor and by Shaheem (Sanchez) and Chelsea (Lee) and all the deaf cast. It was joy to be able to connect and communicate with sign. I actually felt I was sometimes more connected to what i was saying in signing than I would be when I was using words.

Jeremy said, ‘It’s because hearing people hide behind words. When you communicate with your body, you’re inhabiting and embodying everything you are saying in a different (and) visceral way. Whereas words, you can just hide behind them.”

And so I feel like it was a joy and connect and make friends in the deaf community but also the way in which were connectiving felt like it’s something that will stay with me. It’s something that I will think about; am I really connecting to what I’m saying or really connecting to this person, you know?

Sound of Metal is an overpowering experience. Can you name a movie that has resonated in the same manner with you?

A movie that really jumps out at me is The Thin Red Line because it is about how we can find beauty amidst the chaos and it’s about who we can find transcendence in tragedy and I think that is similar to what Sound of Metal is saying in a way. So I hope people who watch this and watch Ruben’s struggle actually walk away feeling more emboldened with their own struggles.”

Sound of Metal hits theatres November 20 and Prime Video on December 4. 

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