Since our exclusive interviews with the cast of Rogue One at Lucasfilm headquarters, Riz Ahmed has been nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG award. How cool is that? Today I am sharing what I learned from him about his character Bodhi Rook and what it was like to film a Star Wars movie!
Who is Bodhi Rook
My character is called Bodhi Rook and he actually works in the Empire. He’s a cargo pilot. He’s from this planet called Jedha which is occupied by the Empire. And so he’s just trying to earn a living with 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. You know, 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.
3 words to describe Bodhi
Full of regret.
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 pasts 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.
Bonding on the set of Rogue One
We 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. It’s about myself, K-2SO, Cassian, Jyn, Baze, and Chirrut. We’re like this little troop. We spent a lot of time together closed off into sweaty space ships. And we got to kind of keep each other alive, and awake, and we just cracked a lot of jokes. We definitely had to make each other laugh, and keep each other’s energy up. So it meant we bonded, for sure.
Why he wanted to interview Imperial Cargo Pilots
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 and I interviewed lots of people that have 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. None of them wanted to speak to me. 😉
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 a quite a big exercise in letting go when I can be a bit of a preparation freak.
Bhodi being the Average Joe of Rogue One
I’d like to think that he’s quite a relatable character for a lot of people. He’s just an everyman and average Joe. He’s in a really… He finds himself in a crazy situation. He’s not like Cassian, who’s a rebel spy. He’s not like Baze who’s a hardened assassin or Jyn who’s this kind of criminal rebel. He’s just a like a truck driver, basically. 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.
Average Joe Physical Training
I was so muscly, I had to lose weight so that Diego didn’t look too bad. 😉 That was the main issue for me. No, I think the issue really is that my character isn’t a soldier. So he’s not super physically fit. He needs to look like when he’s running through a war zone with a 50-kilo backpack on him, he’s out of breath, and it’s difficult. So my preparation was to get really out of shape. And just kick back. A lot of Netflix and donuts. That was my preparation. 🙂
Naming the team ROGUE ONE
It was the last day of shooting, in the reshoots. So this is the very, very last day of shooting. And just kind of last minute. That wasn’t one of the lines scheduled for the day or anything. And it just last minute I think John Swartz, one of the producers (said) 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 and I was, like, yes, I get to name the team! It just happened. It’s really interesting, a lot of the film kinda took shape like that, it evolved.
The evolution of his character
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 at a different time, and by the end, it was just a totally different guy. And 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. And to make ’em as good as they can be. So it’s interesting, it was kind of organic.
How an Oxford graduate becomes a Star Wars actor
It’s a lot of groveling, a lot of begging. 😉 The way I got this role is funnily enough because Gareth comes from British independent filmmaking. Just like I do. I remember actually at the British Independent Film Awards one year, was it 2012? This film (Monsters) won best film, or something. I was like what is this film? Who’s that guy? He’s a VFX guy who’s wrote, directed, produced, shot, and did the VFX on his movie and made it for 60 grand. And it’s really good! I was, like gosh! 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.
His 12 different audition takes
So he’d (Gareth) seen my work and he called me up and 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.
And 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, come and do this. But I was just glad it wasn’t his lawyers calling me take out a restraining order. I guess I can be kind of obsessive with, with my work. And, luckily this time it didn’t cost me a job.
Indie vs. a Star Wars film
It’s a lot of differences in terms of scale. 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 in England. It‘s (seeing) a hundred, two hundred stormtroopers stand 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. So 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. So if you pick up just any random prop that’s on set, they’ve got alien writing on it. And touch screen things, and buttons and dials. And you’re, like this isn’t even gonna be on camera! Like, the shot’s that way. And 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 almost felt like being on an indy film.
The secrecy of the script
It’s interesting in a way because with Rogue One, there was a lot more that was revealed to the public in advance of the film coming out than there was for Force Awakens. (With) Force Awakens, because you’re dealing with a familiar kind of storyline, which is the Luke Skywalker kind of saga, they wanted to keep the details under wraps. But with this (Rogue One) it’s new characters, it’s a new kind of storyline. So they want to educate people about it. So, apart from spoilers in the movie they want you guys to know that I defect from the Empire. I’m an Imperial cargo pilot. They want you to understand who these different characters are to some extent. So I don’t think it’s as intense as, as it was for Force awakens. But what was intense is they didn’t even give us scripts. We had to log into an online website to read our scripts, and
But what was intense is they didn’t even give us scripts. We had to log into an online website to read our scripts, and then, finally, I think Felicity was, like, dude, this is ridiculous. I need a script on set. So they gave us all scripts. But at the end of each day, we had to give back the day’s pages. And they had to collect them. You had to sign for them, like here’s your day’s pages. You’re like, okay, cool. Usually, I’m on the set just doing origami with my pages. No, you got to give it back. And if you didn’t get it back, then they’d put Darth Vader on you. 😉
What he wants the audience to take away from his role in Rogue One
I think I want them to understand that even normal people can make big contributions. And 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 and try and make a contribution for what you think is right.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY OPENS IN THEATERS ON DECEMBER 16TH!
Disney hosted me during the #RogueOneEvent press event. As always, all opinions, and experiences are my own.