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Q&A: Riz Ahmed chats 'Four Lions'

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Four Lions

Optimum Releasing

The UK's foremost satirist Chris Morris made his movie debut earlier this year with comedy Four Lions, about a group of inept terrorists planning an attack on London. It naturally courted controversy, perhaps overshadowing the fact that it's a piercingly funny and moving film. With the DVD and Blu-ray hitting shelves this week, we caught up with Riz to discuss all things Four Lions.

When Chris Morris approached you for this film was it an instant "yes"?
"On one level it is, from a gut instinct level it is. Chris Morris is a genius, super-intelligent, I knew him quite well at that point. Leading up to his offer of a role, we'd been meeting up every couple of months for about three years talking about everything and nothing, touching on the subject of what the script was about. I trusted him, knew he was a genius, thought he was hilarious and it was the perfect content for a script. I guess there's a little whisper in your head saying, 'Could this all go the wrong way?'. As soon as you read the script, there's really no question because it's just a very human comedy. Any preconceptions or anxieties people have about the nature of the comedy immediately evaporates once they watch the film."

Was it a bit frustrating having to defend the movie? The press seemed to be focusing on the controversial subject matter and overlooking the comedic and emotional elements of the film?
"You see journalists doing the job they're paid to do. I guess it's a no-brainer they're going to ask that question. You don't really need to do much spin doctorey maneuvers to diffuse it because you're just telling them it's not a comedy about terrorism, it's a comedy about terrorists. It's about four or five in particular who happen to be human beings... It's not the more boring, pompous, indulgently controversial film that maybe journalists want it to be. It's something more universal. It's not a film about politics, it's a film about plonkers."

Did you and the three other guys spend a lot of time together to bond before filming?
"We met up a lot for rehearsals, Chris works in quite a fluid way and he brings us in to read the text that he'd written up with Sam [Bain] and Jesse [Armstrong] then lets us go off piste a little bit. He'd lead and guide the improvisation then harvest that back into the script. I'd worked with Arsher Ali before on Britz, but the rest of us didn't really know each other at all. We got quite close during filming because we were all put up in this slightly depressing, claustrophobic student halls in the middle of a building site in Sheffield town centre. We developed cabin fever living in each other's pockets. We took on a group dynamic that wasn't too dissimilar to the one on-screen - ranting, arguing and taking the p*ss out of each other!"

Does that mean Kayvan really does have a problem with Mini Babybels?
"Yeah, and he keeps going on about the fact that he improvised that line - I think he still wants his Blue Peter badge for that one! Kayvan has a problem with a lot of things, mainly remaining silent for more than three seconds! That injected a manic energy into everything. It was such a wildly different bunch of guys, Kayvan just talks non-stop, utter s**t, in as many different voices as he can. He has the attention span of a butterfly! Nigel is quite theatrical and Arsher is purely method. I talk to myself a lot, it was quite a surreal scene of us all clumped around a park bench just mumbling, ranting and poking each other before going on set. It was a lot of fun, though, we've all stayed friends."

Did you get to pick the Honey Monster costume or was that forced upon you?
"No, that was Chris. A lot of the footage you have of the Honey Monster running is actually Warp Films producer Mark Herbert. He's running around because I was unavailable that day. That's actually Mark running, and it's the weakest part of my performance. That's Mark's fault!"

What can we see you in next?
"I'm just filming at the moment a film directed by Ben Drew, Plan B, it's being shot by Gary Shaw from Moon. It's quite a bold and edgy script and it's a role I don't think I've really played before, that's really a super-low-budget film with quite an exciting team. After that I'm going to be shooting a film (Black Thirst) directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, I'm going to play Tahar Rahim's brother. Antonio Banderas is playing our dad and Frieda Pinto's playing my sister. It's all one big happy family with a French accent, an English accent, a Spanish accent and an Indian accent. We'll shoot for mid-Mediterranean somewhere!"

Four Lions is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.

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