Riz Ahmed plays Malick, a father on the edge in Encounter. He’s just returned home to the American southwest after his tenth tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he’s on a secret mission. He feels like an outsider, unappreciated by the people he fought to defend even as he’s keenly aware of a deadly new virus and an imminent alien invasion. Malick acts fast, kidnapping his two sons (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) from his disbelieving ex-wife, stockpiling food, guns and ammo in his truck and fleeing to safety – wherever that is. Events spin out of control on the road, and what we’ve come to believe may not be true. Ahmed spoke about the rapidly changing realities within Encounter. What She Said’ Anne Brodie reports.
Riz Ahmed – In many ways the film reflects what’s been happening these past two years. The lockdown, isolation, fear of infection, society teetering on the edge of collapse, that’s how it felt character pushed me out of my comfort zone. The transformation of this character from Marcus to Malick, why he feels like an outsider, unwanted and unaccepted in a country he’s helped defend. His encounters with law enforcement wouldn’t go smoothly, people think the worst of him, he’s mistrusted, layers were there because it’s a beautiful script. A lot of people think it’s a genre movie, but I think it is more grounded and pressing, it’s about Michael. a single dad, returning army veteran.. own … set meu with marines, spend months interviewing marines and veterans, a lot of training. what I found was that the people defending our countries often look more diverse than the version we see on the screen. Indigenous populations, African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims.. that made me feel we’re not mixing it up to be hot take. No, this is real and we don’t see enough of it. Particularly heartbreaking this becomes, returning home to your country and it doesn’t want you.
Your character’s young children were coping with this strange situation, this man they barely knew.
Don’t work with kids or animals. It’s not that they’re difficult, they’re just better than you! I never played a dad before, how do I do it? Well, that’s what his character feels. And he hasn’t been around for years, he doesn’t know how to be a dad, he has no real clue.
How were the children protected on the set and in terms of the adult storyline?
In terms of being protected, there was no graphic violence or sexual things. They were 8 and 11 they got it. They understood the story and twists and turns. The set is safe and fun and they go do their school work. Good times! There was intense material but we had fun, and the darker the material, the more fun you have to find, that connection and diffuse that. We had a sweet bond, all of us, able to help each other through the emotional things. In Toronto, details with the giant sheet. I just want a rematch.. going at it with the sheets, you can’t get anything past that kid, he’s gonna run.
Encounter’s surprising twists and turns are pretty jawdropping.
It’s like am I seeing back to front, or is the world on back to front? There is a constant misconception about what’s happening, and you have new ideas a couple of times before the end. I love films that keep you guessing, what kind of film is this? I love the fact you’re guessing.
You have a facility with accents, Malick’s American but his accent’s very specific.
I did work with a coach but ended up using recordings. Hassam Tarick from Houston created something for me to listen to, with a cadence and accent and what they’re saying. Michael Caine said about acting, never use another accent because you’ll use too much bandwidth. I almost always use different accents. If I’m calling my wife, I’ll drop the accent, but around the cast and crew around the while shoot, I just stayed in that accent the whole time. The best way is to be not too aware of it. But in acting, it’s a gift, for communicating and for your body of work
Encounter debuts on Prime Video Dec 10