In the political drama "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," Changez (Riz Ahmed) transitions from a financial hotshot in 2001 New York to a man suspected of being a terrorist in 2011 Lahore, Pakistan. Kate Hudson plays Erica, an artist who offers Changez a (romantic) respite from an America that continually closes in around him.
On the surface, Hudson ("Bride Wars"), 34, and actor/rapper Ahmed ("Four Lions"), 30, might not seem to have much in common. Yet part of the point of "Fundamentalist" is the importance of looking beyond surface appearances. By phone from New York, the co-stars talked about what brought them together.
You have very different filmographies. What's something you did to find common ground?
Riz Ahmed: We've both worked with Michael Winterbottom. [Ahmed in "Trishna," Hudson in "The Killer Inside Me."] They're quite different films, but we're both big fans of Michael and what he does and the ways in which he allows you to [work] freely and find your characters. Which is something that ["Fundamentalist" director Mira Nair] does as well to be honest. She creates a safe--nurturing is the right word for it--a nurturing atmosphere which allows you to play and find things. She leads yoga every morning a half-hour before we start filming.
Kate Hudson: Michael Winterbottom is definitely not doing that. [Laughs]
RA: So it's a really "we're all in it together" atmosphere on the set. It was a really difficult film to get made--a film made against the odds. And no one's in this for money, dude. It was like super low-budget. Everyone did it because they were passionate about it. Actually, that is a common ground for everyone. It's a starting point. It's like, "OK, you chose to be here as well and tell a story that's difficult to tell in the current film financing climate." And after that, we obviously connected over Biggie Smalls and hip-hop and stuff.
Kate, I didn't know you were such a big Biggie fan?
KH: Biggie Biggie Biggie. I grew up in the '90s [on the] west coast, so for me rap was a big part of the fabric of my life. [Laughs] I have brothers, and it started with me being very young and hearing rap music blaring from the bedroom from across from me, but I do, I love rap music.
On Riz's track "Post-9/11 Blues" as Riz MC, he said, "If I hadn't shaved, they wouldn't sit near me on the bus." Lo and behold, Changez experiences that. It still applies today.
RA: "Post-9/11 Blues" is a satirical track, so I wouldn't take it that seriously. [Laughs] It's something that just keeps coming up time and again--it's how we view what we don't understand and how we reduce things. That's what me and Kate were saying: Fundamentalism in our very nature is about reducing things down to their labels.
KH: [It's about] black and white. Linguistically, the word alone--it takes anything, when you're dealing with fundamentals, takes any human connection out of it. It's dealing with the black and white of it, and within that there's no room for empathizing or understanding of human suffering or consequences in terms of human suffering.
Kate, when looking at the films you've made in the last decade, this could be seen as an anomaly. How does your preparation change on "Fundamentalist" compared to "Something Borrowed"?
KH: Interestingly enough, because I'm a very honest person and I like to answer things honestly, I approach everything very similarly. Whether it be comedy or straight-through, down-the-line drama with complex, layered characters, I think that I try to put as much layers into comedy as I do into how I attack a drama. I find comedy quite challenging because you can't really manipulate it. Either you're funny or it's not.
How much do you reflect on what you've done and how it's turned out?
KH: I think that if everybody had a crystal ball, they'd probably look into the crystal ball and want to make all the perfect choices. Then again, I put my best foot forward, I work with people that intrigue me, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. I have to say, growing up in the industry and watching my parents and their friends, if you're choosing to be an actor, you are probably choosing the most high-risk, tumultuous job you could get into. If you are going to depend on success every step of the way, then you're fooling yourself.
On a lighter note, the movie takes a look at things that get extreme feelings out of people. What's something that gets you worked up on a day to day basis?
RA: Running out of phone battery! All the time! I always do that!
KH: I would say iPad more for me.
RA: And I refuse to carry one of those massive battery packs for my phone because it's like carrying a brick in your pocket.
On racial profiling: "This does resonate with me because I've experienced some of this stuff first-hand. And I think that's a reality [for] a lot of people who look like me or a lot of young black men as well in different ways and different contexts--maybe when driving their car, you get pulled over, you get stopped and you go through that dehumanizing experience. I feel like the whole theme of people reducing other people to the other rather than engaging with them as human beings, that's a timeless theme." (RA)
What they think of when people talk about Chicago: "I love Chicago. I did some shows there in 2008 with my music, and this place called Sonotheque, it's not too far from Wicker Park. Am I making that up? I'm not sure. I love it over there. A lot of soul, a lot of history and lots of different scenes that you can get into. It kind of reminds me of Manchester in the UK in a weird way. It's kind of got its own orbit and its own crowd history and culture." (RA) "Yeah, ditto. I spent a lot of time in Chicago. Every time I'm there I go right to Gibson's, I get myself a really good steak and this Macadamia Nut ice cream pie that I just dream about all the time. I love the music scene in Chicago as well. I think the music scene is really amazing." (KH)
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