On Sunday [July 10] HBO’s latest limited series The Night Of will debut. The creators of this eight-part mini-series are Richard Price (writer on The Wire) and Steven Zaillian (writer of Schindler’s List, American Gangster, Gangs of New York).
UK actor/rapper Riz Ahmed plays Naz, a Pakistani-American student from Jackson Heights, Queens. His father is a cab driver and he lives in a loving home. One night, a player that Naz tutors on the school basketball team invites him to party with them in the city. Desperate to be accepted and hang with the cool kids, he borrows his father’s cab without permission and heads to Manhattan.
He ends up getting lost and because he doesn’t know how to turn the cab’s service light off, a mysterious girl named Andrea (Sofia Black-D’Elia) hops in his cab hoping to be driven to the beach. Naz is instantly attracted to her. He bails on his party plans, they hang by the water and then he drives her home. They end up having a sex and drug fueled evening, but when he wakes up, she is dead. She has been gruesomely murdered. Naz is eventually apprehended, but swears he didn’t commit the murder.
John Turturro plays his lawyer. The Night Of delves into the intricacies of a complex murder case with cultural and political overtones in a post-9/11 New York City. Naz is Muslim and his family experiences Islamophobia in the aftermath of the murder. Audiences get to see the police investigation, the legal proceedings, the criminal justice system and Rikers Island. Michael K. Williams plays an inmate at Rikers who takes a liking to Naz and offers him protection.
Ahmed, who is probably best known for Mira Nair‘s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, starring alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler and co-starring with Frieda Pinto in Trishna, is getting a lot of buzz for his performance. He can next be seen in Jason Bourne and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He spoke with Variety about his preparation and what attracted him to the role:
I thought it’s just very unflinchingly authentic, very uncompromising in its authenticity, really, in its detail. A lot of people talk about the wider themes of it and whether it’s the criminal justice system, or Islamophobia, but I have to say I think that the intention of the writers is to just tell a compelling story. Tell it authentically with detail, and a lot of those themes just emerge organically because the writing’s so real. When the writing for something is real, then it can’t help but reflect back some of the themes that are around us in day-to-day life. I just loved it. It just felt very nuanced. They just bring you into a world.
I went to Rikers Island, and that was a real eye opener. I went to high schools in the Bronx and in Queens. Spent time in Jackson Heights. I did some workshops and conducted some interviews at a South Asian youth charity in New York called SAYA. I spoke to those people that’d been in the prison system, lots of defense attorneys, NGOs that support families of people who are in prison. I just wanted to get help because there’s just a process of osmosis that takes place from just thinking about that stuff a lot. Also, I sometimes happened upon someone whose accent just feels like it connects to where I want to be at, so then I start listening to those recordings to kind of find a way in.
Be sure to tune in on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. It is can’t miss TV.