Riz Ahmed has said he is “certainly not” representing the deaf community in his Oscar-nominated role in new film Sound Of Metal.
The Rogue One star plays a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing in the critically acclaimed film, which is in the running for six Academy Awards including best picture and best actor, and features a number of deaf performers.
Ahmed, 38, said the director Darius Marder wanted to cast an actor who comes from hearing culture in the lead role of Ruben because that is the experience of the character.
He told the PA news agency: “I’m certainly not representing the deaf community, or representing the deaf experience.
“I question whether anyone can represent the deaf experience. It’s one that’s very rich and has multifaceted diversity and has many different experiences within it.
“I think the deaf community and deaf characters represent themselves in the film as individuals, and do so authentically – often with improvisation.
“They bring a lot of things to the table and to the screen that we actually haven’t seen before on screen. So, I’m privileged and proud to be a part of that.
“But that’s something that deaf people do for themselves. They don’t need me, as a hearing person, to represent them. I couldn’t, if I tried.
“My character is a hearing character, he’s a character from hearing culture, and he experiences deaf culture for the first time in the film.
“And so, in order to portray that authentically, Darius wanted to cast a hearing actor who’s from hearing culture, who is experiencing deaf culture for the first time, just in the same way as Ruben is.
“Everyone in the film who’s from hearing culture is played by someone from hearing culture, and everyone in the film from deaf culture is played by someone from deaf culture.
“So, the film is actually incredibly authentic in that sense and was trying to portray that blending of worlds that Ruben experiences authentically by having someone like me play him.”
Ahmed, who is also a rapper known by his stage name Riz MC, learned to play the drums and speak American Sign Language for the role and said the experience of spending long periods of time in silence inspired his performance.
He said: “I didn’t think too much about how big a shift that would be going into it.
“Once you’re in the role, you realise that you go long periods – days sometimes – in filming without really saying much.
“I’m used to being someone who can be a bit wordy, with my poetry, spoken word and all that kind of stuff, and it was definitely a shift. But I think it’s one that really informs the character, because the character also feels that he’s got this restlessness in him that he’s bursting to get out.
“I also think that having verbal communication taken away from me really made me understand what true communication and true listening is, and I think the deaf community taught me that listening is something you do with your whole body.
“It’s not just something you do with your ears, and that communication is something that often words can conceal, and the true communication is when you embody viscerally what you’re saying.
“And with American Sign Language, where you’re signing with your whole body and you’re so expressive, that, I think, can often be a more connected and deeper kind of communication than verbal communication.
“So I think, in silence, I learned more about what listening and communication really can be.”
Sound of Metal is on Amazon Prime Video from April 12 and will be in cinemas from May 17.