Riz Ahmed: the HBO Star Who Got Seriously Jacked in Jail

Riz Ahmed in 'The Night Of'
Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

“It’s been a tough year, man,” says Riz Ahmed said when we spoke to him in September of 2016.

“Bowie, Prince, Brexit, the American presidential election, Iraq…” Frankly, I’d expected the 33-year-old actor and rapper to instead list the many blessings 2016 has conferred on him: roles in two major franchise films (Jason Bourne and December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) a critically admired album (“Englistan,” about the complexities of being a British Muslim), and a smash-hit HBO series, The Night Of.

But not that he doesn’t appreciate how transformational this year—particularly The Night Of—has been, both for his career and for his body.

To grow from a scrawny, naive Queens kid into a Rikers-hardened badass over the course of the eight-episode season, Ahmed worked with trainer Ben Glassman of The Lab in New York. “I switched from metabolic conditioning workouts—with a ketogenic diet to burn fat and get really trim into big compound lifts and almost no cardio,” says Ahmed.

He also relied on yoga and Pilates to maintain good posture and avoid injury while training six days a week, often after a full day’s shoot.

As for mental fitness? “The Headspace [meditation] app that Andy Puddicombe developed,” says Ahmed. “It’s a really effective tool not just for relaxation but also focus.” To tune out everything that’s going on in his life—and in the world.

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