Alessandro Sartori’s Ten People To Meet: Actor and MC Riz Ahmed
La Famiglia. Like hygge or flâneur, it’s an untranslatable word whose meaning extends to a cultural phenomenon dedicated to its country’s origin. Yes, la Famiglia is a family. It’s also the name of a Tuscan restaurant in southwest London. But it also describes the notion of warmth and kindness only reserved for people closest to you. As a brand, Ermenegildo Zegna embody that greater meaning of family. They are a third-generation, family-owned business, while their artistic director, Alessandro Sartori, first fell in love with the craft through his mother’s tailoring atelier. For the third issue of 10+, though, we decided to focus on Sartori’s creative family – actors, artists, a chef, a musician, an art director and a show producer. All extraordinary, all so Zegna.
You don’t need to be a film freak to know how successful Riz Ahmed is. You might be a total Warsie and know him as the rebellious pilot Bodhi Rook. Or you’re a Lena Dunham superfan who remembers him as the sexually free surfer dude Paul-Louis. And even if you’ve never been to the cinema or watched television, you’ll know Riz MC, once a BBC Introducing artist who played Glastonbury in 2007, and who has two rap albums on Spotify, iTunes or wherever else you stream your music. You also might recognise his dreamy, dark brown eyes if you studied at Oxford University at the same time as him (he graduated in 2001 with a degree in PPE). All in all, he’s a pretty impressive human being, with more talents than most of us could ever dream of having.
Born and raised in London’s Wembley area, Ahmed first dabbled in music during his teens. At the peak of jungle and hip-hop emerging from the underground and into the mainstream, Ahmed began freestyle rapping and using his musical talents to further political discourse in the UK. His first single, Post 9/11 Blues, tackled an easy, playful melody with lyrics that commented on Muslim representation in the media at the time: “On the telly nothin but the post 9/11 news / War, Iraq, suicide bombs / Stop hogging the limelight / And make some room for my songs!”
However, it’s his first acting role in Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo that Ahmed describes as his most defining moment. “I left drama school early to take the job and start my career. It showed me that I could be an actor and still engage in the issues that mattered to me,” he says. Being first-generation British of Pakistani descent, Ahmed enjoyed rising fame that has proved a point in conversations of Islamic representation in the media, about which he openly speaks in his activist work. Named after the actor and inspired by his speech at the House of Commons in 2017, the Riz Test was created by Dr Sadia Habib and Shaf Choud as a measuring tool to highlight and combat the stereotyping of Muslims in films and on television.
Described by Sartori as “a wonderful transformist”, Ahmed has truly put a stamp on the industry through blockbuster franchises including Star Wars, Marvel Comics and Jason Bourne, as well as indie classics including Shifty and Nightcrawler. And when it comes to attending premieres for all of his projects, Ahmed mostly goes for immaculate modern tailoring courtesy of Ermenegildo Zegna, as styled by friend of Ten Towers Julie Ragolia. At age 37, he’s got an Emmy, an upcoming role as the main protagonist in an adaptation of Hamlet and our hearts in his hands. Nothing is rotten in the state of Riz Ahmed.
Dino Bonacic: Who is the most inspiring man for you?
Riz Ahmed: I always looked up to Mos Def, growing up. A true artist, musician, actor. Unafraid to be vulnerable and take risks.
DB: What’s the best thing that has happened to you while wearing a Zegna suit?
RA: My first time at the Oscars was in a Zegna tuxedo. I got to meet Jackie Chan – I can die happy now.
DB: When did you first feel like a man?
RA: When I beat my brother at basketball. I think that maybe happened once!
DB: What is the key to being successful?
RA: Redefining your ideas of success to be something that is in tune with your values and your gut, not guided by others.
DB: What’s the thing you most admire about Alessandro Sartori?
RA: His commitment to cutting-edge style hasn’t stopped him from engaging meaningfully in sustainability and other ethical conversations in his work.
DB: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
RA: To remember that the way you do anything is the way you do everything.
DB: What film do you wish you had been able to star in?
RA: Raging Bull.
Photograph by Sharif Hamza, Collage by Patrick Waugh. Issue 3 of 10+ – ENDURING, MOTION, GRACE – is OUT NOW and available to order here.