Slumdog Millionaire stormed the 81st Academy Awards after critics hailed it as one of the most heartwarming experiences of the year. According to Riz Ahmed, however, the audition process for the movie was anything but.
Before he rose to prominence opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the 2014 thriller Nightcrawler and in last year’s beloved HBO miniseries The Night Of, the actor and recording artist cut his teeth in audition rooms, reading sides for directors like Danny Boyle, who ultimately passed on hiring the London native for a major part in his 2008 Best Picture-winning drama, after a particularly intense encounter during the casting process.
“Danny Boyle, if you’ve met him, is the world’s nicest guy. He made me audition for the role that Dev [Patel] ended up playing so wonderfully well, but he was like, you’re not right for that, play his brother, who’s got a bit more edge and is kind of a rough guy,” Ahmed told The Handmaid’s Tale actress Elisabeth Moss as part of Variety‘s latest “Actors on Actors” special. “I did this scene where I’m shouting at Danny, Danny’s playing the other character… and Danny says, ‘You know what, Riz, you can do whatever you want! You can get up in my face.”
Recalling himself feeling “all g’ed up” ahead of the performance, Ahmed then recounted what happened after Boyle called action.
“Before you know it, I’ve got Danny Boyle up against the wall. I’m like, screaming in his face, spitting in his face, and I’ve ripped his shirt. I’ve ripped the seams of his shirt, so I’m spitting into Danny Boyle’s naked chest,” he said. “[Danny] looks at me and goes, ‘Okay, cut. Alright Riz, thanks a lot for coming in.’ The thing is, I walked out of that audition going, ‘I nailed that. I was so into that. I could feel my passion.'”
On a modest budget of $15 million, Slumdog Millionaire — about a young Indian boy who reflects on his life as he competes on his country’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? — went on to gross nearly $400 million worldwide and launched the careers of Patel and Freida Pinto in addition to scoring eight Oscar trophies.
Watch Ahmed discuss the embarrassing moment in the video above. The full interview airs June 13 on PBS SoCal.