Cast in attendance included John Turturro, Riz Ahmed, Ariya Ghahramani, Michael K. Williams, Afton Williamson, Sofia Black D’Elia and J. D. Williams. Co-creators Steve Zaillian and Richard Price participated in a post screening conversation. The eight-part must see television event, which premieres on July 10 at 9 p.m., delves into the intricate story of a murder case in New York City. The story examines the police investigation, the legal proceedings and the criminal justice system. Read our exclusive cast interviews below:
Congratulations on the project. How did you first get involved?
Riz Ahmed: I was sent a script which I read, I thought it was amazing. I was totally ignorant. I didn’t even know who’d written it. I was reading it and I was like, “Man, whoever has written this, they got a great future ahead of them.” Then I realized it’s Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, so obviously it’s two of the greatest writers of all time which made sense. It was an amazing script really and I had taped for it and lucky that Steve responded to my taping.
Speak about the journey that your character takes and a little bit about him.
RA: My character is a college kid from Jackson Heights, Queens. I spent a lot of time up in that community to research this role. What happens is a night out for Nazir Khan takes an unexpected turn. He finds himself in police custody and the whole show really is an examination of what happened that night and what happens to that character after that night, when he’s in police custody. Then, finds himself in the cogs of the criminal justice system.
Was it challenging for you to do this over four years and revisit the character?
RA: It was actually, yeah. I’m not going to lie. It was a really challenging project for that reason and many other reasons. I think we all kind of felt a sense of responsibility as well about tackling a theme that affects so many lives. I think we all just wanted to do our best. You’re working with great actors, working for HBO, everyone just wants to do their best. Over like six or seven months when you’re doing that, it’s tough. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but I really hope that people respond to what we’ve done.
Can you speak about working with John Turturro?
RA: I love John. I wish John was my relative or something and I could just go hang with him. I want him to be like my older cousin or uncle or something. He’s just full of amazing advice and wisdom. The cool thing about him, I feel like all his advice is kind of wrapped up in metaphors about cooking food or dancing. He’s kind of like a Yoda, is how I describe him.
Tell me what attracted you to this project.
John Turturro: It was brilliantly written. It’s rare to get an opportunity to be in something that all the characters were so well written so it was a big opportunity. To work with Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, those are two of the best writers out there. Steve was indefatigable as far as his attention to detail. Then I had other people help me illuminate the whole criminal justice system. I had a nice amount of time to prepare, it was a real full experience.
Speak about working with Riz and what makes him so great.
JT: Riz is excellent. He’s a young actor but he’s very dedicated. I think you see him grow within the course of it. There were times he was frustrated because his character was really kind of young … Steve kind of kept a lid on him on purpose. Then you see him change. It was a challenge for him to go through all of that just like it would have been if he was really going through all of that. I think he did a wonderful job and we have a very nice relationship. We really got along really well and it was natural. I think it served us in the piece.
What do you love about the miniseries medium?
JT: I love it because it’s much more like a novel. I’ve been in many adaptations of novels and there’s always the things that you love that never make it. We don’t usually make three hour movies and it’s always so condensed. You don’t have time to explore a character. In this case it was just almost a perfect length. You wouldn’t want it to be longer. Each one was like a little movie. Just nine hours and it really builds to I think a terrific ending.
Tell me about the role you play.
Afton Williamson: My character is police officer Cassandra Wiggins. I am a newbie. Pretty much we just got into the precinct and we’re just really fresh. We’re rookies. Me and Maldonado was my partner. I see this kid and I think he’s a drunk driver and I pull this kid over. It turns into this entire miniseries.
Speak about working with Riz.
AW: I’ve been on this series for four years. In the pilot, I’m 28, 29 and 30, because we had to pick up so many times and so many things happened. I’ve been working with Riz for four years. It’s insane. He came back with muscles last year and we were like, “Dude!” It’s kind of like we all grew up together, you know? We all wanted this to happen so I call it the little pilot that couldn’t because every time we thought it was going to come out, it didn’t. This is a blessing to have finished it and then to have Steve be there from the beginning. It’s such an honor.
Why is this an important story?
AW: I think that the fact that we start from backwards to forwards, the fact that it was already a huge hit with British TV. The fact that we took it and changed something. The fact that we’ve come through so many different characters and people — we lost a cast member and we put it on pause. The fact that we still all came back with the same original people and with new people. It’s amazing and I think it’s a story that needs to be told because it is an amazing drama. I think it’s extremely well written and extremely, pristinely directed. The acting is insane, and not saying myself. I’ve never seen any of it, so this is the first time. Working with these people, I can tell you. Riz, from John Turturro, from his brother. Everybody I’ve worked with has been a blessing and a dream.
Tell us a little bit about the role you’re playing.
Ben Shenkman: I play Sargent Klein. He’s the desk Sargent at the precinct, where the young man played by Riz Ahmed is brought in to the station house. Where he sits very suspense-fully waiting to see what his fate is going to be for most of the first hour of the show, and the second hour of the show too. I’m part of the system.
Speak about working with Riz.
BS: I’d never met him before. This is now three and a half years ago. You could tell that the whole thing hinged on the audience being in his shoes, it only hinged on his performance. Putting the audience in that terrifying place of being at the mercy of the system, which if it functions just in a boiler plate, careless way is going to ruin the rest of his life. If it functions at its highest levels, it stands a chance of exonerating him. Obviously now after “Making a Murderer” people are particularly sensitized to how at the mercy an innocent person can quickly become or maybe innocent, maybe not, but at how dependent we are on the system functioning well. To see that handled in a scripted way, with a level of film making that this was handled at, is exciting. I think it is going to be, despite the familiarity of the genre, a new experience for the audience.
Speak about working with Steve.
BS: Well that goes along with what I was just saying before about the level of filmmaking. When you hear you’re going to do a TV series, that sets a certain expectations if you’re an actor who worked in TV series before about the pace, how things are going to be handled. The creative process in general. How many chefs there’s going to be in the kitchen. This was totally unlike that. This was for all intensive purposes an eight hour feature. An eight hour feature with a visionary director, who had complete creative control. Who was absolutely methodical and single minded about the pursuit of his vision. That translates to something on screen that doesn’t look necessarily like television.
What do you love about the miniseries medium?
BS: Well I think it is the chance to take a single story that could really probably be done, maybe as a two hour feature but to do it in a way with a novel’s level of detail, nuance and depth. I think it’s interesting how TV has evolved. We’ve gotten to the point now where people are excited about dipping into a story for eight hours rather than two hours. It’s not more for the sake of more. There is something that can be added but it does take someone who knows how to make the most of that opportunity, of that amount of time. I think Steve’s one of those people.
Tell me a little bit about the role you play.
J. D. Williams: I play Trevor Williams. He may or may not be a witness and he may or may not know something. We’ll all figure that out as the season goes on. People want to ask him questions. He’s not very cooperative. I think he’s going to be a very relatable character.
SM: How is it to be a part of the HBO family?
JDW: I’ve been with HBO for almost twenty years. I started on “Oz.” I worked on “The Wire.” Now here we are doing this. Like I’ve said before, HBO is quality controlled. Just the fact of being able to work with them and be here, stay employed by them, lets me know that I’m a certain caliber of actor. I really appreciate that and I cherish that. It lets me know I’m on point.