Sunday, September 17, 2006

transcript: ahmad razvi

a lot of times i'm happy with what i do. most interviews i walk away kicking myself when i'm listening to them a few days later, or transcribing i stop and say, "motherfucker, i should've followed this with..."
but not so much with Ahmad Razvi who stars (and steals much scenery) in Man Push Cart. The published article is here. I don't have a lot of what Ahmad had to say, specifically his experience at the Venice Film Festival, where MPC premiered. As always, I'm grateful when anyone takes the time to sit down and talk with some punk-ass kid who can barely put a sentence together.

Other fun fact: this was a phone interview, right after i was talking to MPC's director (Ramin Bahrani). Our office was having construction done on it. Lord knows why, since the WSN is about as modern as the Betamax. Halfway through the interview, the construction guy comes through the ceiling of the arts' office with his drill. It sounded like Satan was ready to take my horrid fucking soul and play swordfishtrombone with my spine.

some stuff's omitted or my questions are just dumbed down for the sake of me speeding through the transcript. then again, no one reads this except for me and whoever googled "space docking."

--for the background noise, apparently my office is being renovated today. So it’s kind of fun.
Oh yeah?

Yeah, it’s kind of fun.

So, first I should ask you: how does it feel to almost be Adrien Brody?

Oh my god, are you kidding me

And you’re also 99 years old and living in Brooklyn.
You checked the MySpace, that’s cool. No, man, it’s amazing. It’s the first time I’ve done something—I’m looking forward to doing something more and more. I’m very excited about the second project we just finished with Ramin, and I’m just looking forward and everything to try and move on to better and bigger things, you know?

I know the title isn’t final, but how was “Iron Triangle,” your second feature.
It was more challenging, because it was a totally different role compared to what Man Push Cart was, which I think actually was easier because Man Push Cart I hardly spoke in the movie. And I think it’s a hard and difficult thing to do—at least from what Ramin was telling me, he said it’s a more difficult role to play being silent and expressing; and this one there’s much more lines and more expression, physically and emotionally in the “Iron Triangle.” But I think Man Push Cart was a lot harder than this one; there was a lot of physical experiences in this movie with another person in contact, physical contact. It made it more exciting, but I think the next film was a lot more difficult.

Ramin says you both met at your family’s pastry shop.
Yeah, I had a restaurant and I opened it in 2002--no, 2001 of August. I just made this restaurant; I built it with my own hands. I’m an interior design contractor since I was 17, 18. I grew up with so many odd jobs in my life: I had a paperboy route at the age of 12. Since then I had been working and doing various oddjobs. At 18 I quit college, I couldn’t afford to go there so I started doing work, work, more—I started a construction company at the age of 19, I had 25 guys working for me. Since then I kept on continuing to learn more about interior design contracting, and done a lot of commercial spaces, penthouses and things like that. Residential spaces. We’ve done so many businesses and we’re very family oriented, so I built my own house, my dad’s house, I built his store, I built my brother’s store, COPO—an organization where my other brother takes care of…--when I built the restaurant I put a lot of design into it. And at that same time, 9/11 happened-- “wshew,” it just went down the next month and I couldn’t afford to do anything. I ha converted it and put more money into it, and made it a more 24 hour restaurant, then the pastry shop. First it was just a coffee shop. And I did that, then Ramin walks inside in 2003; he comes in, I serve him coffee and some food and we become friends. A year and a half later in our friendship, he’s said, “Ahmad, here’s the script. I want you to act in it.” I went, “whoa.” I said you’re kidding me. I read the script and everything, it said Ahmad is the lead actor. [laughin] I was like laughing and excited, we did the trailer, we were very sure then, with 500 dollars[?] in two days. It lead off from there. It was just amazing, an amazing experience. He knew I never acted. I think that’s what it is: a year and a half, he just wanted to see what type of person that I am and our friendship lasted and grew. He was testing me is what he tells me now.

An interesting way for a screen test.
[laughs] Yeah it was man, “did that really happen?” [laughs]

He said you had 3 days of pure hell dragging that cart up and down midtown.
Oh my God, holy shit—excuse me, but it’s like a 1000 pounds maybe, that’s the capacity of stands tall, like nine feet. It’s nine by six by four . It’s steel and everything. I pull that cart in rain, in the coldest weather in New York City and everything. There’s this one scene where I did pass out because I was pulling the cart so many times. Oh my God, I just lost my energy, I lost everything, I lost control of it. I fell, and I’m about to get run over by the I remembered saying that no matter what happened you just gotta keep doing what you’re doing and never get out of character. And all I could think about was if the goddamn cart hits that sidewalk, its gonna topple over and that’s it, it’s gone. Movie’s gone, it’s finished. Oh my god, man, I run to save it. My life flashed by me, man! Like every incident in my life flashed by me when I was about to get run over by the taxi as well. It doesn’t look like it, but that’s what happened to me. As soon as I come out pulling this cart and saving it, I did not speak to ramin. I fainted right there, there was like four guys waiting for me to pass off camera. There was four guys waiting to carry me and hold the cart down cause it was coming at such speed cause I was just pulling it; and I fainted. I didn’t speak to ramin for four days

How far were you dragging ? On camera, it looked like a three blocks, but I imagine it was further than that.
It’s actually—it was a turn coming around the corner, and continuing for three blocks. We would just keep on going and going and going until we found—if the first block wasn’t good enough, then the second. I would say about four or five blocks, then repeat it everytime. I would say between three and five blocks that I was pulling this cart.

Did anyone actually come up to order food?
Of course many times when we were on the street, of course. Even when we were at the day location, I would be serving people on a normal basis as well. They would come and buy and I’d be like, “all right, this is my money guys.” Get a tip or whatever, and pocket it. I would serve the food, coffee and donuts to the whole crew. So…

You really were like a, well not a fictional--but the character of Ahmad, a true factotum.
I was trying to be. Reading the script and going over with Ramin for over a year and a half, from the day he told me about the script, since then we rewrote it. I helped him to rewrite the script, cause we would go over the story so many times. I think it had embedded in my mind about what this character is and who he’s supposed to be. In the beginning he was supposed to be an Afghanistani push cart vendor, then when he became an Iranian, when changed the script, and named “Ahmad” it became the Pakistani guy. It’s like doing everything for the film—I practically did everything. I helped him to write the script as well as the storylines, we would talk about it everyday. We would go and get locations, we would go to warehouses and see these cart vendors. I would go at 4 o’clock in the morning. At some point—in early--when I was going through the phase of different odd jobs and surviving, and supporting family and things like that. I was a push cart vendor myself for a very short period of time. I remember things, but that was like 10 years ago. Going back, and going to warehouses, is like riding a bicycle, you never forget it.

Ramin talked about an interesting style of filming, just trained the camera on you and gave you an direction once in a while.
Yeah, you know what was amazing? I had no clue about it, but then later on he had explained it to me. That this is one of the most difficult, artistic way of shooting a film, because it’s not “Cut, cut, cut. Hi, how are you? Yes, I’m fine. Where have you been? Oh, I was just working.” There’s no ‘cut’ scenes in there where a camera cuts every five seconds or dialogue. It was more like panned out in a five-minute thing, that looked like a natural thing. That’s what really I learned a lot from experiencing shooting it that way, it was a continuous four/five minute scene where you have to have perfect timing and lighting and wording and dialogue; and your partner, or the other actor has to have the same thing. I was checking myself out doing it throughout the whole thing and I was like, “wow, this is a very difficult thing.” like, It’s like a live performance of theater, or Broadway show, that you’re doing. Which is why it’s so difficult with what we’re doing, otherwise there would be two or three other cameras—besides that we can’t afford it—but that’s what it would be, and we’d be shooting at the same time and we wouldn’t have to “cut, cut, cut.” It took us a lot--This one scene took 12 hours to do, which is this four or five minute scene; and if that wasn’t complete or good enough, we’ would come back again and shoot again. In the beginning before we even started filming, Ramin and I, Michael Simmonds, “Elliot Nicholas”—the assistant director—and “Mohammed,” Charles Daniel Sandoval. Before we got him actually, we would go to a location and I would rehearse where “Elliot Nicholas” would play the “Mohammed” role and Leticia Dolera’s role. And we would rehearse for two months to do those scenes and pan it and check it out, this looks good, this looks good. It was a very difficult way of acting. I’ve seen movies and I don’t remember such long, panned out scenes. It was beautiful.

Did you have any inspiration in doing this? I’ve heard about the “don’t be fuckin’ Brando.”
[laughs] those type of inspirations, but c’mon. this was my first time doing it, I was so excited. I was trying to be really “Joe Cool” and stuff, my friends were hanging out and stuff. The first scene was a bar scene where the boy shows his scar in his stomach. That’s actually a true story, that’s my friend. When Ramin and I became friends and started sharing our friendship, he incorporated some stories of my friends into this Ahmad character. And that’s what made it feel a little bit more comfortable; those are my friends. That boy was really true, the story really happened. Instead of running to this guy Jay’s house, he ran to my house. And my brother took him to the hospital. For example the cat scene is also a true story. There’s a few things inside that are somewhat similar and true to my life, just acted out and everything. I think having that and Ramin telling me what to do, because of not going to any acting school or theater or class or any sort of experience, it was like me going to the first day of class, or first class of acting, and Ramin was the professor who just told me what he wanted. Of course in the beginning I was WAY too Bollywood because that’s what I’ve seen, those movies
I’m supposed to be a rock star, which is something I always wanted to do from an early age. But I never had the opportunity, or chance or way to follow up; I’m a damn bathroom singer, I could never be a rock and roll singer.

Thought it was funny that everything you’re about to sing, you always get interrupted.
[laughs] in the first commercial, trailer we made, the 500 dllars one, I actually start singing in it. Which is really bad cause we went to a karaoke bar, and I was like “AHHH” we were just having fun doing it.

Is that the trailer on the DVD? I didn’t see it, I shouldn’t say it…I’ve seen the film.
When did you see the film?

Yesterday. They sent me a copy.
You gotta watch it in the theater, I think you should watch it a second time around . It’s so much better

Movies in theaters and movies on your laptop are extremely different. I forget who the critic was, but he said sitting in the movie theater, you have that sense of inclosure, and you’re attention is solely focused on the screen.
And your imagination sparks and starts wondering—yeah, the theater is amazing, I love it. I love going to theaters to watch movies.

Do you have a favorite theater in New York?
Yeah, I do, the Union Square theater on 14th and Broadway. I go in there watching blockbuster movies, I’ve been to the Angelika a couple of times.


sorry about that. You were saying, favorite theater.
Now it is Angelika cause I’ve been there a couple times and checked out some art movies. Since I made Man Push Cart, the cinematographer—Michael Simmonds—and Ramin they’re saying now I have to get more into the indie films to learn and understand and see and get educated on it. I’ve been going to Angelika theater, and just learning and watching films; renting out from Kim’s video just to see different styles of it instead of just bang bang, boom boom blockbuster movies.

Any recent favs from Angelika?
I went to see Water by Deepa Mehta which I think was a great film, wow. The storyline and everything, and something similar I think to the way Man Push Cart was done; because it’s very minimum dialogue with the lead actors. I loved it, it was a great film. I’ve seen her other films before as well, but I really liked this film as well. It’s probably one of my favorites, from all her movies I’ve seen so far, [like] Fire. I’m also watching “Cho Sha Shen,” he’s also a director; and “Boris Kurosemi”, I’m beginning to watch his films. I’m rying to get educated into this whole world of indie films.

Have you thought about acting classes or a workshop?
I wanted to, but others have told me [they] don’t think [I] should. If [you] do do it, [I] might spoil something [I] already know what to do and how to do it. [I] might not be able to do that. Then again, some others have said [they] think [I] should go for it, because it will just enhance and [I] can tune [my] talent or skill maybe more and faster. What I did was I went to take improv classes at the PIT—People’s Improv Theater on 29th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenue. I took level one classes, which was a really good intro to improv. It was a great experience, it was really cool just coming out there doing what you want to do. It becomes a little funny, and just goof around and get comfortable with yourself. The actors, it was like a 13, 12 people class. It was a really good experience that I had. Of course, I didn’t finish the whole level, because I had to trael to come back and forth for film festivals. I missed half of it; I cut out of school, man! [laughs]

On that, which college did you go to?
Queens College. Let’s see…18…that would be, two, ten…fifteen years ago. So, ’91. It was in ’91 I went to college and I didn’t have the money for it, I couldn’t afford to do it. So I went to my dad, who is a businessman. Since the age of 14 my dad’s been working. He’s a self made man. When I first came to America, my dad didn’t have a palce to stay. He owned a small business, He just came to America in 1979. I slept in my dad’s kitchen, we slept in my dad’s kitchen for the first couple of weeks until he had enough money to go on. I remember the struggles going on in life. I remember when we couldn’t afford to I had to do something, I was a paperboy at the age of 12. I had a paperboy route, I did this,I did that. Very odd jobs. When I made a construction company at the age of 18, I realized this is what I need to do. I always wanted to go to school and college and continue, I wanted to become a lawyer. Obviously that didn’t go through. That’s it. What I really wanted to do—I think, to today, I one day want to go back and continue and follow. But circumstances are changing, with lifestyle and everything. Maybe I’m a little bit too old to go back to college, but it’s never too old for education. Maybe one day I will have the means and time for it.

You said your lifestyle is, I don’t know, but I assume it’s very different—you said you’ve been around to the different festivals. How does it feel to be watching this story on screen, what with your friend the cat—which killed me, by the way.
That’s a true story, going to the vetenarian, picking the cat up and hearing my—you know, the is my uncle and he told me, “this is everyday, man. Just put it in a garbage bag and toss it inside the garbage truck or garbage can. That’s it, you’re done.” I was like, my God, are you kidding me? I was devastated. It was the first time I had a pet, I actually got it from my friend. I felt really bad about it. I was like, “this can’t be true. This can’t be it.” I’m a very sensitive man, I’m a very sensitive guy. I grew up with so much struggles in my life and experience in my family. A lot of pain and hurt, but that really bothered me a lot. Me seeing myself on that screen, I think I could’ve done maybe if not 10, 100 times better. I could’ve done a better job.

Have you been recognized around yet? I know it doesn’t come around till next Friday, but it’s been successful…
Yeha, I just was in EW. My friends, my family and everything. I’m a very down-to-earth kind of guy. I run this organization where I help kids, post-9/11 we made this organization COPO--Council of Peoples Organization[sic], where after 9/11 my community was being destroyed and I’d be pained and this and that. Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi Muslims living in Brooklyn—and Midwood—and we made this organization to help people. Now when people know I’m walking down the street in my neighborhood, they known me from day one because of who we are and making this organization. There have been some times where I’ve gone to a club and somebody South Asian or somebody in the indie industry recognizes me from a distance and they come up to me and say, “You’re the guy from Man Push Cart right?” and I’m like, “yeeah…” I’m like yeah, man, thanks.
Very few—[it’s] more of my friends recognizing me than I guess me walking down a street or anything like that. I’m not that popular guy right now, I don’t know if I will be. It’s a great experience, it’s cool. It still hasn’t changed me at all. I still continue to volunteer at my organization. I still put on my construction boots, like today I have to go put up sheet rock and start painting walls and everything, because that’s my work, my job that’s what I do. I’m not going to give that up because this is something that I like to do. Same THING with volunteering in the organization, I teach kids how to become more empowered and stronger mentally, physically. I teach them how to play basketball, I used to be a great, great player in high school. I was starting in the junior varsity teams as well, I’m still there with my community.

Were you still working in the construction business while filming MPC?
Yes I was, I was still filming , construction, doing that. I still had owned the restaurant. But I put all those things away for a month and a half actually to make this film happen, just cut everything off. Had my managers running the restaurant, my construction company my partner was taking care of it. Still today I have my construction company, but I sold the restaurant. And I didn’t know where we were going to go, we went to Venice the next year in 2005. I sold the restaurant in January 2005, and I was going to concentrate work more on construction and found out we’re going to Venice and London and this and that—whoa, it was very exciting. Going to Venice and being there, it turns out it was just unbelievable. The president of the Venice Film Festival watches the movie, and I’m so nervous. Everybody’s there; It’s like a 900 capacity theater and it’s full, it’s sold out, the first time we’re screening it. I hide a couple of beers in my pocket [laughs] and a pack of cigarettes. I sit all the way at the right end,the back, in the corner by myself in the reserve seats so I had four seats to myself. So I sat there away from everybody watching for the first time on the big screen, and I’m huffing and puffing and drinking throughout the whole thing and I’m like, “Aww, aww! This is so good, this is so good!” I walk out, there’s like empty bottles of Heineken [?] and cigarette butts on the floor. I walk out and people are like, “Hey, you’re the guy from Man Push Cart!” I’m like, whoa. I’m shocked, nervous and everything. They’re like, “please can I get your autograph?” I’m like, holy shit. And then the president of the film festival was like, “this was an unbelievable great excellent film. I loved it, I loved it.” He spoke Italian, he spoke Italian and French; he had a translator that would walk with us throughout the entire day, and take me around everywhere introducing me. He made a live show on AI TV, a Europe station, and he did a live interview. He was like, “if I was a judge, you guyswould have won.” We were an official selection instead of being in competition. So it was amazing, from there it just lead on to London and winning these awards and everything; when we went to Merrakesh I was nominated for best actor in Merrakesh Film Festival, and my competition is Daniel Day Lewis. I was like, “Whoa!Are you kidding me, [he’s] like my hero. He’s one of the greatest artists or actors I could ever think about.” I see him standing in the awards ceremony. I was like wow, I cannot believe…Of course I was so nervous and I went to say hi to him, I said congratulations he had won the best actor award—just to be in that presence and someone saying you’re nominated, what more do I want? I don’t need anymore than what has just happened to me.

What are you working on next? I heard you have a brief role in a comedy.
In an upcoming comedy? Yeah, I did Trainwreck with todd Williams and Michael Simmonds is a cinematographer in it. I got a small scene, I’m supposed to be a repo man doing a small scene with Gretchen Mol. It’s supposed to be a good comedy and everything, it’s still in the process and everything. That was a good experience too, totally different experience from Man Push Cart. [MPC] was a small crew, this was like 50 people while you’re acting. Totally something different and knew. It was an amazing experience to work with these Hollywood stars.

You are still 31…?
No, no that was a mistake. I was born Nov. 1 1972. I am 33 years old.
[A segment in Interview Magazine lists him as 31 years old. So, sucks for them.]

You asked me something. You told me something that really surprised me. You asked me how it felt to be the next Adrien Brody?

the "adrien brody" thing was something ramin told me. he claims that a producer (who remains nameless) said he'd finance MPC if he rewrote the part for Adrian Brody. Ramin said no, kept Ahmad. I brought this up to him at the beginning of the interview. I don't include the answer just for the simple fact of i didn't have time to write it into the transcript and I already questioned the response. he's damn good in MPC and better than Brody, if you ask me.
then again, no one gives a good goddamn about a punk-ass kid from hot chocolate city.

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