‘Sound of Metal’ Star, Riz Ahmed on His Transformation into a Drummer Losing His Hearing

Sound of Metal tells the story of a heavy metal drummer named Ruben (Riz Ahmed) struggling with addiction and beginning to lose his hearing. That changes his life in a huge way. Olivia Cooke from Ready Player One plays Lou in the movie, who is in a relationship with him.

Ahmed had to transform in more ways than one to star in the drama. Showbiz Cheat Sheet talked to him about his process at the movie’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 6. This is how he turned into the troubled drummer.

Riz Ahmed in 'Sound of Metal'
Riz Ahmed in ‘Sound of Metal’ | Courtesy of TIFF

Riz Ahmed followed a band to prepare for the role

The actor didn’t just take drumming lessons to prepare to play Ruben. He also got close to a real drummer to further understand the lifestyle.

“I just kind of spent a lot of a long time hanging out with people on an intimate level,” Ahmed told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “Just you know connecting with them emotionally, learning about their lives and their journeys. And a band that was really essential to my preparation was Surfbort.”

He continued, “And Sean [Powell] the drummer from Surfbort was just like really special human being, covered in tattoos head to toe and really shared his journey with me. And I’m grateful for that.”

When asked if he modeled the physicality of his character after an artists, Ahmed revealed his approach. “At least for me personally I don’t think too consciously about how I should move,” the actor answered. “You just kind of try and put yourself in a place where the world moves you in a certain way.”

He sometimes couldn’t hear himself speak to portray losing his hearing

Ruben loses his hearing, and the actor went great lengths to get that journey as realistic as possible. He learned to sign for months, and wore ear pieces that created white noise so he couldn’t hear his own voice while performing.

His preparation also involved getting help from the deaf community, and those behind the movie made sure there were actors in the project that were in the community themselves. They were able to give feedback during the process according to Chelsea Lee, who plays Jenn in the movie.

“It was an introduction in a new way of being,” Ahmed explained. “A new way of connecting and communicating. I was privileged to get a glimpse of the beauty and the richness of deaf culture and the signing community. I was lucky to be welcomed in by that community during the course of making this movie.”

He continued, “And you know it’s interesting when you sign you can’t hide behind words. You have to express with your whole body so it actually ends up being a much more emotive experience I find than communicating through words in a mask of words. So I was grateful for that and that was really enriching for me.”

Sound of Metal premiered on Sept. 6 in Canada. It’s unknown when it will be released elsewhere.