Riz Ahmed scored a worthy Oscar nomination earlier this year in Sound Of Metal as a heavy metal drummer stricken with hearing loss, and in the latest film by Beast director Michael Pearce he shows even more range. In Amazon’s Encounter he stars a Marine who sets out on a secret mission to save his two pre-teen sons (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) from a mysterious alien threat. Octavia Spencer and Rory Cochrane also star, and Pearce directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Joe Barton.
Speaking to Deadline’s Joe Utichi, Pearce explained that Encounter shares a great deal of DNA with his 2017 debut. “I wanted to continue what I started with Beast,” he said, “which was to take an antihero and do a sympathetic portrait of them by putting them inside a story engine that was amplified by genre. So I was reading a lot of scripts to see what could tick that box, and there weren’t that many. Then I came across Joe Barton’s script, and I really related to the family dynamic. I grew up with a younger brother, and for a lot of my childhood I had a single father who was in the army. So I really knew what those guys were going through, because when we were the same ages as the characters in the film, we went through a crisis, or series of crises, and we had to navigate through that as a family.”
Asked about the casting, Pearce acknowledged that Ahmed was always going to be a key element of the film’s success. “The film plays with some cosmic themes,” he explained, “but I knew that the main spectacle of the film had to be the performances. And so when Riz got hold of the script and pitched for it, it was a lightbulb moment — I just thought, ‘I could buy him as a Marine.’ He’s got that laser focus. He’s a sweet guy, but there’s also a toughness that he hides, but it’s there. A kind of grit and fortitude.”
Ahmed had praise for both his director and his co-stars: “As Michael said, there aren’t a lot scripts that walk their line between character portrait and genre piece, but there aren’t a lot of directors that can walk that line either, and he did it with such command in Beast. I mean, he’s not exaggerating when he says I pitched for it – I stalked him!”
“The movie is a road trip,” he concluded, “and I think for all of us, it was a journey – by the end of the film, we felt like a family, we really did. They say never work with kids and animals, and I thought it was because, they can’t concentrate. It’s not – it’s because they’re better than you! It’s career-ending. Don’t work with kids: they smash it! [These kids] are amazing, and they’ll go on to have tremendous careers if they want it.”
Check out the panel video above.