Legal drama The Night Of questions whether justice for all really exists after all

What starts as a perfect night out ends in torment for a Pakistani-American student accused of murder in HBO’s latest drama, The Night Of.

British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed plays a Pakistani-American student who gets arrested for the murder of a young women in The Night Of. Craig Blankenhorn / HBO / OSN
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College kids like to party, but for Pakistani-American student Nasir “Naz” Khan, a quiet youngster who lives with his parents in the New York borough of Queens, attending a bash in Manhattan proves his undoing when he is arrested for the murder of a young woman.

How a perfect night out spins into a nightmare, and the painful repercussions involving race and bigotry that ensue for a young man caught up in the warped gears of American justice, are at the heart of The Night Of, an eight-part thriller from HBO that begins on OSN on July 11.

Its stars veteran Italian-American actor John Turturro, 59, and British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed, 33, who you might recognise from his role as the panicky car navigator alongside Jake Gyllenhaal's sleazy cameraman in the neo-noir crime thriller movie Nightcrawler (2014).

With big eyes that haunt the screen, Ahmed says he believes as an actor that “you get the best results when you get the hell out of your own way. Often the thing that stops us from doing that is fear – and fear means that we have a desire to control things. And when we control things they’re never as magical as when we abandon control”.

Turturro, a staple of unconventional American cinema in films such as Barton Fink (1991), The Big Lebowski (1999) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and more recent fare like Fading Gigolo (2013), plays eccentric lawyer John Stone, who launches Naz's defence in a holding cell by telling him to keep his mouth shut, advice he fails to heed.

Sopranos star James Gandolfini was originally cast in the role, but after his death at 51 due to a heart attack in Rome in 2013, Turturro stepped in.

This series has impeccable provenance. Written and directed by Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, American Gangster) and Richard Price (The Color of Money, The Wire), The Night Of immerses viewers in the intricacies of a complex New York City murder case.

Amid cultural and political overtones, it worms its way through the police investigation, the legal proceedings, the criminal justice system and Rikers Island, where the accused awaits trial.

It is an Americanised version of Criminal Justice, a BBC drama that starred Ben Whishaw as a young white Englishman caught up in the bloody events of a night he can't remember.

When asked about the challenges of being an actor of Pakistani origin in mostly-white Hollywood, Ahmed says: “No one’s of Pakistani origin in any British show. That’s why every actor of colour is here, working in the States. It’s true.” While making his jump into television, Turturro, a Cannes Film Festival best-actor winner, says he found a kindred soul in Ahmed.

"I found a real connection to Riz as a person," Turturro says in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "He's really talented and a real hard worker and so smart.

“Look at his performance – it’s not overdone, not at all. That’s where the whole thing lives. It’s all in the minutia and the moment-to-moment life and the cost to this young man’s life. And that’s all Riz.”

"I'm so grateful for [The Night Of]," adds Ahmed. "It's a luxury for me to act for six months with this calibre of actors. They just give off good vibes, man. Good vibes engine."

Ahmed's star will soon shine even brighter, thanks to a key role as a tech specialist ­alongside Matt Damon in the new Jason Bourne movie due out this month, and as a pilot of the rebel squad in sure-fire blockbuster, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, due for release in ­December.

The Night Of begins at 11pm on Monday, July 11 on OSN First Home of HBO