Twenty-sixteen has been a turning point in the careers of both Riz Ahmed, the star of HBO’s acclaimed miniseries The Night Of, and the underground rapper Riz MC—who happen to be the same person. This April, operating as his hip-hop alias, the British-Pakistani performer dropped the nine-track mixtape Englistan, a bass-heavy protest record that perfectly crystallizes Brexit-era U.K. jitters. Then, in October, Riz MC turned up again as half of the Swet Shop Boys (Ahmed’s “recorded on a whim” side project with Heems from Brooklyn rap trio Das Racist), subverting “brown stereotypes,” raising South Asian pop-cultural visibility, and bashing Islamophobia on the Boys’ debut LP, Cashmere.

But that isn’t to say his only focus is raging against the proverbial machine. “All art is political,” says Ahmed, 34, sipping a cup of tea on an empty street in an industrial stretch of downtown Los Angeles. “Downton Abbey is fucking political. Bling-bling hip-hop is political. You only get that ‘political’ label slung around your neck when you’re not coming from within the status quo.”

Ahmed, a South Asian actor in an #OscarsSoWhite industry, knows that his path through Hollywood has been different. But a slew of roles this year have primed him for a big breakthrough in 2017. First, in The Night Of (which aired this summer), Ahmed’s gut-wrenching performance as a sheltered Pakistani-American college student accused of murder arrived as a revelation, and has been generating major awards buzz. In July’s Jason Bourne, he portrayed a Mark Zuckerberg-like social media mogul who ends up in the crosshairs of a conspiracy involving America’s favorite amnesiac assassin. “Loads of my rap fans are like, ‘Dude, you’re in Bourne!’” Ahmed notes with a laugh. 

And on December 16, Ahmed, who previously appeared in critically acclaimed but commercially tepid indie films like Four Lions and Nightcrawler, will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the prequel to 1977’s original Star Wars. He plays Bodhi Rook, an Imperial pilot-turned-Rebellion freedom fighter who’s in on a plot to steal blueprints of the Death Star. “There’s a lot of shit stacking up!” says Ahmed.