Since breaking out in 2014's Nightcrawler, Riz Ahmed has proved himself as a chameleonic actor. The London-born performer made 2016 his banner year, racking up a batch of weighty credits in The Night Of, Jason Bourne, Rogue One, and The OA, among a string of others. Now, he's kickstarting 2017 with yet another standout part, but Riz Ahmed's role in Girls isn't what you'd expect.
In the HBO dramedy's Season 6 premiere, Ahmed plays Paul-Louis, a free-spirited surfer dude Hannah (Lena Dunham) meets while on assignment. She's recruited by a publication called Slag Mag to cover an adult surf camp in the Hamptons, where Paul-Louis is introduced as her instructor. After she skips out mid-lesson due to a feigned injury, the pair bond over a wild night out and end up having sex.
The next morning, he convinces a reluctant Hannah to let him show her around the beach, and they spark up a continued romance. Hannah later tells him she's been thinking about sticking around and "disconnecting from the toxic negativity of everyone [she] thought she loved in New York," which is actually a pretty revelatory statement for a character who is usually painfully unaware of anything that's happening around her.
Paul-Louis is like, so stoked, but then he casually drops the bomb that he has a girlfriend, much to Hannah's chagrin. He goes on to explain that she has the "big gig" teaching hula at Atlantis, a major Caribbean resort, and that they keep their relationship open "outside of the Bahamas" unless they "like, go on a trip." At first, Hannah is visibly upset, but Paul-Louis gives her a genuine apology and she accepts. "Why get mad at fun?" she ponders. The episode then closes out with a shot of the two snuggled up by a bonfire. Yes, the woman who once proclaimed she hates and is maybe allergic to sand attended a sing-a-long (something she probably also hates) at an actual beach, and seemed legitimately happy about it. Hannah is making serious progress.
But, what's most surprising about the episode is Ahmed's character. First, fans had tossed around the idea that Paul-Louis could be the guy Hannah ends up with. While having a girlfriend doesn't entirely rule that out, it certainly throws a wrench in their potential happy ending. Still, executive producer Jenni Konner previously told Entertainment Weekly that "he dips in and out of Hannah’s life in an important way," so perhaps this isn't the last we've seen of Paul-Louis.
Most striking, though, is Ahmed's portrayal. It's a side of him audiences have yet to see, as it's a far cry from The Night Of's brooding Nasir Khan or Rogue One's conscientious Bodhi Rook. But Ahmed channels this laid back character with aplomb, and it's a refreshing addition to his high-intensity résumé. According to IMDB, it's also the only role on his 2017 lineup, but knowing Ahmed's penchant for surprise pop-ups, it's likely not the last. Hopefully his next on-screen appearance in Girls will be just as great as his introduction.