By all appearances, Nasir “Naz” Khan is just a normal kid from a working-class Queens, N.Y., background, taking engineering courses at the local community college and trying to make a better life for himself.
But when the young Pakistani American finds himself accused of brutally murdering and raping the uptown Manhattan girl with whom he had a one-night stand, it sets off a series of events that puts him in with hardened criminals at Rikers Island prison as he awaits his fate, makes him a target of public vilification and has those closest to him doubting who they thought he was.
And that, in a nutshell, is the simplified version of the storyline of the new HBO eight-part miniseries “The Night Of,” premiering Sunday (July 10). The total picture is a much more complex, nuanced package, encompassing anti-Muslim sentiment in a post-9/11 New York, the slow, grinding wheels of the criminal justice system, the soul-searing existence that is being incarcerated and the human cost of being accused of a crime, among other elements.
Luckily for Naz (played by Riz Ahmed, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”), he has an ally in John Stone (John Turturro, “Quiz Show”), the jaded, low-cost lawyer who jumps on the case without knowing the full circumstance. Initially, Stone wants to plead the charges and get a reduced sentence but Naz insists he’s innocent.
“You see a guy who’s really smart but he doesn’t have the stomach to go to trial,” Turturro says of Stone to Zap2it, “who can’t compartmentalize his feelings about it and the pressure of that. And after talking to a lot of different lawyers, I understood that. Like some guys are able to do it, some guys burn out, some guys can’t do it. But he’s a very capable guy and very smart but it’s not in his constitution.”
“He just connects to the kid,” he continues. “He just connects to him and that’s why he puts himself in that situation and he doesn’t know what he did.”
As the story progresses, viewers come to learn more about this seemingly good kid and what he can be capable of in different circumstances.
“We’re all capable of things you might not imagine …,” Ahmed says. “So I think there may be more to Naz than even he knows. So I guess the story is a journey of discovery for the audience in getting to know Naz but I think it’s also a journey of discovery for Naz himself.
“I think it was certainly that way for me as an actor as well as the story and the situations evolve. You know, you kind of strip away the different layers when you’re kind of put into a furnace, lots of your layers get burned off and what’s left is sometimes surprising.”