Rising star, Aml Ameen, reveals what it’s like to work in Hollywood
Remember the name: Aml Ameen.
The British actor has become hot property thanks to a string of memorable performances in Kidulthood, Netflix series Sense8, Hollywood hit The Maze Runner and the Bafta-nominated The Butler.
Now the 33-year-old is front and centre in Idris Elba’s directorial debut Yardie, an unflinching snapshot of the London ganglands of the Eighties. And, with a string of projects on the horizon, we sat down with one of the biggest rising stars in cinema.
HOW ABOUT WORKING WITH IDRIS?
He’s been a hero of mine for many, many years. I met him when I was 19 after doing Kidulthood. My focus was on the US, and he was one on the people that said you’ve got to get out there, just do it. We kept in contact very briefly and then years later, when my life moved on and I’m getting some traction in the US, we bumped into each other in the lift, and it just so happened that we were going on the same flight to LA. It was a really happy accident.
THAT’S FATE RIGHT?
Absolutely! I had seen Al Pacino earlier on on the train over, and didn’t realise he was getting on the flight, but me and Idris ended up talking and he handed me the book, as it said the Jamaican-British Scarface. And I was like, “You know Al Pacino is right there?” It was weird! To work with one of my heroes and then to do something that culturally is so close to home in terms of the acting, the music, and how I grew up… And, for the first time in my life, taking my mother’s and father’s language and actually speaking it, which I was thrown into having to do, having to learn it from scratch, I’m always apprehensive about calling something “the moment”, but I would definitely say this is the most special career moment I’ve ever had. Everything has aligned so nicely and so beautifully that I’m just really enjoying the ride.
THE FAMILY MUST BE INCREDIBLY PROUD…
My dad and mum both came to the screening and I shouted them both out and asked my mum “How did I do??” and she was crying. They’ve seen me in movies before and they think I’m pretty good, but this was personal. I have to say, I was very nervous taking on the job at first because Jamaicans are traditionally very particular about how they’re portrayed, with so many versions of the accent going wrong. But with this, now, they felt very proud and that this is for us. Even though we follow a guy who turns out to be a little bit of a gangster and more than that, traumatised, you get a real dip into the love and the romance, and this other world, having a child, it humanises the story of the Jamaican dad-boy ‘Yardie’.
JAMAICA HAS SUCH A RICH INFLUENCE ON BRITAIN, RIGHT?
It stems from a couple of things. In 1948, the Windrush, Jamaicans were invited over to the UK, the mother country, to actually come and be there where the streets were paved with gold. And as we know, it wasn’t paved with gold and the relationship between immigrants and the locals wasn’t the best in the beginning, but I think that over time in the 70’s and 80’s there was a real kind of appreciation for each others hard work and culture. Now, it’s the modern London that we’re living in. That all comes from a fusion of scar, reggae, punk rock and the British rocks scene.
All of that fusing together has created this baby called grime, mixed with the hip-hop influences. Even how we talk in London like “bruv” is very Cockney and “wagwan” is very Jamaican. In Kidulthood, for example, the language that those kids speak in the perfect fusion of the British culture and the Jamaican culture coming together and making children. That’s what we’ve done and that’s what I love about this city, it’s this truly multicultural place where people just get on with it and at certain points we’re all in irreverence of each others cultures… Grime doesn’t exist without Britain and grime doesn’t exist without Jamaica – it’s a perfect fusion, it’s not one without the other.
IT SEEMS YOU ALSO HAVE MANY STORIES YOU WANT TO TELL?
I grew up watching so many wonderful movies that inspired me when I was young, like The Philadelphia Story with Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn. I’ve always wanted our version, a British version, of those wonderful movies to be told. They’re my favourite films, like Love Actually and I just want to remake all my favourite films, I’d love to be in something like that and I might as well got on and try to create something in that vein. Perhaps if I’m lucky and my career as an actor affords me the opportunity to release these things then I’ll get on with it and then give other people opportunities.
NOW, YOU WERE IN THE BILL FOR A FEW YEARS – THAT MUST HAVE BEEN A GREAT EXPERIENCE?
That was the time where I felt that I felt really known and famous. The Bill came out 11 January 2006 and then that was on twice a week and I played this rambunctious kid character who was going after things and thought the law was terrible. Then 3 March, I went to the cinema to see myself in Kidulthood and that was the beginning of a very special time.
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU WERE AT THE BRITS THE NIGHT JARVIS COCKER STORMER THE STAGE WITH MICHAEL JACKSON?
It is 130% true! Yeah, I met Michael Jackson and I remember there was this guy running the show saying nobody was to go up to Michael Jackson. Then all of a sudden these doors open and this light shines through and there’s these big bodyguards and there’s this guy in a white robe bobbing up and down and he jumps onstage and I’m like “Oh my god, that’s him!” And he turned to me and I didn’t say anything. Then he said, “Hi, my name’s Michael.” I was like, “I know. My name’s Aml”. It was such a great experience and he sang the Earth song, taught us a secret handshake that if you could do then you’d be successful in life. And then, yeah, Jarvis got up and showed his ass.
OH MY GOD…
Michael Jackson is a legend. There are only a few moments in my life that really ring out – there’s that, and dancing at Prince’s house.
We were dancing over his pool which had glass over it and the Prince sign at the bottom of it. It was pretty awesome. I was 25 and I was proper taken in and had a proper conversation with Prince… I’ve had some pretty good times.
YARDIE is out in the UK on 31 August. Special nationwide preview screenings including a live satellite Q&A with Idris Elba take place on 23 August. See www.yardiefilm.co.uk/previe