“Idris Elba and Seal are the only black men in England! Boxing Day’s Aml Ameen on showing UK from LA

“Idris Elba and Seal are the only black men in England! Boxing Day’s Aml Ameen on showing UK from LA

Aml Ameen has one of those big, bright smiles – and he deploys it freely, even for those who are physically impervious to his charm. When I join the video call, he very kindly asks Alexa to turn the music down.

Ameen is at home in Los Angeles (where he moved from London about ten years ago). He has been acting professionally since the age of six and now he has co-wrote, directed and starred in a romantic comedy, Boxing Day. It’s a London movie irresistibly Christmas in the lineage of Love Actually (a movie he adores). It is also the UK’s first Christmas romantic comedy to be directed by a black cast.

Ameen grew up watching old movies with her mom – anything with Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, or Cary Grant. His sensitivity leans towards stories of love, family and friendship. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from his films. “I do a lot of lead roles. But I never played anything near my home. Even if you go back to Trife in Kidulthood. It’s not my life or the way I grew up.

“It’s a love letter to British culture”… watch the Boxing Day trailer.

Kidulthood, the gritty 2006 film in which he played a troubled teenager in West London, was his breakthrough. Since moving to the United States, he has appeared in David E Kelley’s legal series Harry’s Law, young adult sci-fi film The Maze Runner and the Wachowski sisters’ Netflix series Sense8. He played D, a Jamaican gangster, in Idris Elba’s British drama Yardie.

With Boxing Day, Ameen wanted to reveal himself more as an actor, he says, “To amplify another side of myself and characters in my real life. It is a love letter for them and for British culture. The film is semi-autobiographical, a fictionalized version of Boxing Day family evenings: big encounters in London with aunts, cousins, friends and friends of friends. He plays Melvin, a writer who arrives from LA for Christmas with his gorgeous American girlfriend, Lisa (Aja Naomi King). The plan is to introduce her to her British Caribbean family on Boxing Day. What he failed to tell her is that his ex is a famous pop star (played by Leigh-Anne Pinnock of Little Mix).

Ameen says he put a bit of himself into the character, but as a comedic device he wrote Melvin as a bolter. “He runs a lot, but I’m aggressive. I am happy to face a problem.

He wanted to show a side of British life that you don’t see in the movies. “If the world stopped tomorrow, what were black Britons like?” If we only had films to make, it’s very narrow. I add my brushstroke.

“Everything about British culture in the country, isn’t it?” Whether it’s Bend It Like Beckham, or Top Boy, or Richard Curtis and the wonderful movies he’s made. Ameen loves that Boxing Day is the UK’s first all-black Christmas romcom. “But, more than that, it’s a universal film. “

It is universal. Still, I tell her that some of my favorite scenes are specific to British black culture. Marianne Jean-Baptiste gives a superb performance as Melvin’s mom, Shirley, whose new boyfriend is white. She gives a speech where she explains to him why she cannot bring herself to introduce him to her children. She talks about her challenges as a parent, raising her black children to “be proud of what they saw in the mirror.”

It’s incredibly moving, I tell Ameen, who looks shy. “Thank you very much, honestly. One of the most amazing things about finally being able to write and perform is expressing things that I have thought or written over the years. Growing up with women of color, these are anxieties he witnessed when they started dating. “One of the things I’ve heard happening is this feeling, ‘Do I feel like I’m betraying my culture? Do I feel like I’m betraying my family? ‘ He said.

“It’s not my life or the way I grew up”… Ameen as Trife in Kidulthood. Photographie : Everett Collection/Rex Features

Ameen grew up in London – one of eight siblings, the oldest of his parents’ marriage. He derives his strong self-confidence – and an unconditional work ethic -om them, he says. His British Jamaican mother looked after the children when they were young and then trained as a psychologist; she now practices as a relationship therapist.

Ameen is puzzled for a moment when he tries to describe his father. Funny talking about my dad, ”he said, his arms waving at the inability to put it into words. “He’s a jack of all trades. He was a massive leader in the Borough of Hackney. His father, born in St Vincent, is an immigration lawyer and businessman. He created a Caribbean college in London and organized youth exchanges around the world. As a child, Ameen followed, “I was exposed to a lot of people. It tells a lot about who I am.

After a pause, he said, “You know, if I had to characterize my father, it’s like this golden immigrant, who lifts a country a bit. When you’re an immigrant in a country, like I’m an immigrant in America, you have this feeling, “I have to do this. There is no turning back. ‘ You know what I mean?

“I was very clear that I had to go to America”… Ameen in The Maze Runner. Photograph: AF Archive / Alamy

Ameen made her first TV appearance at age six, on Floella Benjamin’s children’s show Hullabaloo, then went to the same acting school as Naomi Campbell and Amma Asante and performed in West End Oliver musicals. ! and Jolson.

He was on stage with Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards when Jarvis Cocker took to the stage and wiggled his butt. It was in 1996; Ameen, who was 11, had been chosen to play one of the sad-faced and suffering children of Jackson’s Messiah. After the incident, the children who had been injured in the commotion were taken to Hamleys in Brent Cross by Jackson’s team. “I tried to lie,” Ameen recalls, but he didn’t have the courage to pretend he had been hurt.

As a teenager, he was “an ambitious madman”: head prefect and “star” of his theater school. “I was a corrupt chief prefect,” he smiles. “If you gave me Softmints when you were late, we were good. At home, things weren’t that great. His parents divorced when he was 15 and his comfortable life was taken away from him. “We moved around a lot for a little while. It was quite difficult for me. I hated poverty. He left their four bedroom house and moved into a small apartment with his mother. This defines him as a teenager: “I was 15 and I was like: you know what? I’m gonna make my own way, my own money, my own thing.

At 20, he had a great year: Kidulthood came out of nowhere, kicking off a new generation of British teen films. At the same time, Ameen lands a role in The Bill. His best friend told him he would be crazy to quit the show someday. But he had other ideas. “I agreed with my agent that I would do 18 months and bounce back because I was very clear that I had to go to America. The lack of diverse roles in Britain prompted other black British actors – including David Harewood and David Oyelowo – to relocate to the United States. But Hollywood has always been Ameen’s “beacon”. That said, the talent drain is a reality. “You just have to look at the math. We don’t have Idris Elba without Idris going to America and doing The Wire – then coming home and going to see Luther, ”he says.

Directing Boxing Day made him pickier as an actor. He’s almost done playing Martin Luther King in a biopic about gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington. He gave the “I have a dream” speech, which is copyrighted and therefore not generally portrayed in movies. “Before continuing, Chris Rock [his co-star] was like, ‘This is the first time anyone has been allowed to say Martin’s words on screen. No pressure !’ But if anyone can handle the baggage of playing an icon, my money is on Ameen. He describes his acting style as an “accidental method”: “I literally lean energetically towards the character I am playing. “

Aml Ameen on the set of Boxing Day
‘I add my brushstroke’… on the set of Boxing Day. Photography: Laura Radford

Last year, he appeared in Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, playing Arabella’s friend Simon, a city banker. Coel knew his younger brother from the spoken word scene and they clicked, “Me and Michaela, we got a great vibe. He identified in his series what he wanted to do with Boxing Day, broadening the outlook on black British life. “I think Michaela really blew it up from a global perspective. It was the first time people saw black Brits just functioning in everyday life. I loved that about I May Destroy You. He puts on a gee-whiz American accent to explain what he’s talking about: “Oh, they got, like, black people in England? “

Did he ask LA that question? Not anymore. “We thank Idris Elba. He’s laughing. “Idris Elba and Seal. The only two black men in England.

Ameen has lived in LA for over 10 years. The funny thing is he talks about London all the time, I say. “Oh man. I represent my city every day. My cousin says that about me. He said to me: ‘Are you what you are? You are a patriot abroad. He loves London for its multiculturalism. “There is nowhere, no city that I have met, which [people] live so closely together and are so influenced by each other.

Would he back down? Pause. “I’m trying to think of a cool answer. But the answer is no. I have a lot of work there. I am there often. But no. I like the sun; my beautiful black skin loves the sun.

Boxing Day releases in the UK on December 3rd


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