The spiky, charismatic lead in ‘Yardie’, Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Aml Ameen grew up in Camden before the bright lights of Hollywood beckoned. Back from LA to hang out with his mates at the Notting Hill Carnival, the ‘Kidulthood’ and ‘Maze Runner’ actor told me where it all began.
What drew you to ‘Yardie’?
‘It was the opportunity to do something in the world of films I’ve grown up loving “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather”. I went method for it and stayed in character for the whole shoot – two months. When I went back to my normal accent at the end of filming, it freaked people out.’
How did you land the role?
‘I bumped into Idris on a flight to LA. We sat next to each other and he gave me the book [of ‘ Yardie’ by Victor Headley] and showed me the script. He said he’d liked me in “The Maze Runner” and he was going to send it to my agent. I said, “Fuck that, I’m going to read it right now and give you an answer.” They call the book “The Jamaican ‘Godfather’” so the icing on the cake was that Al Pacino was two rows in front of us. It was a magical moment.’
‘I danced with Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards’
What made you move to LA as a young actor?
‘I’d done “Kidulthood”, I’d done “The Bill”, I’d done a bit of “Silent Witness”, and it was like, “Where am I going to go to next?” I did audition after audition in LA until I got an offer from David E Kelley, who is one of the gods of American TV. It was a hit show called “Harry’s Law”. It changed my life.’
What do you miss about London?
‘The people, man, and the togetherness. Oh, and the Guinness punch – it’s Guinness and condensed milk; outside of Jamaica, it’s best in London. I’m one of those annoying people that goes on about how great London is despite not actually living there.’
Aml Ameen as D in ‘Yardie’
Who were your acting heroes as a kid?
‘I loved Will Smith – I grew up on “The Fresh Prince” – but also Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Stewart because my mum is big into 1940s movies. I had this childhood obsession with being a British-American actor. I remember first seeing Adrian Lester in “Primary Colours” and thinking: It can be done. Since then, actors like Idris, Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Oyelowo have proved that you can be successful here and in the US.’
You started acting really young, didn’t you?
‘I went to stage school at six years old. I worked in the West End as a child doing “Oliver!” and “Jolson”, and I danced with Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards…’
You were on stage when Jarvis Cocker crashed his performance?
‘I was 11 years old, man. I was really pissed off that nothing hit me, because Michael Jackson took everyone that got hit with a bottle to Brent Cross to get a PlayStation.’
Have you had any other memorable encounters with the stars?
‘Partying at Prince’s house in LA was a great moment. Me and my friend Gugu Mbatha-Raw went and he was playing with his band on the Prince symbol on the glass covering his pool. It was exactly how you’d imagine a Prince house party to be.’
‘Yardie’ opens on Aug 31. Special preview screenings, featuring a live satellite Q&A with Idris Elba, take place on Aug 23. Head to www.yardiefilm.co.uk/previewevent for details