Exclusives Interviews 14 December 2021
Author: Vince

GRM Exclusive: Aml Ameen Talks Directorial Debut ‘Boxing Day’, Working On The Obama’s First Film & More

14 December 2021
Aml Ameen GRM

Aml Ameen has had a very long full career in TV and Film playing some Iconic roles such as Lewis Hardy in The Bill and Trife in Kidulthood. Aml is well versed in making entertainment history and has a reputation for playing roles that resonate with the audience. It is therefore no surprise that in his film making a debut, he has created a piece of art that is already being described as a historical moment for black British film. Boxing Day is a positively joyful experience with a very new and needed depiction of black British society.

Straying away from the themes we are used to seeing, Aml beautifully presents a Christmas rom-com with all the ingredients of a classic Christmas film. We caught up to talk about Boxing Day, the inspiration behind it, the cast and what the future looks like for him. 

Aml has the exact superstar recipe of charisma, charm and animation. His playful character and natural and interest in his craft are evident from the very start of the conversation.

First and foremost, may I say I love the film. I’m not hugely a Christmas film person. The only other Christmas film I like is the preacher’s wife…

“Someone actually brought that up the other day. Oh, wow. Yeah. It’s one of those things I’ve seen and I’ve enjoyed but it’s never my go-to Christmas scenario.”

Really!? Okay. Because there’s one scene in particular in the Jazz cafe? It felt like it was a nod to the scene with Whitney singing ‘I Believe In You And Me’. That’s such an iconic moment from that film as well. 

“I will have to rewatch the film. In fact, I’m just going to try and find it now. Sorry, I’m a distraction…carry on. Wow, sorry to interrupt you, its nearly identical” (the scene from the preacher’s wife, Aml has discovered on his phone).

It really is very reminiscent of that.

“There’s a scene like this. And look, we’ve got the same bloody what’s it called and everything. (Aml calls some members of his team over to show them the clip he has found).  You know, where I stole that from, I didn’t get it from The Preachers Wife. It was Mo Betta Blues. I need to now discover whether Mo Betta Blues came first.

“Let me go do that. Okay, so The Preacher’s Wife was made in ’96 And then Mo Better Blues. Okay, so what happened was, Spike Lee made Mo Better Blues in 1989. It was released in 1990. They took the essence of Mo Better Blues and what happens in the jazz cafe there, and they put it into the other film in 1996. Then we’ve got Boxing Day. Isn’t that strange? I was influenced by the older one, somewhat in the interim, that’s where you know it from. That’s wild. Thank you for that.”

 I love that we’re finding out a bit more about the origin of that. Now I’ve read in other interviews that you wanted to depict the black family differently from how we’ve seen it before and make a storyline that was relatable and reminiscent of how you grew up.

Now for me, I grew up in a small town called Lemington spa in the Midlands, and this was the first time I felt a film that was reflective of my family and upbringing and the family gatherings that I had.

“That makes me really happy, because essentially in the black British film space, there has been one depiction of our life as a collective. But every year like every other culture and race, we have a good time, we deal with love and relationships, family trauma, ups and downs and good times.

“So I just wanted to really show our everyday normal life. Starting with my everyday normal life and how my life is. Then actually lifting it up to the fact that there’s a degree of opulence in my life and other Black people that I’ve seen. And so, that was quite an important thing for me to do as well.”

Yeah, I also really loved the way that the depiction of success didn’t feed into this one narrative of what that success looks like or where it comes from. I guess, as an entertainer and being in that space, it’s probably a world that you quite understand. So how much of your actual life factored into you writing the story?

“I’ve grown up in the entertainment business, and so that that factors in but also my family, are young professionals, my mother’s a therapist, relationship counsellor, a psychologist, and my father is a businessman. And so I was definitely coming from the fact that even the roles I’ve taken in the past, like Kidulthood, they’re not necessarily reflective of my personal world.

“And that’s what made it so fun to make those films, because I was going into worlds that were new for me. And so this, this is something that I feel like a lot of people can relate to. It’s a universal film, with themes that are universal, but through the specific lens of this particular family.”

It’s certainly a standout moment for black British film culture and I imagine for your career. Now you’re exploring the other side of your creativity behind the camera and influencing the final outcome in a big way.

It’s a huge achievement. And I know that you have said it’s something that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. For the course of your career from this point forward. How do you think this is going to shape and mould where you go next?

“I love that question. No one’s asked me that yet. I am both an actor, and a filmmaker. Both have always existed, it was just that my acting career was much bigger than my filmmaking career. And I think with the release of Boxing Day, I think they’re gonna, balance out and go hand in hand, and perhaps the filmmaker may even help the actor. 

“I definitely plan to do both. Right now I’m playing Martin Luther King in a Netflix movie, directed by George Seawolf. And with the Obama’s producing, my dedication to my craft as an actor, is something that I’m constantly wanting to grow and explore, and work with phenomenal directors, that influence me.

“But my next movie, as a director, is actually a big musical set around the world which I’m going to start shooting in the next two years.”

Amazing. So is the musical connection, is something that’s close to your heart? Because that’s a common thread in this movie as well.

“Yeah, I grew up doing musicals when I was a child, actually, I did Oliver! and Jolson in the West End, I have a big musical family. Music is so important for so many cultures and in my particular family culture, it’s something that we love.

“So I always allow it to influence me. And if you remember the film, you’re getting a plethora of music across all genres. You start Chet Bakers “I fall in love too easily”. And then you’re into Anita Baker’s “with all my heart,I love you baby”. Then into Clarkes, and that’s really influenced by my mother and my father. Particularly my mother when it comes to music. I call my sisters and her the DJs. We just enjoy music as a family. It’s so personal to us.”

The soundtrack was like listening to one of my dad’s playlists. Everything about this film was so reminiscent of, not even just Christmas, but barbecues in the summer, and people’s birthdays.

The actual performance parts of Leigh-Anne were arranged very interestingly. especially the cover, I don’t think I’ve heard that song sung like that before. But it was really atmospheric, it was a really nice version of it. Who was behind the musical and arrangement elements of the live parts?

“I think it’s a mixture between myself, Leigh-Anne, a guy called David Fish, and James Poyser is the composer. And we all came up with a plan of how we wanted it to sound and feel. And I just wanted it to be a moment in the film where it’s more about storytelling than even about her singing.

“Her singing is A1, and for a lot of people, that’s the first time they’re hearing Leigh-Anne sing in such a powerful way. But what’s really compelling is the way she tells the story as an actor, in those moments. You feel as though you’re really kind of, in the world with her, and you’re really feeling pain and pangs of still having love, and being in love.”

I thought it was interesting, and for me, as I mentioned before reminiscent of the environments I grew up in. Whereas usually cannabis on-screen is exaggerated or shot in a certain way.

“Look at the movie in general. I like it drawing from different worlds. So you got, the mother’s world where everybody lives and it’s really opulent and beautiful. But the same kid that lives in that nice house goes to the estate, where his cousin lives, you’ve got the barbershop, all the places that we exist in.

“We exist in all those spaces. I can go from the Soho Hotel to my uncle’s barbershop in Kilburn to get a haircut. You know, instead of having them come back, go sit in the actual shop. In fact in the film in the shop where they’re like “that’s my nephew” That’s my actual uncle’s barbershop. That’s the kind of authenticity I was going for.”

It really does come across, it translates so well. Now touching on the cousin in the film you just mentioned. Even though it was an intense situation going on between the cousins, it was so funny and jovial.

It was really good to see teenage boys just messing around. That playful element often gets missed. I’d love to know the intent and the inspiration there. Is there a character that you drew inspiration from when getting them to get into those roles?

“You know, the backbone for every one of the characters in the film are either people in my life or family members. One of the things that were really important to me with that fight scene is just showing that boys will be boys and it doesn’t always have to end in like some big saga where Trife is dead, Trevor mi likkle gun drilla ah dead story.

“Both stories are important and both stories are to be honoured. But that’s one of the things I really wanted to address. I always play fight with my cousins and stuff. They were just fun things to do as little boys with testosterone. So, I like that. And I like the jovial element of it and, you know, hopefully, people enjoy it too.”

Speaking a bit more of potential similarities and things that happened in the film, and things that happened in your own life. What is the wildest thing you’ve ever kept from someone in a relationship? 

“What is the wildest thing I’ve ever kept from someone in a relationship? That my ex-girlfriend is a huge pop star?”

 In real life? 

“Yeah. Rihanna.” 

Is this a joke? So your ex-girlfriend was Rihanna. And you kept it from someone?

“Exactly. Exclusive for you… the funny thing is you don’t even know if I’m telling the truth or not.”

 I have no idea. Literally. 

“Let’s go with that one.”

Hilarious! Now in terms of casting, you’ve got really incredible cast. Let’s just talk a little bit about that. How did you go about it? Did you already have in mind what you wanted for it?

“No. I really like Aja Naomi King, I love her work. Both Aja, Leigh- Anne was introduced to me conceptually throughout. My writing partners suggested Leigh- Anne and I met her, I watched her interview and I found her to be someone who has a lot of humanity. And because of that, I thought perhaps I can figure out a way to like instil the craft of acting in her within six weeks. And she did an exceptional job for someone that’s never acted before for sure.”

Yeah. Her character felt very natural. Almost reminded me of her a little bit. Look, my little sister is a huge little mix fan. So I have watched an endless amount of Little Mix content. In particularly Leigh-Anne, who my dual heritage sister relates to the most. I’ve seen a lot of her silly moments and interviews etc. The way she spoke was very similar to how I’ve heard her speak before, but obviously, she’s embodying Georgia.

“Leigh-Anne often says that she relates to the character, Georgia. But still relating to something and being able to actually portray it are two different things. Of all the things I’ve ever done as an actor, this is probably the closest I’ve played to myself, and you know, how there are challenges. So yeah, she did a really strong acting job. Really strong.”

And what made you decide to go for this genre, rom-com?

“I love romantic movies, and I have that sensibility naturally. I think that love is a universal thing that can be explored. I like doing it for humour and banter. I just went with my natural writing style. Right now in my writing career, I wrote from what I knew.  I think that’s why people are tending to connect to it because it feels very honest. It feels very true. In my next ventures, I always try and find something that connects with me when I’m writing. It makes it more interesting for me because I get to explore all the different versions of myself.”

So we spoke earlier about some things you have going on, but in case there’s anything we’ve missed, what is next for you?

“Next for me, I got a TV show out in February, with Paramount and Bet plus, it’s called The Porter and it’s set in the 1920s. I play a 1920s gangster, which is really fun to be in a completely different mindset. Also, I star alongside Chris Rock, and Colman Domingo in the film Rustin, which is about the relationship between Bayard Rustin, who organised the march in Washington, and I play Martin Luther King.

“We’re shooting that right now. I’m just stopping to promote my movie and then I’ll be back in back in Pittsburgh shooting that. And that is the Obama’s first movie. So they’re producing that. That’ll be out probably next year. So that’s kind of what’s next and a pending vacation. I’m ready to go on Holiday.”

The last question is, give us one reason why people should go and see Boxing Day?

“I think that people should go and see Boxing Day, genuinely because, you know, it’s a really good time. And that’s what’s amazing about the rom-com genre and the action-adventure genres, its that when you have such a good time with it, it makes you feel good at the end of it.

“I like that. I still like how movies can communicate with an audience in that way. And then also, it’s a fresh take on the genre, because it’s from a culture that you’ve just not seen in this way. So that’s my 50 Pence or 50 cents dependent on where I am in the world. That’s my reason and I’m sticking to it. Let me ask you, you’ve seen the movie, why should get out and see Boxing Day?

Because it’s the first of its kind in the UK and I feel will be a historical moment for black British film.

“It is a historical moment. History a gwan!”

Boxing Day is out in cinemas everywhere now! Keep it locked on GRM Daily as alway for the latest music and culture news.