A Spotlite on Actor AML AMEEN
By Tyler Malone
“Young Cecil is the raw heart of who Forest [Whitaker] becomes as Older Cecil,” Aml Ameen explained, discussing his character in Lee Daniels’ new film The Butler. Those words “raw heart” stuck out to me. They may adequately describe his character, but they also fit a description of the young actor portraying the character. Aml Ameen is himself a raw heart with a raw talent who began his career dancing on stage with Michael Jackson, came into his own with the breakout role of Trife in Kidulthood, and is about to hit the mainstream with prominent roles in one of this year’s likely Oscar contenders The Butler and in one of next year’s likely box office blockbusters The Maze Runner. I spoke with Aml Ameen about how he got his start and where he wants to go.
Tyler Malone: Tell me how you got your start in acting?
Aml Ameen: I grew up in an entertainment family. My father who’s from the Caribbean Island of Saint Vincent was in a band called The Bitches. They were a warm-up act for the Rolling Stones in the Caribbean. I caught the entertainment bug from him, and the movies I watched as a kid with my mum. Home Alone and Thunder Cats began my journey; I’d run around playing those characters and my parents saw the potential in me to be an actor. I then went to Barbara Speake Stage School for 10 years from the age of 6.
TM: I know you had performed with Michael Jackson on stage at the BRIT Awards before you were even in your teens? What was that experience like? Did you have any memorable interactions with him?
AA: I remember standing next to MJ moments after his entourage told us not to talk to him. He arrived on stage and as I’m looking up at him doing my best not to say a word, he turns to me with a smile and says, “Hey, I’m Michael.” In my head I’m like “yeah I know.” I remember his voice being a lot lower than I expected and him teaching us a secret handshake.
TM: Your breakout role was as Trife in Kidulthood. How did that big break come about for you?
AA: I was in college at the time, and I heard about this new gritty British drama that would represent the truth of life on London streets from a kids’ perspective. A few friends were going for the audition, I went in later as they whittlied down process. We were cast in 2003, and the film fell apart and came back together a year later, I was the final person to be cast in the film. It was years in the making, before that opportunity I had not yet had the chance to really grow as an actor, to lead a movie. That film resonated with the youth across the UK and Europe, a complete game-changer in my career and life.
TM: The Butler, which is being released this week, has been generating a lot of buzz. You play the younger version of Forest Whitaker’s titular character. Tell me about young Cecil and how you prepared for the role.
AA: Young Cecil is the raw heart of who Forest becomes as Older Cecil. You see the horrific and heroic experiences of that character and the early journey that defines the rest of his life. I loved working with Lee Daniels, he’s a visionary and passionate about the work, the experience made me a much better actor. He has a very raw approach to work, and begins with the sentence: “What’s the truth?” That was the approach for most of us on this film, we worked with an accent coach so that Forest and I would have a similar cadence to our accent.
TM: Next year you’ll be in The Maze Runner, which seems to be Fox’s reply to the success of The Hunger Games. Do you think this has the potential to be a big tentpole franchise in the same vein as The Hunger Games?
AA: The Maze Runner is an edgy powerful adventure story. It’s only comparison to the successful Hunger Games is that it was once a book for a teen audience. But I think you’ll find it stands on its own as a great piece of cinema. The Maze Runner has an incredible cast of actors helmed by the brilliant Wes Ball, and we bring a real truth to this world. Each character has a story that affects the piece and I’m extremely proud of the film. I play Alby who is a father figure and brother to what essentially are a group of lost boys, The Gladers, and he keeps the order. I believe when people come out to see this film, they’ll come again and again, and this film is gonna draw people of all ages to the cinema.
TM: How do you choose your roles? Are you looking for fun, fame, money, awards, art, or some combination thereof? Do you choose based on the project itself or the people you’d have the opportunity to work with?
AA: I’ve always chosen films based on the character first, how I’ll explore different sides of myself, how I’ll grow because of the nature of the person. But with my recent choices The Butler and The Maze Runner, the stories have been so compelling and so that drove my interest to the films. With The Butler you have a story about a family that survive oppression in a highly volatile time in American History. Cecil is an American hero in his own right. The Maze Runner is a creation story, it’s about these boys that are born into this world and have no understanding of who they were before. I’m now in love with the idea of story and it’s become the most important thing to selecting my roles. I’ve been spoiled with the last few projects in a great way, so much so, I really only want to work off inspiration. The story has to move and inspire me in some way.
TM: If you could have any actors career whose would you want?
AA: Wow, I have no idea. There are many actors that have been a source of inspiration to me, but right now I’m excited at the prospects of what I could create.
TM: What else do you have in the works that we can look forward to seeing you in after The Butler and The Maze Runner?
AA: There’s a few things on the horizon, I go into production for an indie film about a British singer, a film called BlackBird, in September, then I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
Aml Ameen is an English actor best known for his roles as Trife in Kidulthood and Young Cecil in this month’s new release The Butler.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by Jimi Celeste for PatrickMcMullan.com
Design by Marie Havens
Aml Ameen, The New York Premiere of THE BUTLER, Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, August 5, 2013, Photography by Jimi Celeste for PatrickMcMullan.com