Aml Ameen is a well-traveled man. Sitting across from me at a conference-room table, a red-and-black beaded necklace adorns his neck.
It’s a gift from a Maasai warrior that he met on a trip to Kenya. Immersing himself in experiences has been part of the young British actor’s tool set, and he brings that energy to his starring role in the Idris Elba-directed Yardie.
Yardie is based on the debut novel of the same name by Jamaican-born British writer Victor Headley. Set in the 1980s, the title refers to the occupants of “government yards” of Hackney and tells the story of Dennis “D” Campbell, a young drug dealer with an itch to avenge the murder of his brother, Jerry Dread. Ameen, whose parents are from Jamaica and St. Vincent, assumes the role of the troubled D as he makes his way from Jamaica to London leaving bullets and blood in his wake.
Aml is part of rising group of Black acting talent of out of the U.K. that includes Letisha Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, John Boyega and Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch, to name a few. (“We all grew up together.”) While Ameen has racked up credits in Sense8, The Maze Runner and Beyond the Lights, it was his performance in 2006’s Kidulthood, a U.K. drama, that put him on Elba’s radar. After a chance reunion in an elevator, they shared an 11-hour flight from London to Los Angeles where they discussed Yardie, and Ameen read the script while sitting behind Al Pacino.
“Both of our parents being immigrants in the ‘80s — both our fathers — that whole thing was a big connection for us, and then we said, ‘Alright, let’s go ahead and make it,’” Ameen says of the conversation with Idris. They never spoke to Pacino on the flight despite the book being called the Jamaican Scarface when it was first published.
“I would say there’s like a Goodfellas element because it’s stylistically not just a linear story,” Ameen says of Yardie, which was filmed over six weeks in Jamaica and London. “I would always compare it to a City of God in terms of style fusion. Those are two huge classics and we don’t want to mess with those legacies at all. But I feel like those are some of the films that were borrowed from in terms of inspiration.”
BET.com spoke with Ameen at length about his preparation for Yardie, working under Idris on his first feature film as a director, and the careful considerations taken to properly capture Jamaican culture.