A review by Alva White for Hot Press.
In cracking new thriller Yardie, Aml Ameen plays a Jamaican gangster navigating his way through the criminal underworld of ’80s London. The gifted young actor talks about taking the method approach to his role and having Idris Elba as his director.
Aml Ameen has played a wide variety of characters, ranging from calm leader Alby in The Maze Runner to Sensate Capheus in Sense8. Having worked in TV, film and theatre, he expresses a preference for the big screen.
“You commit yourself for a certain time, you do it once and then the story is done,” he notes. “I like those stakes.” Ameen’s latest movie is Idris Elba’s directorial debut, Yardie. Based on Victor Headley’s book of the same name, the movie is about a man’s quest for justice in ’80s London, in a landscape thick with drug dealers and Jamaican gangsters.
Although focusing on the crime and violence of the period, Ameen says it is really about the Jamaican-British experience, and reminding him of his father’s experience as an immigrant.
“My family are from Jamaica, so I’d never had a chance to really play that and be in that world,” says Ameen. “I was transported back to the ’80s when my Dad was a man growing up.” This was one of the main factors that drew Ameen to the role; the other was his love of gangster films such as Goodfellas, The Godfather and City Of God. Working with Elba, meanwhile, was the icing on the cake.
Ameen explains how he was in a lift, about to board a plane from London to Los Angeles, when he ran into Elba in 2015. The two had last seen each other in 2005, when Ameen was working on the film Kidulthood. They caught up quickly, speaking about Ameen’s latest film, The Maze Runner . This conversation lead to Elba describing an upcoming project he was planning.
Skipping the formality of using agents, Ameen read the screenplay while on the flight and accepted the role. Eighteen months later they met in Canada, by which time film was set in stone. And if you think that’s a chance meeting, Ameen went on to reveal the serendipitous moment on the plane when “just two seats in front of us was Al Pacino.” It’s a memory he holds dear.
Elba and Ameen agreed that method-acting was the best approach for Yardie. Living in Jamaica for two months, Ameen immersed himself in the culture with the help of his Aunt Hazel and other family members. He also spoke to members of the Marley family, people who worked in Studio 1, and anyone else from the ’80s who could help him with his character, D. A dialect coach helped the actor grasp the accent, but the main influence for D’s voice was Bryan Art, a Jamaican reggae singer. Once back in London, Ameen felt he’d finally become comfortable with his character.
“Shantol Jackson who plays my wife in the movie, she helped me,” he reflects. “We kind of lived in our own little bubble for a couple of months and did this film, which was magical to us.”
Having followed the method approach and lived as D for several months, one imagines it must have been an emotionally draining experience. Ameen explains the effect playing the role had on his own mindset.
“Carrying the trauma of my brother and in my head everyday revisiting the murder. You know, that’s quite draining, even if the circumstances are imaginary – that can be quite draining on your psyche. So, if I asked you right now to imagine someone getting killed over and over again, and do it repetitively every morning and every night when you go to bed, it would feel real. It would feel real and it would feel disturbing and so he was definitely a heavy character in that sense.”
Yardie is a film full of crime and violence. It shows the kind of gritty, realistic gang life that has been portrayed in countless other films in the genre, and yet it is a cut above many movies in its use of supernatural undertones, rooted in Jamaican beliefs and superstitions. Ameen feels the spiritual element makes us question what we are truly seeing. Even the actor is left wondering, is it trauma or is it a real thing D is experiencing?
“I think, he’s a young man that’s suffering from a lot of trauma, you know? And I think the film speaks to everybody, because it asks you the question: how do we all deal with trauma and how do we let things go?
“It’s really important to deal with trauma and the things that one goes through as a child, and to address those things so you can live a more peaceful life. The second thing I learnt is that when I was doing the film, I had to grow my nails out. I had to grow my hair; I had to look just a bit wilder. I’m used to getting haircuts and very pristine nails and all the rest of it, so it gave me that sense of freedom and giving less of a fuck about things. I really enjoyed that. People will love you when they love you – and when they don’t, they don’t.”
Yardie is in cinemas from August 24.