When British Aml Ameen introduced himself to Hollywood flying high in George Lucas’s Red Tails opposite Cuba Gooding Jr., it was a breath of fresh air. When he appeared as a young Cecil Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler a year later, one could gather that the best was yet to come.
Fast-forward a bit, and it appears that time may be now. Starring in a number-one box office feature film this month (The Maze Runner), portraying a dynamic TV character (Harry’s Law), acting in a new Andy and Lana Wachowski-backed Netflix series (Sense8), and working on the upcoming romantic drama Beyond the Lights all appears par for the course for this 29-year-old thespian.
We recently spoke with Aml Ameen about his career, life, and much more.
EBONY: How did it feel jet-setting this month with The Maze Runner the number-one movie in the country?
Aml Ameen: These concepts never really set in my brain: “number-one film in the world” and “jet-setting.” It is a great feeling. My life as a whole right now is in a great place—from my personal life, to the way I feel about myself, and the results in my career. It’s also given me confidence in something I’ve spoken about for years to myself and young people: positive projection. Living by this vision in your mind, until it starts to become your reality. It’s definitely difficult, and life is full of hardship and testing times. But accept those too.
EBONY: What’s your approach with your new Netflix series, Sense8? Are there any surprises in the bag?
AA: Sense8 is all the Wachowskis’ brainchild and vision. They’re fascinating, good people that care about the empathic evolution we as a human race must go through. The show has been one of the most fun for me. My character Capheus is the most loving caring character I’ve played, but with an intense dark side that is eventually revealed through circumstances throughout the series. We’ve got high hopes for the show.
EBONY: Can you make any parallels between The Maze Runner and real life?
AA: Good question. The maze is an illusion; it’s the restriction that’s put upon us by the upper echelons of society and how we respond to them. Some decide to make home and peace out of these restrictions, subscribing to a myth that helps them mentally survive. Others question this existence and want to find a way to break through it. The difference between our society and that of the fictional Maze is, people in our society are usually punished, outcast or taken out. They later become the celebrated martyrs of the world. The parallels are quite apparent. Often fiction says what’s ignored in everyday life.
EBONY: You worked with the King of Pop when you were only 10. Would you like to share your Michael Jackson story?
AA: M.J. taught me a handshake that’s the reason for much of my success. (laughter) He’s a true legend, a true talent… I remember him introducing himself to me. I also remember recording “Earth Song” in a studio with him and other actors. In hindsight, what sticks out is the fact that I never realized how much of an important moment it was. It was almost the last chapter of his illustrious career. And I also remember praying to God, “Dear big guy: if I get this, I’ll never ask you for anything again.” I obviously lied! (laughter) Good memories.
EBONY: I read a very inspiring message on your Tumblr post. You spoke about hope being a treacherous idea. At what point in your life did you feel the most hopeless, and what aided you in obtaining more?
AA: It’s a funny thing: my name in Arabic means hope, so I suppose I have to live by that principal. Hope is desire, feeling and investing in a projection of something that doesn’t yet exist. At its best, you witness its alchemy in your life, turning something that was once in the mind into reality. At its worst, it’s delusion. We as people often subscribe to hope to feel better about our lives, to escape the harsh and sometimes cruel injustices of the world.
Storytelling, mythology and film provide a lot of hope, but on the flip side can also create delusion. So when you ask me when was the last time I felt hopeless, it is at any given moment I decide to look around at the world, put aside aspirational thought and just see it for what it is. In those moments I feel helpless, and therefore hopeless. But soon after I’m literally listening to one of my brother Mikel’s tracks and remembering my family, and that gives me the strength to push on.
EBONY: What were your goals realized in moments like The Butler and now Maze Runner?
AA: My goal was always to be working on the biggest stage in the world: Hollywood. Even when I was doing The Bill, I approached the work like it was a Hollywood classic such as Training Day or Boyz n the Hood. So to have worked with some of the greats I've admired such as Forest Whitaker, Kathy Bates, Cuba Gooding Jr., etc., it warms me.
And now with The Maze Runner, I had a chance to show the U.S. audience a side of me only my U.K. family has already seen. Again this warms me. You don’t know how proud I am to be from the U.K. and to be a part of this generation of actors changing things for the upcoming actors who want international careers. This generation has made it easier. Thanks to Idris [Elba], Chiwetel [Ejiofor], David Oyelowo and many more.