Aml Ameen has been poised to break out for years. Growing up in London, he starred in West End plays and even busted a move onstage with Michael Jackson at the 1996 Brit Awards. “I’ve basically had two careers — my British career and my American career. I felt at least successful back home. I’ve always been churning away,” noted the accomplished tap dancer, who often shows off “a little bit of my ‘La La Land’” moves on his Instagram feed.
After working with a string of powerhouse directors in the States, including George Lucas, Ava DuVernay and Lee Daniels, he nabbed the lead in Idris Elba’s directorial debut, “Yardie,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last weekend. “Idris is an extraordinarily prepared filmmaker. It doesn’t feel like his first film. I’ve never felt more safe with a director than with him, which is awesome,” he said.
The fest first-timer, who plays a Jamaican drug dealer in the Seventies-set crime drama, brought his L.A. crew to celebrate in Park City. “This is my first time at the rodeo, proper child eyes like, ‘Oh my God, this is Sundance and look at the snow!'” he said.
PROVENANCE: London, England
BIG BREAK: “I did ‘Kidulthood,’ this British flick that was kind of big over in England,” he said of the 2006 indie crime drama that won him accolades — and got him noticed by Elba, who tried to convince him to move to Hollywood. “At 19, I met him briefly. He was just becoming the Elba we all know with ‘The Wire.’ He was like, ‘Mate, you have to get over [to Los Angeles].'”
SQUAD GOALS: “This is basically an ‘Entourage’ episode for us,” the 32-year-old cracked of party-hopping through Park City with his “boys.”
COMING TO AMERICA: He moved to L.A. for a role in David E. Kelley’s television show, “Harry’s Law,” which only lasted a season. Ameen also appeared in a series of high-profile projects, including “The Butler”; “Red Tails” with Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard; sci-fi action-drama “The Maze Runner,” and a short stint on “Sense8,” which ended in headline-making creative differences.
FLIGHT OF FANCY: A chance run-in with Elba on a flight from London two years ago resulted in Ameen landing the lead in “Yardie.” “He was like, ‘Aml, I was thinking about you. I’m about to direct this movie,’” said Ameen. By the time they touched down in L.A., it was a done deal. “It was this very serendipitous moment. It was a dream, man.”
MOTHER TONGUE: Ameen, whose mother is Jamaican, approached his accent work “with a great amount of fear,” opting to stay in his mom’s homeland for a month to make sure he nailed the cadence. “When you’re speaking in a Jamaican accent, your mind changes, your way of communication changes. It’s such a visceral beautiful culture,” he noted.
SUNDANCE STYLE: Ameen summed up his look as “classic British gentleman, but with a Caribbean feel.” He added, “I like colors that pop. I don’t have a go-to designer, I just kind of mix and match things I like.” Case in point: his Forties-inspired “gangsta-gentleman” fest look, which included spiky Louboutins and a La Perla coat.
WHAT’S NEXT: The lead in the sci-fi drama, “Parallel” and his directorial feature, “A Night Worth Living,” which he plans to shoot in L.A. this spring. “I never saw a romantic comedy story for people that looked like me with the quality of writing expected of John Hughes, so I’m giving it a go,” he said. “If we’re the luckiest of luckiest of lucky, maybe we’ll be at Sundance.”