Aml Ameen: A Black Man in Full

Aml Ameen is primed for international stardom.

Already a familiar face to many, with notable roles in streaming hits like Rustin, Boxing Day, and Yardie, the British-born actor’s profile has been on a steep incline on both sides of the pond for the last five years.

Now, with his role in Netflix’s top-10 smash limited series A Man in Full, starring alongside stars like Chanté Adams, Jeff Daniels, William Jackson Harper, and Lucy Liu, he’s one step closer to superstar status.

But that’s not quite on his list of concerns.

“An actor’s choice is to choose those type of stories that you want to represent,” he tells ESSENCE of how he selects roles. “I’m genuinely doing my best, and have done my best throughout my career to make the choices that take care of us.”

Aml Ameen: A Black Man in Full
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 08: Aml Ameen attends the 2024 ESSENCE Hollywood House on March 08, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

His most recent choice to take on the role of defense attorney RogerWhite in the Regina King-produced and directed Netflix original limited series was one that placed him in both one of his career’s biggest challenges and best working conditions.

“I think the first thing that drew me to the role was Regina King,” he says of choosing his latest role. “Regina King…just her brain, her prestige, her thought process. She really loves us, and so she takes care of us in the narrative.”

“Then I thought ‘Roger White: who is this guy?’” he continues. “He’s a family man. He loves his wife. He loves his daughter. But he’s also so hungry for respect, for accolades, for financial gain. He has a very complicated relationship with Charlie Croker [Jeff Daniels]; a man who gave him an opportunity, a man he respects, and at the same time, a man who he on some level finds deplorable, some of his actions.”

In the narrative, Roger White is faced with several morality-bending scenarios and forced to rediscover his purpose and intention in the legal field through a pivotal and controversial case he had no idea he’d be defending.

“I love that he reminds me of a Sidney Poiter kind of character, old-school Sidney Poitier. A man of dignified goodness. Next to playing Dr. Martin Luther King [in 2023’s Rustin], this was probably the most difficult challenge of my acting career.”

Aml Ameen: A Black Man in Full
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 24: (L-R) Jon Michael Hill, Sarah Jones, Thomas Schlamme, Reina King, Lucy Liu, David E. Kelley, Regina King, Jeff Daniels, Aml Ameen, Chanté Adams, Diane Lane, Matthew Tinker, Alexandra Wolfe, Thomas C. Wolfe and Evan Roe attend the Los Angeles special screening of Netflix’s “A Man In Full” at TUDUM Theater on April 24, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Ameen’s acting career kicked off at a young age, as he was set on his goal of being an actor since elementary school. After routinely watching classic black and white films with his mother and entertaining her by imitating the stars, he knew this was the path for him.

After letting his parents know he wanted to be an actor at age six, he was sent to stage school, which quickly led to stints on London’s West End, and even a performance alongside Michael Jackson at age 11 at the 1996 Brit Awards. But Ameen always had his sights set on an acting career stateside.

He got his big American break with 2011’s Harry’s Law, and hit the pavement in LA doing routine auditions thereafter.

“All the African American actors that are of my age group and male, they’ve been with me,” he says. “I’ve seen them. We’ve been together. I’ve been on the floor grinding, literally, like literally grinding [to get roles].”

The grind has proven fruitful over time, leading him to play an array of roles, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just last year in the Netflix original Rustin. This experience leaves him among a long line of Black Brits playing distinctly American historical figures – a longstanding point of criticism on social media film debates.

Ameen knows there’s a perception in some circles that Hollywood seeks out foreign-born Black actors before Black Americans. But as he sees it, his journey predates any perceived Brit privilege in the acting field.

Aml Ameen: A Black Man in Full

“Every inch that I’ve gained from this business comes from me being on the floor in the room on the ground with everybody else grinding,” he tells ESSENCE. “Going into the auditions for the first few years of my life not ‘being British’ – going in with an American accent – because I was told then to mask it. ‘If you come in there and you’re British, they’re not going to give you the job.’”

“I predate the ‘gift’ of being British,” he explains. “I would say that [the assumption] is about scarcity honestly, like most things in life. It’s about resources, and that’s where the fear comes from.”

That’s where Ameen is doing his part. Through his production Studio 113, the actor-turned-director/producer is championing stories about the full Black experience, told from perspectives we aren’t often given the opportunity to see.

“It’s like if we’re not creating enough roles, there’s this fear that these sections of people are going to come and take away from this section of people,” he explains. “And I think ultimately my answer to that is Boxing Day and all the different things I’m writing as a creator to include all of us.”

The burgeoning Holiday classic, 2021’s Boxing Day, has become a bit of a sleeper hit in the US since its release on Prime Video streaming. A family “Christmas” film about a famed author returning to his home in London after two years away with little word to his family, with his American fiancé in tow. Hijinks ensue as his newly betrothed meets his eccentric British-Carribbean family and his long-term girlfriend since childhood, a music superstar (played by former Little Mix songstress turned soloist Leigh-Anne) going through a very public breakup around the same time.

Aml Ameen: A Black Man in Full
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Aml Ameen, Derek Ezenagu, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, Sheyi Cole, Tamara Lawrance, Samson Kayo, Zeze Millz and Fraser James attend the “Boxing Day” World Premiere at The Curzon Mayfair on November 30, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Warner Bros)

“We have nuances in our culture that not everybody knows about,” says Ameen of maintaining authenticity in his scripts. The love story at the center of the Holiday-themed dramedy was even based on Ameen’s own personal relationship experience.

“I write from that kind of personal place, and I think that’s why Boxing Day connected so well to people because there were no lies in it. They say what comes from the heart reaches the heart, right?

“Writing, for me, is probably the most personal I get with who I am,” he says. “I’ve been doing press and media since I was 17 years old, and I’ve really remained private my entire life. But by writing it, I found a way to have an outlet to be personal. As I go on in my career as a writer and director, that’s where someone would discover more of who I am.”

And with both a horror film, and a crime drama currently in the works, he’s clearly ready to reveal himself even more. “I have a lot to say about life, in my 38 years of experience,” he says.

Aml Ameen: A Black Man in Full

Ameen’s projects are a catharsis of sorts, where he commits his own life’s circumstances to the page and interprets it on the screen for audiences, particularly members of the Black Diaspora to commiserate and recognize themselves. Recalling an anecdote where an elder detailed why Denzel Washington is “the best Black man in the world,” because every time you see him on screen, he makes you proud to be a Black man as well, Ameen reveals it stuck with him, and has urged him to use his gifts both in front of and behind the camera to tell stories that serve Black people from each side of the pond in equal measure.

“I took that to heart many, many years ago,” he says of the statement.That’s why I say I’m doing my best to take care of us.”

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