EXCLUSIVE:
 Aml Ameen, who portrays Dr.Martin Luther King in Rustin, reveals that he’s in talks with Film4 and the BFI to direct and star in the sequel to holiday romance Boxing Day, his feature directorial debut — and he has a second film, a crime saga called Night and Day that he wants to make soon. 

That’s not all, because the L.A.-based Brit is in London prepping to play a “transformative” lead role in an as-yet-unannounced film.

The hush-hush part in the secret film requires him to “shut down my entire life because” of the life-changing nature of the character he’ll be playing.

While Ameen’s shooting that film, he’ll pop up as a lawyer alongside Jeff Daniels in the six-part Netflix drama A Man in Full, an the adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel written by David E. Kelley and directed by Regina King, who Ameen says is “an actor’s director. She knows performances very well. Regina sniffs out any bullsh*t.”  

He plays a lawyer representing a real estate tycoon (Daniels).

Ameen says that next to portraying Dr. King, “it’s probably the most challenging role I’ve ever done.

”Laughing, he states that, “You’re talking about 15 pages of David E. Kelley legal dialogue, you know? Because you can really mess up legal sh*t if you don’t pay attention.”

Aml Ameen and Colman Domingo in ‘Rustin’ (Netflix)

Funny thing about Ameen is that I clocked his work long before I knew who he was.

He was the kid onstage with Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards in 1991. He was one of Fagin’s thieving tykes in a production of Oliver! that Sam Mendes directed and Cameron Mackintosh produced. He was a kid in the Al Jolson musical Jolson that played the Victoria Palace. And I’d spot him now and again on The Bill and saw a lot of his other stage, film and tv work, but it wasn’t until he played a drug kingpin in Yardie, directed by Idris Elba, that one started paying serious attention to him as an actor. Having observed some pretty repellent types when I covered courts, I thought Ameen lifted the film with his portrait of frightening ruthlessness. 

Let’s get away from murky goings-on and return to glossy romance. 

When an executive at the BFI asked him if he was scared to be directing Boxing Day, he responded that he was too excited to be scared, and he felt little pressure. Whereas with acting, he feels pressure. “With filmmaking, I just feel like it’s just my heart and fun.”

That’s why he’s elated to be revisiting characters that he and writing partner Bruce Purnell created for Boxing Day, which Warner Bros released in the UK in December 2021.

Producing partners Matthew Zamias and Dominique Telson are back onboard for Boxing Day 2.

The actor remembers feeling like a “pig in sh*t” during production of Boxing Day because, he says, he was “making a film about my culture, about my family.”

The multi-faceted artist tells me that it’s his “desire that the entire cast and producing team” of Boxing Day return for the follow-up film.

Casting, he says, will be based around scheduling, but he wants to welcome back How to Get Away With Murder’s Aja Naomi King and Leigh-Anne Pinnock, the Little Mix singer and songwriter who made her acting debut in Boxing Day.

In the original film, King played Lisa, a Hollywood casting director who accompanies Ameen’s Melvin, a soap actor-turned-novelist who returns to London for the winter holidays after two years estranged from his dysfunctional family, and to face Georgia, his chart-topping pop-star ex, played by Pinnock.

Aja Naomi King

Luke Fontana

“Everyone is really excited about” returning for the sequel, Ameen enthuses. That includes Marianne Jean Baptiste, who played Melvin’s mum in the original Boxing Day

Many others are set to return, and they will be joined by what Ameen terms “a few American comedy legends” representing Lisa’s family. 

Ameen has set the new movie in three different locations: London, Atlanta — where we’ll meet Lisa’s kin — and then Ghana.

The filmmaker observed that Boxing Day has enjoyed a healthy life following its theatrical release in the UK after Amazon’s Prime Video picked it up for the U.S. 

The Caribbean and African diaspora in the U.S. turned it into a cult, making it their own Love Actually. Plus, I have anecdotal evidence from close relatives who live in Nashville and are obsessed with the film. They love all the shenanigans that erupt within it. 

“There’s popular demand for a sequel,” Ameen believes.

Colman Domingo, President Obama and Aml Ameen (Courtesy of Aml Ameen)

Along with the “old gang,” Ameen wants to introduce the family of Aja, the part played by Aja Naomi King. 

“You bring in the British Caribbean family and the African American family from the South, and it’s like a Meet the Fockers,” he declares.

The comedy and the high jinks of Boxing Day 2 are the complete antithesis of Night and Day, which he’s written with Purnell. It’s hugely ambitious and is, he tells me, “a crime thriller set in the 1950s, 1970s and 2025. … And it follows the span of a family that got into crime in Grenada in a particular era.” 

The plan is to shoot in Grenada, New York and Morocco.

We talked a lot about the storyline for Night and Day and about how it needs an actor with chops and charisma.

Ameen will direct co-write and perhaps take a small acting role in the project.

We met for lunch back in January at the Pendry in West Hollywood, though our conversations continued when he traveled to London to consult with Roger Charteris and Robert Taylor, his longtime advisers at The Artists Partnership, and to do the “transformative” movie.

Ameen shows me a photo from when he was about 10 or 11, filming his siblings with a camcorder, recording over VHS cassettes of Biggie and Busta Rhymes videos, and I marvel at how he got from Barnet — an outer London suburb — to Hollywood.

“This is you as baby Aml,” I say, pointing to the photo on his cellphone. “Mate, yeah, it was mad,” he says, beaming. “I’m Spike Lee there,” he adds, laughing at the dreams of a pre-teen.

It’s no joke, though. ”Spike Lee was a Black filmmaker, and back then, I wanted to be a filmmaker and an actor,” he says.

His origin story of loving acting, as he describes it, “was probably a lot of old-school movies of Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant and James Cagney,” all down to the fact that his mom’s “a big cinephile.”

Throw in Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and Richie Rich as inspiration too. 

The thought percolating around his young head was, “’Oh my God, I can have fun like that if I became an actor.’ And then Spike Lee kind of went into the brain. He was the only Black filmmaker that I knew of.”

Steven Spielberg’s Hook was another favorite of Ameen’s growing up.

His eyes light up as he invokes the legendary director’s name.

Let me back up a bit to remind that the actor gives a memorable portrait of Martin Luther King in George C. Wolfe’s Rustin, a movie about how the influential Civil Rights Movement organizer Bayard Rustin whop built the infrastructure of Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial. Colman Domingo as Rustin is a contender for Best Actor at the SAG Awards on Saturday, and he’s up for the Oscar on March 10. 

RELATED: Breaking Baz: ‘Rustin’ Oscar Nominee Colman Domingo On Breaking Through After 33 Years As A Journeyman Actor, The Art Of The Red Carpet & Talking Diplomacy With President Obama

At an event in L.A. for President Biden late last year, Spielberg’s there and “[suddenly he’s] in front of me going, ‘I loved your portrayal of Dr. King.’ And it’s such a freaky moment,” he tells me because he remembers back in 2021 being in Winnipeg, Canada, filming the CBC series The Porter and editing Boxing Day and he had a dream about Spielberg needing him to portray Dr. King in a feature.

He writes his dreams down, and he shows me the entry for July 15, 2021, featuring Spielberg. A month later, on August 17, he gets a call asking him to audition “for a film called Rustin” to play the Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

I mention the acceptance speech Shirley MacLaine gave after she won her Oscar for Terms of Endearment, where she declared that we’re all capable of “manifesting what we want.”

“We also manifest what we don’t want,” Ameen quickly interjects.

Softly, he adds, ”What you focus on expands, right?”

Former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are executive producers of Rustin through their Higher Ground Productions.

One night late last year, Ameen and Domingo were at the Château Marmont at another soiree when Domingo received a call telling them to high-tail it over to, as it happens, the Pendry. They get there to be introduced to President Obama.

It’s a “supernova” moment, as Ameen likes to call it.

“My whole spirit was like, ‘That’s Barack Obama.’ And he was like, “Oh, Aml. Aw, aw, great job. Great job as Martin. That was a hard part. Colman, you did OK, but you did a fantastic job as Martin.’ And I was just like, ‘Rah.’ I was like, ‘Mate, it’s so wild seeing you.’”

Wait a minute, I say: You addressed President Obama as “mate”?! 

Ameen readily confesses “That’s terrible, I know, I know.”

Apparently , Bruce Parnell pulled him up too, telling him, “Bro, you just called the president ‘mate,’ man.”

The actor clarifies a tad, saying that he preceded his inappropriate salutation with “Mr President,” then uttered, ”Mate, it’s so wild to meet you.”

It’s not as if he wasn’t raised properly by his psychotherapist mum Marva Sherman, who had a “massive emphasis on taking custody of your brain,” he says. “Education was paramount.” And dad Bilal Ameen is a founder and trustee of community organization the African Caribbean Development Foundation. That’s one of the reasons he loves Rustin because it’s about “the organizers behind the march.”

He was 23 when they divorced, and that’s when he skipped over to L.A. What takes place in Boxing Day is an ever-so-loosely semi-autobiographical take on his parents’ parting and its effect on their children.

Ameen says he remains close to both parents and credits his mom for telling him when he landed a series of roles on Thames Television Productions’ long-running The Bill, which he joined as a guest star at 16, followed by a stint playing a criminal. Then he served a year in a gripping storyline as PC Lewis Hardy, an officer who goes undercover. That was followed by a breakthrough role in Kidulthood.

His mother warned him not to squander his money on “nonsense.”

Even so, he lived it large, on a somewhat lower plain, driving a secondhand BMW followed by a used Mercedes. But still he obeyed his mother by investing in properties in London. “When I first came out here, those properties sustained me,” he says.

Ever since he saw Adrian Lester with Kathy Bates in Primary Colors when he was 11, Ameen knew that one day he must live and work in America. Before that he’d had no concept of a Black Brit playing an American in American movies and television shows.

I tell him that I’ve always had a thing about Kathy Bates, ever since I was lucky enough to see her on Broadway in Marsha Norman’s ‘Night, Mother and in Robert Altman’s production of Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, adding that I’ve always had a particular soft spot about her performance in Primary Colors.  

Years ago, during the 52nd Venice Film Festival, I remember standing up and demanding that a journalist apologize fulsomely for being disrespectful to Bates at a press conference for Taylor Hackford’s Dolores Claiborne.

Ameen’s eyes widen, then soften. “I must tell you a story about Kathy,” he says.

He tells me that one of his first gigs when he arrived in L.A. was in Bates’ legal show Harry’s Law.

Ameen left an apartment he’d been living in, and Bates offered him a room in her Hancock Park estate. “She’s a beautiful woman, beautiful person. She looked after me,man,” he says graciously.

Even before Bates became his guardian angel, there were other kind souls who also helped him find his feet out West. Frances Fisher was one of them, allowing him to reside in her pool house for about a year, “You know, like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” he jokes.

From left: Aml Ameen, Arlando Whitaker, Bruce Purnell Jr. and George Jones III, ‘Entourage’-style, at Sundance (Courtesy of Ameen Aml)

They hadn’t worked together, but they shared the same manager.

On occasion he’d escort Fisher to a gala and she’d introduce him to her friends. “Frances would go, ‘Aml, this is Bobby.’ And it’s Robert De Niro!”

And it’s Morgan Fereman and it’s Jeff Bridges. ”And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, these are your friends?’ You know?”

Around the time Ameen was shooting the pilot for what was to become Harry’s Law — it initially was titled Kindreds — he met a group of young guys who would become his posse: Arlando Whitaker, an actor, casting director and producer; Bruce Purnell, his writing collaborator; George Jones, an entrepreneur who works for the Department of Commerce; and TJ Ramini, who played DC Zain Nadir on The Bill. Ameen and Ramini moved to America at the same time and are now best friends and neighbors in Santa Monica.

“And us boys rolled solidly for a while like Entourage.”

If Ameen can pull of his plans, this year and next, he’ll be introducing the stars to his friends.

Sumber