Aml Ameen and Shantol Jackson talk immigrant culture, working with Idris Elba, and '80s London life
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Aml Ameen and Shantol Jackson star as D and Yvonne in Idris Elba’s highly-anticipated directorial debut, Yardie. Ameen explains how he got this incredible part, stating that “I was on my way to LA from London in 2015 and Idris was on my flight,and we got speaking about a film he wanted to do, on the book Yardie which I’d heard about previously. And he said, ‘Are you up for doing it?’ and I said, ‘What?’. And he said, ‘Are you up for doing it?’ and I was like, ‘…Yeah!’ “And I read the script on this flight to LA, and he gave me the part! And I made sure, I was like ‘Wait a second, Idris,” and I got one of the stewardesses to take a photo, so that by the time we land he couldn’t take it back. So that’s how I heard about it, and it was fantastic.” As for Jackson, a Jamaican actress cast as D’s love interest, she explains that “the casting director… told me, ‘You know, there’s a film that we want you to audition for’, and I didn’t know Idris was the director on it. And two weeks after I did the tape, they told me that the director was here and wanted to meet me, and I said, ‘Sure!’. “And when I got to the meeting, there was Idris! I had no idea it would’ve been him. He was so chill, and down to earth and I was panicking inside… And he told me it was his first project… And two weeks later I get a call telling me he’d love for me to take the role. And so of course, I screamed in his ear,” Jackson laughs. “When I heard Shantol had got the part, I emailed her and asked, ‘Would you mind writing letters back in our characters?’. We started work about a year before, and I was lucky that she said yes, and we started a dialogue over email, imagining what our childhood together had been like, and the different seminal moments in our lives. So, by the time we got to set, it felt like we had all this backstory and this world pre-created. That’s what made it real,” Ameen emphasises. “And she would also help me a lot with dialect and with the accent, and again when you’re communicating, it helps build a connection. And so those were some of the things we did to start to form the world of D and Yvonne. That and a lot of dancing, a lot of music, and a lot of hanging out, it was great!” “Idris also paid a key role in it,” the actress adds, “because he wanted the chemistry in the film to be as authentic as possible. So, the day I landed it was straight into rehearsals. And he spent a lot of time with the both of us, trying to get the scenes the way he wanted them to go… And he’d said very early on that he wanted the chemistry in the film to be one of the very key points. Although it is a violent film, the love story is also very important. I think it’s more of a love story than a gangster film, to be honest. He wanted to capture that.” Ameen had a special challenge set by the first-time director going into filming. “It was this exchange we had very early on,” he explains, “when he said that he wanted me to go method acting for it. And what that meant was that in 2017, I went to live in Jamaica and that informed a lot, from an energy perspective. “And what I saw, and the great people in Jamaica, from my aunties to the people at Studio One that used to work with Bob Marley, to all these music artists; all of these people helped contribute to my experience of Jamaica, and that mood would come back with me to London… Idris allowed for that all to happen, he facilitated that world happening for me, so by the time I came to set he said that he trusted me to do it… “One of the great things I admired about him was that he chose the actors, gave us our orders, and then he trusted us. And that’s not something you get all the time for first-time directors, and I’ve worked for a few. What you tend to get is micromanaging, because of a sense of fear they have about how things could look.”
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