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How collaborating with Idris Elba helped actor Aml Ameen connect with his roots

For Aml Ameen, entertaining was a passion from childhood. At his request, the English actor's father sent him to drama school for 10 years. But it was a chance encounter with movie star Idris Elba that opened a path to honoring his Jamaican heritage -- while further developing his career. Ameen shares his brief but spectacular take on finding his own identity while portraying a character.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tonight's Brief But Spectacular comes from English actor Aml Ameen.

    He describes how a chance encounter with movie star Idris Elba set him on a path to honor his Jamaican roots.

    Tonight's interview is part of our ongoing coverage of arts and culture, Canvas.

  • Aml Ameen:

    The story is, I kind of went to my dad at like 6 years old. And I said: "Dad, dad, I want to be an actor."

    And he was like, "You're sure, son?"

    I said, "Yes."

    He said: "All right."

    And so he sent me to a stage school, and from 6 until 16, learned tap, ballet, dancing. I just knew instinctively that I wanted to be an entertainer all around.

    There's an old saying, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Right? And so I think that's quite true.

    I was on my way from London to L.A. I just heard from the gods, right, Aml. And as I turned around, and it was Idris. And I had not seen Idris in years. He was going to L.A. And I was going to L.A. And we both got on the same flight for 11 hours.

    We spoke about "Yardie," this book that he had grown up on and loved, about a Jamaican gangster that comes to London. And he spoke about me doing this film and what it would be.

    Both of our families as well, both of our fathers were immigrants to England and what it meant at that particular time in the '80s and late '70s, being an immigrant and how the impact of Jamaican culture in London, how it changed the nucleus of what London is now.

    It's a very multicultural place because of the contributions of so many different immigrants, not least of all Jamaicans.

    I asked the stewardess. I said: "Can you please — just come here, please. Just take a photo, just in case, when this guy gets off the plane, he forgets this."

    About two, three years later, we're on set. Our "Yardie," the film version, is about a young man who witnesses the murder of his older brother. It's a very important film in my life, because it just reflects a lot — a story and a version of Jamaica that's never been seen, you know?

    You know, we have got the "Cool Runnings" version of Jamaica. We have the "Shottas" version of Jamaica.

    But the Jamaica that Idris captured was this very beautiful, almost mystical, magical island. And what was amazing for me is, I accessed the part of myself that is now there forever.

    You know, Jamaicans are bold. They're unapologetic. You know, through their poverty, there's still a lot of pride.

    My name is Aml Ameen, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on finding myself through character.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can find additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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