No one understands how much of a fresh face Aml Ameen is to American audiences than Aml Ameen himself. “Probably to 99.9 percent of American eyes,” the British actor, 25, says with a laugh. But come Monday night, he’ll get a fitting introduction as part of David E. Kelley’s new NBC show Harry’s Law. Kathy Bates stars as ace patent attorney Harriet Korn who’s canned by her law firm but then starts her own in a rough part of town in order to help those who need it the most. One of her new clients, Malcolm Davies, literally falls right into her lap — a college student, Malcolm needs her legal knowhow to stay out of jail and ends up being her paralegal. Much like his character, Ameen counts himself as lucky. “In 2006, I was asked when I was on a show called The Bill in London, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’ I said, ‘I would love to be doing this on the biggest stage in the world, which is Hollywood.’ It’s actually a dream come true, if it’s not too corny to say that,” says Ameen, who now resides in Los Angeles. The actor checked in while shopping for a present for his girlfriend about his new show, his brush with Michael Jackson as a kid, and his secret to doing an American accent. Read below for the interview, and check him out in this clip from Monday’s season premiere of Harry’s Law.
Photos courtesy of NBC
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I’ve seen the first couple episodes of Harry’s Law, and I have to say, you’re not in it enough.
It is a pretty good character, man. He’s very complex. Over the next six especially and then to 12, you really see him unfold and you see where he comes from. By the time you get to episodes 5 and 6, you really get a glimpse into who he is and his background. As it unfolded, even for me, I got really surprised about exactly the lifestyle he came from prior to meeting Harry and the fashion he met her.
There is both drama and comedy with that character.
Definitely. The comedy that comes from Malcolm is that he gets really panicked and worried sometimes that he’s not doing things right, or really panicked and worried that things may go wrong. The heart of him is that he’s trying to change his life and make sure that, with Harry helping him, he does her justice.
Can you relate to that aspect of him
I tell you what I relate to: the opportunity David E. Kelley has given me just to be a part of this show. I’m not known here at all — this is my first-ever time on pilot season and all the rest of it. I have that kind of responsibility myself where I really want to do a good job.
You’ve disguised your accent really well. Did that take some time to refine?
[In a perfect American accent] Not really. I’m actually an actor from Brooklyn, New York. I just put on British accents for fun. [Laughs] It’s cool. On the pilot episode, I spoke American on and off camera, so most of the crew in March thought I was American. And then when I came back, they’re like, “Oh, you’re British?” It took everybody a couple of months. I was conscious of it before, and after a while it just smoothes out. And I’ve been obsessed with everything American all my life, so it’s easy in that sense. With Malcolm, it’s more than just the accent. I know him now, so it’s easy to go right into that mindset.
Harry’s Law is definitely a show that tackles a lot of big issues and is not afraid of having a message, especially in the courtroom. Do you enjoy part of a show that has something to say?
I grew up as a big fan of David E. Kelley’s work from Ally McBeal. I watched that show with my mum. Working with Kathy Bates, is a legend that everyone instantly is going to admire, but when you’re actually working with her, she’s a consummate professional. She loves to have a laugh in the right moments and that is amazing. Given the weight of my role and the things my character’s going to be, he’s aspiring to be a lawyer, so I had to do a big lawyer speech for my audition. David E. Kelley is such a brilliant writer so it’s a great challenge to execute his specific way of writing. I love it, and we’re just getting started with where it could all go. You should really watch those Kathy Bates speeches. My first day was a 12-hour shoot with Kathy in the courtroom, and I was off camera. I was just amazed. I went to acting school all over again just watching her and listening to David’s words.
What’s your favorite thing about Kathy so far?
She’s got a great sense of humor. I’m introducing her to a few of my British colloquialisms. Like we say “Wogwon” as like a “What’s up?” It’s like an English urban thing. The fact that me and her will go back and forth, that aspect of her humor is great. And she’s very giving. I’m really besotted with Kathy, personally.
Does Malcolm have any major courtroom scenes coming up?
You do see Malcolm come into his own as a person who could potentially become a good lawyer in the future. He mediates a gang situation between two gangs, and he does a great job in the end with them – with Harry’s guidance.
How did they find you? Did David see one of your shows overseas and say, “I need to have that guy”?
No, no. I was testing for another show at one time, it was an ABC show, and I auditioned for the casting director and Bill D’Elia, the executive producer, and then David. They gave me a straight offer after three auditions. I didn’t even know what a test was prior to coming to America last year. I was really naive to it. My management said, “You know how big a deal it is that they gave you this opportunity without a test? I was really, really thankful.
So it’s different than British TV in that sense.
We don’t do tests – the concept doesn’t exist in England. You are the mecca of the entertainment world, so they really need to get it right when it comes to American TV. There’s a lot more that goes into it perhaps. You probably audition just about as many times, but this whole test and signing off, that doesn’t really happen where I’m from.
Since 2003, you’d been a staple on television over there. Did coming to America become a goal at some point?
Listen, I’ve been in this industry professionally since I was 6 years old. It’s always been my thing to be in America and be here. It’s always been my dream and my focus. I didn’t know when it was going to happen — I really hoped it would happen, and just worked hard to make it happen. It’s very overwhelming. The deal I’ve been able to strike up here has been really great, but my career in England, I’ve been able to do really well over there, too. Since Kidulthood, a British movie I did over there, my career really picked up. I did a couple TV shows as a regular before in England, but this is completely different and bigger.
You’ve done a lot of singing and dancing in your career. Do you hope to come back to that at some point while you’re over here?
I went to stage school since I was a kid, so singing and dancing was a part of what we did. To be honest, I’m the type of person who likes to focus on one thing at a time. I would definitely focus on my acting career. If I did singing and dancing, it would be through the medium of acting still. I don’t think I’m that capable of releasing a great album or anything. I’m going to keep my talents within anything that anybody thinks I can get away with for now. I’d love to do a biography or something like that. I’m a tap dancer, so I’ve always been fascinated by the Nicholas Brothers and would love to do something like that in the future. But no, I’m not going to release an album or go on Broadway or anything like that. It’s not really for me.
You performed with Michael Jackson when you were 11 at the 1996 Brit Awards. What was that like?
I was naive to it. If I had performed with Michael Jackson a few years ago when I was in my teens, I’d have really made a big deal of it, but I knew who Michael Jackson was, I loved to do it, and I prayed to God. I was like, “Yo, God, if you give me this, I’ll never ever ask you for anything again.” I lied obviously. [Laughs] I really loved just being able to say it. I remember him introducing himself to me and saying, “Hi, my name’s Michael,” and in my head I was like, “Yeah, I know that!” And I was like, “Hi, my name’s Aml.” He was nice to us and really cool, but that was kind of it. We did the Earth song, and Jarvis Cocker came on stage and showed his ass and it was a whole big deal. [Here’s a video of what caused a stir.]
Oh yeah, I remember that. I guess you personally remember more of the Michael Jackson part.
Exactly, I do. [Laughs] It’s something really good to be able to say that I did, but something to memory is not as strong as it could be.
If Americans don’t see you in Harry’s Law, they might catch you in the new George Lucas film Red Tails coming up about the Tuskegee airmen.
Yeah, that was my first American movie. I have a small part in that. It was a different process because they shot in Prague and were casting smaller characters in England. I met Cuba Gooding Jr. and George Lucas and really enjoyed working with him.
Is George as big over there as he is here?
He’s a legend everywhere, isn’t he? [Laughs] He’s an absolute legend, much like David E. Kelley in that sense.
Do you want to find a nice balance between TV and movies someday?
Definitely. If I’m fortunate enough to do both, that’s great. I have aspirations to just be a really good actor and be as good as the people around me and play the right roles. If I’m able to do movies, fantastic. If I’m able to continue in this series, great. I’m good either way.