The nights are drawing in, the weather’s getting colder, and if you listen hard enough, you can hear the distant ring of jingle bells. Yes, it’s nearly Christmas (give or take a few months), which means one thing. It’ll soon be time to start watching festive films, and there’s going to be a brand new one for comedy movie fans to enjoy this year, Boxing Day.
Written and directed by Aml Ameen, who’s probably best known for his acting work on the hit TV series I May Destroy you and the sci-fi series Sense8, Boxing Day tells the story of Melvin (Ameen). Melvin’s got a seemingly perfect life in America with his fiancée, Lisa (Aja Naomi King). However, Melvin’s relationship is put to the test when he and Lisa return to London to spend Boxing Day with his eccentric British-Caribbean family, and they meet Georgia (Leigh-Anne Pinnock), the partner he left behind.
The first hilarious trailer for the rom-com just dropped, but we were lucky enough to chat to Ameen earlier in the week about making his feature-length directorial debut, the importance of capturing that authentic family dynamic, and we needed to ask him what he had against Love, Actually.
The Digital Fix: Okay, we’re sorry to start the interview like this but the trailer’s ending. What have you got against Love, Actually?
Aml Ameen: I love Love, Actually there’s not an issue at all! It’s actually one of the inspirations behind the film, and any pointedness is a pure homage and not an insult.
To be fair, we thought as much, so would you say Richard Curtis and his work have been a significant influence on the movie?
Yeah, I mean, there are many greats that have come before, right. So you know, Richard Curtis is the one that obviously created the quintessential blueprint to rom-com British cinema. I love that. I’m also a huge fan of the 1940’s movie Philadelphia Story. I grew up with a lot of these stories, and Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn.
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I think one of the great influences for this film as well is my best friend’s wedding, and that that that time in cinema as well, so it’s kind of an amalgamation of like many different people that I’ve just been inspired by. But you know the core of the script comes from my own life and the party that my family has every year on Boxing Day. It really drew from those personal experiences, and then they were kind of reimagined for Boxing Day.
Yeah, I read beforehand that you based a lot of this on your personal life. Is it daunting as a first-time filmmaker sharing a part of your personal life on the big screen?
Not really, because it’s not autobiographical. There are aspects that are personal enough like my parents got divorced right, but my parents divorced when I was 15. In the movie, they divorced when he’s in his late twenties.
It’s a totally different experience. It’s kind of reimagining that and then using these really fascinating, larger than life auntie characters. So in that way, I suppose I look forward to sharing them because I’ve been entertained by them myself for so many years.
I love the family, we only get a glimpse of them in the trailer, but they feel so authentic while exuding that dysfunctional energy that I think all families have. How important was it for you to nail that authenticity?
[Laughs] That’s so true! Yeah, it was everything for me, man, because I know where these people come from – and you hit the nail on the head with the dysfunctional bit. You know some of the things your old uncle says, and you’re like ‘mate, what are you saying and why are you saying it so loudly’.
So I love having characters do that and then having Lisa, played by Aja Naomi King, or Leigh-Anne Pinnock character Georgia, having them react to that in that time and space. It is really important to represent British culture and the subcultures within that culture, which have become such a part of British culture, which are African and Caribbean cultures that have influenced so much of what it now means to be British. It was really important to capture that.
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I think it’s an accessible window that an audience is going to recognise, you know? You just know it, we have Notting Hill Carnival, and you know these guys, but by watching this, you’re like ‘that’s what they’re saying, ‘that’s what they’re feeling’, you know? There are universal themes and characteristics of people you just go, ‘okay, yeah, I recognise this because that’s my uncle, my auntie’. So that was really important for me for sure.
The film’s being promoted as the first British rom-com to have an all-Black cast was that a daunting prospect as a first time feature director?
Which aspect? Making a black feature or just making a feature?
Both, to be honest.
Mate making a feature is such an endeavour, but it’s such an honour. I think what happens when you when you’ve been wanting to make a feature for so long, and you get to make it there’s this childlike enthusiasm that happens and happened to me.
Sometimes I don’t get that with acting, you know? I’ve been doing it for so long now. I get it when I get a job, and I’m always happy to get a job. But then you get down to the nitty-gritty and set life is quite difficult and challenging managing personalities.
But when you’re the captain of the ship, so to speak, you can set the tone in a different way. And one of the greatest things I learned actually about being a director was, you know, you always think they’re the leader, but it’s actually a position of service. You’re in service to everybody’s creative input and the larger picture.
So that’s something that I really learned and loved. I actually took to directing like a duck to water mate, like really, it was like, it’s almost like my full personality was able to function for the first time. Whereas often when I’m acting, I’ve played mostly with a lot going on, which can be a cathartic experience. And you’re doing it for the art and a story you believe in, but it might not be fun.
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Boxing Day was so much fucking fun. We had music playing all the time, great food, great stories from Marianne Jean-Baptiste and all these people about their tales of acting. And also, as black British people, it’s something that we rarely get to do, you know, work together and see each other. You know, we’re either working with American films, as Americans, but we never really get to hang out. And so it’s really nice to do that.
I’ve been stalking you on social media today and it looked like you guys had a lot of fun on set. Is it true you handed in the completed film to Warner Bros. on your birthday?
It was the greatest fucking birthday present ever, man. You really want to stalk me on Instagram though, my stuff’s kind of boring, right? I’m not really good at it.
But if you go on the Instagram story, like go on the mellows room, you really have some fun because that is literally basically what the behind the scenes of making the film was like. Go on that, and you’ll see how much fun we had making that film. It was so romantic, so nostalgic, and there was such joy.
You got into the Great Eight at Cannes as well? Not a bad achievement for a first time director?
It was an honour man. I mean, to be honest, the first film, you’ve got the filmmakers from BSI and Film4. It’s a big hug to the face. Right? Like, ‘yeah, well done, son. We believe in you now go out and do it’. So it was definitely an honour. It’s all just been a bit of a hug for me because it’s something I just wanted to do.
Boxing Day rolls into cinemas in the UK on December 3.