Hypable speaks with Aml Ameen about The Maze Runner and his portrayal of the Glade leader, Alby.
Aml Ameen is just one of the many gifted young actors to portray a character for the movie adaptation of the hit dystopian series The Maze Runner by James Dashner. We spoke with Ameen to ask him what he thought of the book, the best moments from set, and what’s coming up for him next.
How it all began
When asked if he read the book before getting the script for The Maze Runner, Ameen admitted, “I had no idea the book even existed before I got the script.” He might not have picked up the book until he got the part, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t do his homework. “After I got the job I started reading the book and I began to get an understanding of it, and it confused me a lot because the book and the script were different,” he says. “And so once I settled into the Alby that was in the script — the Alby that was in the script and the Alby in the book, they have some differences — once I settled into that I went back to the book.”
So what was so appealing about Alby as a character? “I loved that he was this big brother leader type who would sacrifice anything for them and the group,” Ameen tells us. “He’s a very sacrificial guy. He’s very warm and loving in one way, but also complex in the sense that he has to make tough decisions and he has to make tough decisions for the betterment of the group. Nothing is more important than the group.”
He adds, “I feel like if Dylan [O’Brien, Thomas] is the leg and Ki Hong [Minho] is the other leg, and Dylan is also the mind of the film, I think Alby has a got a piece of the heart of the film. Because you warm to him and you think, ‘Oh, man, there’s this guy that has all this pressure on his shoulders.’ And I like that. And I’m one of eight children, so I understand what it’s like to have a big family and take your role of responsibility in the family and all of that.”
Ameen also says he was lucky to have a champion in the form of Denise Chamian, the casting director for The Maze Runner: “She said, ‘I’ve seen a young man in Hollywood for a number of years — I’ve never cast him. There’s nothing that’s been quite right for him and for the qualities he has. But this guy is the guy for Alby.'” He adds, “I didn’t know this until after I got the part.”
On his second audition, Ameen met with Director Wes Ball for the first time, saying, “He was so excited and had such energy and so much of that positive feeling. It was very addictive. He’s just got that energy, that positive energy that you want in a director that gets the [ball] rolling. His imagination is filled, like the best qualities of a child in that sense, you know? A child’s imagination is so vast and he has that in abundance, and I was really drawn to that.
By his third and final audition for the role, Ameen wanted the part badly. “They wanted to see if I could intimidate them, so I decided to do that a little bit.” He adds, “I don’t love auditioning, necessarily. Like everyone else you can get real nervous, and sometimes not do your best work. But it was definitely one of those ones where I was so connected to my feelings for the part that I was able to do my best work, and I got the part.”
The film version of Alby differed slightly from the book version, as in the movie Alby was the first one to come up into the Glade and had to spend an entire month alone. “We had an entire backstory about what that would have been like,” Ameen explains. “And it was one of these things that we were going to shoot at one point. We may have even wrote it. And it was fascinating.” He goes on to say that Alby at that age, roughly 15, would’ve been a very different person — alone, frightened, and unsure of what to do in the Glade by himself.
“I’ll tell you a really big secret as well in the film, that no one is probably going to drop, but I’m going to give it to you,” Ameen says, and we can’t help but get excited — after all, any behind-the-scenes information that didn’t make it into the movie only expands the universe for us as fans. “The someone that would have come along,” he says, speaking about the next Glader to rise out of the box, “we called that person George. Now if you watch the film, there’s a grave scene where [Thomas] goes to the grave and there’s someone called George. He’s etched off. He’s specifically etched off. He’s etched off on the walls as well. It’s a very brief moment. The fans will love it. But basically, that story is of the person that came up after Alby, and what Alby would have had to have done.”
“That person got stung,” Ameen continues. “He had this friend in George. Imagine being alone for a month and you have been going crazy, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know if you’re going to commit suicide. You’re having crazy thoughts. And then the first person comes up. And then this person was just like Thomas. In the sense of, as Alby always says, ‘You’re curious, you’re curious.’ Which is a dangerous thing. That this guy George goes out into the maze, gets stung, and Alby has no idea what that stung person is like. And [George] comes back and he attacks him, and somehow Alby ties this guy up. And then there’s this whole kind of conversation just about what he has to do, which is push George out into the maze. And that there would be the first ever banishment.”
“He carries a lot of burden,” Ameen says of his character. “Anytime something goes wrong, or anytime someone has died because of the maze, he carries a lot of burden. He also carries the knowledge that there’s no way out. They say it in the film, [Minho] says it to [Thomas]. He says, ‘We’ve mapped the whole maze. There’s no way out.’ And Thomas says, ‘Well, why does nobody know this?’ and he goes, ‘It was Alby’s call.’ So Alby has all of these pressures mentally. He’s providing false hope in a sense for the group. ‘Cause he knows if he doesn’t provide that false hope, there would be mass hysteria. People will go crazy. He’s seen it. That’s why he says something like, ‘What happened to all of these names? ‘Like I said, dark days, Thomas.’ So it’s a very beautiful, complex story and not just my character, but all the characters have such complex moments that would be wonderful if maybe we explored it. And even that George thing, that second person that came up after Alby, he had to tie him up and banish him. It’s such a great backstory. So yeah. He walks with all of that stuff.”
Behind the scenes
Speaking of lighter moments, Ameen says that some of the gang began to take on traits of their characters while on set. “I think the first night I cooked for everybody,” he says. “I love cooking, I cooked for everybody that was there and they came over to my room at the hotel. It was great. It was very joyful and warm. It was a great beginning to our friendship. So I think that’s the quality I took on. And then I saw Dylan really grow into his leadership qualities, as essentially the leader once Alby goes. I saw him really grow as an actor, as a person, through a rather fast process. He’s a very, very, very smart young man. A very smart, cool young man. He’s got his head on his shoulders.”
And Ameen has nothing but happy thoughts about the making of The Maze Runner. “Maze Runner was just such a fun job for all of us, you know?” he says. “It was so much fun. Such good laughs. I was just saying to another gentleman today that is was a very happy time in my life, you know? Making it. That time in my life was so beautiful. I look at it with such fondness.”
But all good things must come to an end, and that even includes The Maze Runner. Luckily, he’s already got several projects lined up. You can find him in Beyond the Lights, which recently came out, or in Lila & Eve, which will be out next year and stars Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis. Ameen will also be in a Netflix original series called Sense8, created by the Wachowski brothers, best known for their film The Matrix. “It’s about eight different people living their normal lives and then all of a sudden it all becomes connected through a traumatic event,” he explains. “They start to experience each other in their day-to-day lives. They begin to cerebrally and spiritually travel. So they turn up in each other’s lives, and they’re all kind of connected like one organism. It explores some great themes about empathy and how we’re all connected as people. It’s a dramatic thriller. We have these guys called Whispers chasing us, who’re trying to collect the Sense8 group. Because once you can collect them you can control their minds. You can control their connectivity. It’s a really powerful piece that is Wachowskis’ next brainchild. And that’s going to be dropping on Netflix the middle of next year. It should be very, very cool.”
Finally, Ameen will also be shooting a film called Dara Ju by filmmaker Anthony Onah. “It’s about this Nigerian-American guy, American but he has a Nigerian background,” he says. “And he’s a banker on Wall Street and we follow his life. He’s kind of at this crossroads in his life where he’s doing really well as a banker, but he’s got these cultural struggles. America is a place where a lot of people come to, but they’re from somewhere else. And he’s got this cultural struggle where he’s from Nigeria, in terms of his family, but he doesn’t relate to it. He gets into Harvard, which is kind of this other world, and it’s this complex story of identity. It’s going to be really interesting. At the heart of it is a father/son relationship, which has some damaged issues. And the film kinda talks about how to really move forward in your life and how to have peace in your life you kind of have to correct damages done in the past. It’s a really cool film that I start shooting in New York next year.”
We certainly wish Aml good luck going forward with all of his new projects! You can catch him in The Maze Runner, which hits shelves on DVD/Blu-ray on December 16.
Additional reporting by Brook Wentz.