13 December 2021

“The biggest pressure I felt was to either make something of myself here or go back home.”

Life is like a book, fret not on what’s behind you, for you don’t know what lies ahead. As I sat down with actor AMARR, it became immediately clear he is the true embodiment of such an analogy. His current chapter is one of self-discovery, scouting life with a discerning eye whilst studying the breadth of his next role and finding a free thirty minutes to wind-down between takes. For most of us, we are defined by our story so far: the places, spaces and faces we’ve encountered and confronted. But for an actor like AMARR - growing up under the hue of the Hollywood horizon - there’s no doubt he has learnt a lot about himself through the characters he’s become over the last 17 years.

Wandering deep into the beating heart of Downtown LA, photographer Michelle Genevieve captures AMARR amongst the signature bustle the streets are renowned for. As the roads wind and weave like arteries, beneath the earth pulsates with the vigour of hope those above hold that one day, they will make it too. Even in the expanse of an empty room above the city, draped only with dangling dust and lace-chain webs, AMARR’s cool composure echo’s loudly, affirming his self-described stature as ‘the most chill person you could ever meet’.

But before the chill, there was once a heat; a scolding pressure to succeed and avert from failure. AMARR is candid about his journey, reflecting on the futility of his previous mindset, acknowledging the absence of warning about the way things can wind up in a pressure-cooker industry, but owning his agency of the future. Stylist Alyssa On blends patterns past and present, colours light and dark, paying homage to AMARR’s wealthy career so far, and the endless possibilities ahead. Armed with a pen and new-founded sense of self, AMARR is the writer of his own script: the architect of a strong beginning, the playwright of a dramatic middle, the author of a blissful end.

Catch AMARR as Hayden on CW’s ‘4400’ and as Eddie in ‘Colin in Black and White’ on Netflix. Both out now.

You’re a young man growing up in the heavily pressured environment of the twenty-first century. How do you maintain your identity throughout the challenges you face?
That’s definitely something that took me a couple years to figure out. I didn’t really feel like I figured out my identity until January this year. Growing up, being in this business for about 17/18 years, you have to find a balance between playing a character, and then playing yourself. My family, my friends, and different people like that have helped me figure out who I actually am, aside from a character. Because of course, when you're playing a character, you're adding different elements of yourself, but it's very hard to do that if you don't really know who you are. So, I feel like through the characters that I played and different things that I've done, I've latched onto those elements, and then I've added to myself.

Do you feel that part of who you are today has been influenced by the characters that you have had to portray over the last 17 years?
Yeah, I think so, but it depends because I'm a very chill person. If I had to play a character that's super hyper, there was that part of me from when I was younger, so I pulled on that part of me. With different characters like Jamal from Holiday Rush, which I filmed a couple years ago for Netflix, I was playing a kid going into college that felt like he had something to prove. He thought his world was ending because he didn't get into a certain school and I related to that because in this industry, growing up a lot of kids or young actors go through that. If they feel like they don't make it to a certain point; it's the end of the world. I'm 20 now, and I used to feel like I would never get where I wanted to when I was only 15. I had my whole life ahead of me, so that's something I related to. But of course, there's a lot more characters. For example, with Eddie from Colin in Black and White, that was a side of me that's a lot cooler and more outgoing. I pull from different things.

What are the things you love most in life?
Art: art as in music and of course acting - I love acting. But then also sports and video games. All those things keep me grounded. Not to mention my family and also my friends. I love to dance. When I was growing up, I was a big dancer, and I actually used to travel in a dance group!

Speaking of dance, you made your theatrical debut in Step Up 2. Would you like to feature in another dance-themed production in the future?
Yeah, most definitely. That's something I've always wanted to do. It was so funny, because at the time, I was still doing the dance group and I would think to myself, ‘oh man, I wish I could showcase this’. Hopefully there's another Step Up..., I think they're on number six now, so maybe Step Up 7? I'm hoping that sometime in the future, I could do something in that nature. It’s something I've always looked forward to.

That would be pretty awesome - a true full circle moment. It’s safe to say you’ve already had a really successful career despite the fact you’re only 20 years old. What do you love most about acting?
After doing it for so long, it has become a part of me. Something I love the most is getting to meet so many different people and doing different elements of work. You come across different people from all over the world. I've worked with people from New York all the way to the UK and Africa. Acting as an artform brings so many people together - that's the best part about it. Other than that, you're in front of a camera pretending to be somebody else, and that's cool. Overall, just the fact it brings people together, I feel like that's the best part about acting.

What do you find are the biggest challenges about being an actor?
It's funny, I can think of a lot more challenges. The uncertainty is hard - going into a room and not knowing if I'm going to get it. Also, with acting and the entertainment industry in general, it makes younger actors extremely uncertain because it’s incredibly unpredictable. You just don't know what can come from it and at times it’s challenging for that reason. I have a friend who talks about it a lot. He feels like “Oh, am I too short for this?” or somebody else might wonder “Am I too tall for that?”. It really goes into a deeper meaning of ‘who am I?’ and ‘am I good enough?’. That is why I don't necessarily encourage people to jump into it unless they truly, truly want to do it. It can bring a lot of image issues which I know a lot of friends of mine, singers, and other actors really struggle with. I can definitely speak for that. There's a lot more challenges, but of course where there are highs, there are lows, and that’s just life.

How do you manage your time between acting and finding time for yourself?
I tell people this all the time and I honestly mean it: I am the most chill person you could ever meet. I know when it's time to relax and when it's not. For example, if I have an audition - say I had one today - after that audition, I try to rest up and do whatever I want to do like play video games, skateboard or hang out with friends. I try to find that balance between who I am and what I do, instead of being so focused on the audition and then BOOM, thinking ‘oh my gosh, am I going to get it?’, ‘what are they going to think about me?’, ‘did they already see different things like that?’. I try not to worry about it too much because it's out of my control. That's something I wish a lot more people did.

You started your career at a very young age, what are your earliest memories of acting?
I definitely can't remember that far back. I would say just speaking about Step Up and seeing the dance scenes with Adam Gary, who played Moose. I recently watched some of his dance scenes which were crazy. In that movie, everyone was so, so good. But just seeing how so many different people from completely different sides of the earth came together and became a family, that's something I've always cherished with acting and something I've always loved. I would say that's my fondest memory - just seeing Adam and Brianna come together. They're from two completely different sides of the country but they became so close. That's something I've always loved about acting. Always.

You portray Hayden in the new sci-fi series 4400 which follows the story of overlooked, undervalued, and marginalised people who have disappeared over the past 100 years suddenly returning, having not aged at all. Tell us how you went about getting into the role of a character from the 1930s.
I tried to listen to different music from back then but obviously it's pretty hard to look up things from 100 years ago - almost. So, what I would do is watch totally outgoing crazy characters like Heath Ledger's Joker, The Dark Knight, Scarface, and Nightcrawler, trying to find different elements from actors who became their characters so well they feel so real. That’s something I really love about Hayden, he comes from something that's so real even though I'm not from the 30s. I wouldn't necessarily know anything about the 30s but I try to make it as realistic as I can because of course, we're in 2021 and a lot has changed. But as we see in the show, a lot is still the same when you go into different topics. Even with the hairstyles, as Hayden progresses through the season, you start to see hair changes and different things like that to make him more relevant. Back then they used to really grease their hair up or the hair used to be to the side. I always felt like that was so cool and we try to include that in the show which I love. As the show goes on, you'll see.

When you were portraying Hayden, did you at times feel like you were actually in the 1930s? It sounds truly amazing.
It's funny, my shoes in the pilot are actually from the 30s and my socks were from the 30s. Small things like that really helped me get into character. With Hayden, it really feels different being the odd man out because everyone is from different times. There are only a handful of characters that you'll see so far that are also from around 100 years ago. Everyone else is from more from recent times. That’s why it’s so cool because with Hayden, I look distinctively different - I'm in an institutionalised outfit with these vintage boots and I look so different compared to everyone else. Everyone else is wearing earrings and chains, but I really feel like that helps me get into character.

What can we expect from Hayden throughout this season?
Ah, you definitely can expect a lot. With Hayden, I look at him as a flower that's blossoming, and throughout the season, you'll see him blossom more and more into the person he's supposed to be. With not only his powers, but in the very first episode up until the last few moments of the show, he's very quiet. Then as the season progresses, you see him start to be more comfortable in his own skin and talk a lot more - I found that very cool. It's a whole storyline and character development. I'm excited for people to see the show.

As you mentioned earlier, you’re also starring as Eddie in the upcoming coming-of-age limited series Colin in Black & White based on the life of athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick. What did you enjoy most about this role?
For one, I love football, so I loved being able to play football for the role. I also loved how it reveals a side of me that I don't show often because I like to think of myself as a humble individual, but with Eddie, he definitely is not the most humble person you’ll ever meet. He's the type of guy who thinks “I'm the best, I'm better than you.”, but I will say he's also grounded, particularly in his sport. I'm really excited for both roles, but I'm definitely excited for people to see the change between Hayden and how quiet he is and then Eddie who is so outgoing and will say anything straight to your face. I'm super excited for that.

As someone who has grown up within the industry, have you felt more pressure as you’ve gotten older?
Yeah, for sure. I feel like the moment I stepped foot in California and Los Angeles, that's when I felt the most pressure. When you're younger, you don't really pay attention too much, but coming out here, the biggest pressure I felt was to either make something of myself here or go back home. Honestly, I felt like if I went back home, I would be a failure. That’s not to say anybody else that has had to go home is a failure, that’s just how I felt personally. I always felt like I wanted to do the best that I can and I wanted it to be worth it. Even from the age of 12, I was already putting pressure on myself. No one spoke about that, no one said anything about that. I take my craft very seriously so it was either go big or go home. Now I feel like that's the biggest pressure of all but of course, now you have social media. Looking back, I guess MySpace was the main thing when I was younger, but it's definitely not as big as it was or it is now. If you look a certain way and you're on TV, people are going to say something, people are going to say something about your show. If they don't like it, they'll let you know that they don't like it or anything about you that they don't like. So, I feel like there's always going to be pressure, you just have to power through.

And how do you power through? How do you deal with the pressure that you feel? Because it must be tough, it must be really tough.
Yeah, it took me a long time to get over that hump. But now, honestly, I'll see something negative and it doesn't really phase me because I went through a phase last year and this year of just loving myself and only thinking what I think now: if anyone has an opinion about me, whether it's a family member, or it's a loved one or a friend, their opinions are the only ones I’ll take into consideration. I only care about what’s important to care about and that's something that’s really tough to get through. Of course, I still do have my moments of ‘man, I wish this person didn't say this about me or think that about me’, but at the end of the day, it's out of my control. I've learned to let things go. If it's out of my control, it’s out of my control, and I can't do anything about it.

Looking back, is there one role you found particularly difficult portraying?
I would definitely say Hayden is one of my most difficult roles that I've played. I've played roles where you are in a scene and you don't say anything but with Hayden, you’ve got to be very in-tune with what someone is saying. It’s also very hard when someone is talking to you to not talk or adlib, or whatever you want to do. Also just being a character from 100 years ago is difficult. at the end of the day, I'm just trying to make it as accurate as I can for myself and hoping that people relate to it as well. So, I would definitely say Hayden, for sure.

As an actor, how do you go about taking on difficult or delicate storylines and characters?
The writers definitely help with that. For example, when working out where Hayden is going to go from episode one and how he’s going to evolve from the pilot to the season finale. I've learned that when you're writing a script, it's always best to have a character that’s maybe mad or angry in the beginning, and allow the issues to be resolved by the end in the best way possible with a new outlook on life. You also want to give the audience a new outlook on what that character was going through. It’s funny because I want to share so much but I can't. We definitely figured some things out.

What kind of role would you love to portray in the future?
This is something that I've been talking about with people for the longest time. I'm a big fan of Marvel and DC Comics. I love superheroes. In particular I’d love to play Miles Morales, which if people don't know, is the first black Spider-Man. Spider-Man is my all-time favourite superhero, even though I'm afraid of spiders! Nonetheless, with Spider-Man, it's something that I feel is so needed. With the animated film, so many people loved it because it was original and I want to bring that to the big screen. If that would be possible, it would be so great. I've always wanted to do action movies too. With another show called Knight Squad that I did years ago on Nickelodeon, we had to do a lot of swordfights. There was a lot of action and a lot of stunts - I have scars and bruises to back that up! But it was so much fun to be able to get outside of my element. I'm a very athletic and active person so I love being able to do that type of stuff. I don't know how to make myself cry off screen, but I love being able to cry on screen because it's so unlike me. I never cry in real life but then getting to show a different side of me on screen is something I love and enjoy.

Many people will think of you as AMARR the actor. How do you see yourself?
Amarr is a very caring person. I like to look out for each and every person, even if I don't know them. Personally, I like to look out for everybody. Amarr wishes the best for everybody. I'm also very creative. Music is a passion of mine I’ve been looking to explore for years, but I wanted to make sure I got it right. In a couple years, I will venture into it - I will definitely be pursuing it a lot more, but currently acting is my main focus. Speaking of focus, when I think of the late great Kobe Bryant who was my all-time favourite basketball player, he looked at everything as a challenge. He was always so focused and motivated - just knowing that anything he put his mind to, he knew he could overcome it. That's something I've learned from him and something that I’ve tried to teach myself.

I imagine filming can be stressful and exhausting at times, what do you do to relax?
I listen to music a lot, lots of different artists. I've recently been listening to Donda and a lot of Ye in general. I try and find time to play video games too. Usually, when I'm busy on set, it takes up a lot of my day so I try to prepare for the next day. I'll study my script for about 30 minutes and then in between that time, I leave it be and I watch TV. I've created a system for myself to try to find time to relax but then also have my moments to straight-up grind. It seems to be working out alright.

The pandemic is now the new normal but it was tough for everyone in the beginning, and still is for many. How did you adapt to it all?
It was tough at first. When the pandemic first started, I was afraid to go outside. Of course, now we know more about it, but at the time, I was thinking it was something in the air and we were all going to get infected so I tried not to go outside. Also, I used to have asthma when I was younger, but I grew out of it. My mum still has asthma so I tried my best to play it safe as much as possible. I'm a big mask person. I love masks in general because if I'm out somewhere and someone’s staring me in my face, I don't like that. I try to wear a mask as much as possible and personally, I love it. A lot of people have adapted to it but it's still a little tricky because of different variants coming out. I try to keep to myself as much as possible but if I’m meeting someone, it’s about making sure they’re vaccinated or you have a mask on. So yeah, I feel like the best way anyone can adapt is by not putting yourself in danger, going out to crowds, and not knowing if someone's vaccinated.

If you could go back to the very beginning of your career, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t sweat the small things in life. Not only with acting, but just with life in general. I used to care so much about what other people would think of me and that caused me to go down different paths that I didn't necessarily want to go down. It caused a lot of friction between different people in my life, so I would definitely say that everything is going to work out. Even when I was younger, I always had such a positive outlook in life even when things really were not that great, I remember saying to my mum that the best stories are the hardest ones to make. I don't know where I pulled that from, but just to remember that. That's the most important thing when you're going through a tough time. Even when you’re struggling, you're progressing, and I'm a firm believer in that.

Would you describe yourself as an emotional individual?
I’m a Pisces and apparently a Pisces is supposed to be a very emotional star-sign, but I'm not that emotional. There are so many things that people will say to me and I just don't care that much. If it doesn't have anything to do with anyone in my close proximity, I honestly don't care. It's funny that I'm an actor because you would expect an actor to be more emotional - crying all the time, feeling all the feelings, but it really isn't me. I try to stay as laid back as I can.

Fast forward to 2031, where do you hope to see yourself?
I would love to see myself with a family. Also, just to be stable - having stability and happiness. Not having to worry about when the next bill is gonna come and how much it’s going to be. I hope to be so happy and content with myself that I just live life the way that I want to live it. That's where I truly hope to be. I’m marking it down on this day. Hopefully, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. I'm using it as motivation but also trying to manifest it into reality.

2021 is nearly over already, what are you focusing on next?
I'm going to be pretty busy for the rest of the year, but with 4400, I’m definitely seeing where that goes. Also, I haven't gone out of the country, except for one time to Vancouver because I was shooting something, so going to a different country or a different part of the country. Just trying to explore new places if possible. That's something I really want to do. I want to explore the world. It's something I’ve been manifesting - going to different parts of the globe and travelling around. Overall, I hope I get to do more, see more and achieve more - that’s something I'm really focused on.

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Above Left: Amarr wears Shirt by 9LIFE and Necklaces by Jenn Wong / OHT
Above Right: Amarr wears Trousers by Zensai, Shoes are stylist owned, Shirt and Necklaces as before

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Above Left: Amarr wears Shirt by RCS.LA, Trousers by F8KE CHEMICAL CLUB, Necklaces by Jenn Wong & Thrifty, and Rings by Vitaly
Above Right: Amarr wears Jacket by Kasa Meiggs, Necklaces by Jenn Wong, The Hood Supply & Thrifty and Bracelet and Rings by Vitaly

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Above Left: Outfit as before.
Above Right: Amarr wears Jacket by Kasa Meiggs, Trousers by Erin Zhang, Shoes by Marita Moreno, Necklaces by Jenn Wong, The Hood Supply & Thrifty and Bracelet and Rings by Vitaly

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Above: Amarr wears Jacket by Vytal Showroom, Trousers by Erin Zhang, Necklace by OHT, Bracelet and Ring by Vitaly and Shoes are stylist owned.

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