Loren Lott and Aml Ameen talk The Porter on CBC | History, hustle, and change in 1920s Montreal

by Guest
Loren Lott and Aml Ameen in The Porter

Written by Carolyn Hinds

Set in 1920s Montreal, Canada, The Porter is the new dramatic period drama by CBC and BET+ that focuses on the lives of Black people who created change in their community of St. Antoine, America and across the ocean to the Caribbean.

Aml Ameen (I May Destroy You, Boxing Day) stars as Junior Massey, a former soldier who served in the first world war and uses his quick wit and charming personality to earn the money that his job as a train porter doesn’t provide.

Loren Lott (Greenleaf, American Idol) stars as Lucy Conrad, who dreams of being a star and singing on stages bigger than the one at the Stardust, and far away from the community where she feels unwelcome because of her ambition and dark complexion.

In the first season Junior, Lucy, their friend Zeke Garrett (Ronnie Rowe Jr.), and Junior’s wife Marlene (Mouna Traoré) all find themselves on their own paths that could either destroy their relationships or bring them closer together as they create a future free from oppression.

The Porter was created by Arnold Pinnock and Bruce Ramsay, with Annmarie Morais, Marsha Greene, and Aubrey Nealon, and produced by Winnipeg-based Inferno Pictures Inc. and Sphere Media’s Sienna Films.

For Canadian TV, The Porter is a ground-breaking production not only because of the story and setting, but it’s one of the very few television shows in Canadian screen history with a predominantly Black cast and creative team.

Lott and Ameen spoke with me about some of their experiences connecting with their characters, exploring issues such as colourism, what makes playing complex ambitious people fun, and telling stories of Black characters and history rarely portrayed on screen.

The Porter premieres in Canada Monday, February 21 at 9 PM (ET) on CBC and will be available to stream on CBC Gem.

Watch the interviews on YouTube: Loren Lott, Aml Ameen.

I love the character of Lucy because she’s very strong and determined and looking at your own history in the entertainment industry, I see some similarities between the both of you. She’s very ambitious, she knows exactly what she wants, goal oriented and has a plan to be a star, and for you, I see a lot of parallels in your journey because you’ve done both film and television work as well as stage productions, and you’re a fantastic singer. So just talk about finding those similarities with Lucy, and how your own journey in the industry has helped you to connect with her.

Loren Lott: “Well, I would say that’s one of the only things that Lucy and myself really did have in common was that we were both very ambitious and both have such a want to be a star. I started my journey when I was about 13. And I really wanted a manager, and I wanted an agent, and at the time there was something over here in America called Backstage com, so what I did was I had my mother get me a subscription.”

“Since seven, I wanted to be an actress, but my mother was like, ‘You’re not going to be able to like go to the bathroom by yourself. People are going to follow you,’ and I really love to go to the bathroom by myself. So, I was like ‘That’s… that’s a no.’ [laugh]. ‘Then I’ll wait. I don’t want to be an actress.’ But she said, ‘On your 13th birthday… I’ll let you be an actress.‘”

“To her surprise, my 13th birthday comes and I’m like, ‘Hey, you said that we were gonna be doing this!‘ So, then I got my scripts on backstage.com, and I literally wrote to at least 300 agents, and I said, ‘I’m going to be a star. So, you can either be a part of helping me or you can watch it happen.‘ I was 13 like, ‘what am I? What am I what am I doing?‘”

“I got one response. And that ended up being my first agent. So, this is something that I’ve definitely always wanted, just like Lucy.”

Something that I personally wasn’t expecting was for the show to have discussions about colourism, and it’s such an integral part of Lucy narrative as a character because she is a dark-skinned Black woman. At first, it’s not obvious, but I think for a lot of Black women, in particular those who’ve been subjected to colourism, you immediately see what’s happening here.

For you, what was it like preparing for this aspect of the role, and seeing this being addressed in a major TV production? Because it’s honestly something that doesn’t get addressed often on screen, whether it’s a Canadian or Hollywood production.

Lott: “For sure. I was pretty surprised at how much it did affect me. Colourism has affected me all my life, you know? But it’s something that I always swept under the rug, just like I think the Black community has, you know? But there was a moment on set… all the dancers, we all had on the same outfits, and I realized that the girl who plays Corrine–her name is Djouliet (Djouliet Amara)–she had some big earrings on, and then I realized all the light-skinned girls had on big earrings. Like they had these really, really beautiful made earrings for them. And then all the dark-skinned girls had on small ones.”

“Now this was something that I know it was part of the role. It’s part of the character. They’re doing this to highlight [it]. But I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that we were different, you know… in that moment? And I don’t know why that… I mean, obviously, I know why that moment affected me so much.”

“But that was a moment that I kind of had to really self-reflect and separate myself because I was upset. I was like, ‘Well, why can’t we all have [the same earrings]?‘ And I went to wardrobe. And I was like ‘Hey! Can I have some of theirs?’ and they’re like ‘Oh! those are for, you know, the A line.‘ Just like how they would do it in the show. And I was like… let me step back.”

“And I had a few moments where I had to separate myself from Lucy because it is very relevant. You know, colourism. Since, for as long as I can remember, that’s something that’s always been very relevant in my life, and I was so happy to step into this role where we’re facing it head on. I mean, you’ll see as the episodes continue, but we lay it out. And I think it’s really important, and I hope that people notice, and they self-reflect themselves.”

Loren Lott in The Porter
Loren Lott in The Porter

When Lucy’s with the other dancers she’s kind of on her guard because she has to watch what she says because she knows that Corrine is trying to prevent her from moving forward. But with Zeke (Ronnie Rowe Jr.), she’s gets to be open, and calm and comfortable and sing and we hear how beautiful your voice is. Can you speak a bit about that?

Lott: “Yes, Zeke is Lucy’s bestie. That’s one of the few solid people in her life. I mean, as you go on, you’ll see Lucy’s had a really hard life, and the one consistent good spot has been her friendship with Zeke. And I think in that moment, she realized because they have… a playful relationship… and in that moment, I think she realized that her friend really needed her.”

“And I guess that was the best way to comfort [him] you know, not to ask too much. She knows what’s wrong. So it’s not to be like, well ‘What’s wrong?‘ you know? ‘Tell me. Tell me what’s going on? Do we need to hug?‘ You know?”

“But in that moment, it’s like, let’s just share a moment. We don’t even need to talk about it. We can just dance, hold each other and you can cry on my forehead. You know what, that was one of the last scenes that we shot and him [Rowe] and me are also really close. So that was definitely an emotional day in general shooting that which I think came out on camera.”

The Porter is one of the very few shows in Canadian TV history to be produced by and starring an almost all Black creative team. I’d like you to start there, talking about just how just how Black the show is. How it’s just all about Black culture and Black history. Black Canadian history, in particular, and American history.

Aml Ameen: “It’s amazing to be a part of a conglomerate of Black people that are producing the show. And yeah, they’re producing the show where it gives a shorthand to the experiences. It gives us a level of intimacy, and just a lived experience.”

“I’ve experienced that quite a lot in my career, so it’s not an anomaly to me in the way it might be to some other people. But it’s definitely nice, you know? It’s definitely a nice thing. I [was] directing a film the last year and, and I’ve said to myself ‘Man, white people feel like this all the time!’ Yeah, [know what I] mean? And so, it’s really nice. It’s very nice. Yeah.”

Your character Junior is very interesting, because he takes a path that you wonder, “Are you really thinking this through? Are you considering the consequences of your actions?” Because he’s very determined and he doesn’t want to work as you would say “For the man.” He wants to forge his own path.

Was that what drew you to him in particular just how strong willed he is as a character?

Aml Ameen in The Porter
Aml Ameen in The Porter

Ameen: “I think for me, I like it. I was drawn to him specifically. One, I was drawn to the time [period]. I love the 1920s. I love that era of like, it feels a bit like the wild wild west and where the world was still kind of, in many ways, innocent because we didn’t [live] in the age of information. So, I like that.”

“And then with Junior, here is a man that plays the trumpet, he was a previous soldier, you can tell he’s on the path, or has an interest in that kind of, you know, hustler or gangster world. And so those are the things that kind of drew me to him; just really finding out what it means to be a person in that time and place in myself in that time and wondering what I would have done, you know, in that situation.”

“I think that he’s a very, very powerful character willing to die on his sword. And for that reason, those are the things that I like to explore, you know, as an actor. And with him specifically, I think that he’s a person that’s kind of not long for this world, you know?”

“He’s very, very focused on living for the now getting for his family by any means necessary and not afraid to… I don’t know how far you are in the series, but you know, he’s not afraid to do some pretty mad stuff to get it. You know?”

There are two characters in particular that I think are going to be a really interesting challenge for Junior, Zeke whom he served in the war with, and Queenie (Olunike Adeliyi) who is a kingpin. She’s running things on the show, and it’s interesting to have these two dynamics for him. So what was it like playing Junior opposite these two particular characters, because they’re both serving something that he’s not expecting.

Ameen: “It’s a good question, what is it like playing… it’s a very difficult question to kind of answer because Junior’s mind is very particular. And in my opinion, Junior doesn’t fit any [one] scenario. And as we go through the series, you’ll find why he doesn’t. You’ll find out what happens during the war, and how that has shifted and shaped his view of the world. And one of the things that historically is true for a lot of people that were at war, [and] these Black men went to war, and became killers; trained killers. And they come back to civilization, and they’re asked to be submissive.”

“They’re asked to pretend that they’re not superhuman, you know? And so, Junior is a superhuman, and so is Zeke in many ways, in terms of the training, and you’ll come to find that Junior has done some things in his past that make him well equipped to handle any situation.”

When I did my interview with Loren we talked a bit about how her character Lucy feels like an outsider amongst other Black women because of colourism and her being excluded for that, and for Junior, this character is so complex because he has to fit in as a person with West Indian heritage. He has to fit in as a man who’s coming back from war and suffering with trauma and possibly PTSD from that, and also trying as a husband to fit in with his family and finding his place again.

As an actor how much fun is it to be able to play a character that has so many facets to them?

Ameen: “I don’t always call acting fun because a lot of it is suffering, but Junior particularly is quite fun. You know, he’s scheming, he’s playing music, he’s dancing, he’s just so full of life. And for me as an actor, and as a person, you know, I have that as well. And so it was great to be able to interpret a character so specifically, and also carve out in my head where he goes in the future, you know, so that that’s really exciting to me.”

What is something you want audiences to take away about the show, and about Junior himself?

Ameen: “With the show The Porter, I think that we’re turning a lens to the lives of people that have been forgotten. And then we turn our lens to the lives of people that contributed to the country, in Canada, but also across the border as well. And we’re turning the camera towards them no longer being marginalized as like a 32nd act in big movies, and giving them full breadth of life, and who they were to their community. And the fact that they were really respected within the community, and really loved and adored and contributed to it majorly, that’s one.”

“And Junior, you know, with a bit of time and opportunity, I hope for him to become the type of character that, you know, you can’t take your eyes away from because you just don’t know what he’s gonna do next. And I hoped for me as an actor, for him to become one of the great characters that I’ve played. Because he’s got a long journey to go on. He’s extremely complex and by the time he gets to [the] end of season one, I think the audience is going to be quite surprised.”

About the writer: Carolyn Hinds is a Tomatometer-Approved Critic, Journalist, Podcaster & YouTuber. Her published work can be found on Shondaland, Salon, Observer, ButWhyTho?, and online publications, as well as in print as a contributing writer for the 2021 Canada Media Fund’s Annual Trends Report. She’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), Time UP Critical, and obtained her Diploma in Paralegal Studies from Seneca College.

Images by Shauna Townley, Prairie Porter Inc. / Sienna Films Porter Inc.

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