Sense8 has been the dark horse of the Summer season that no one saw coming. It came at viewers with a slow, unassuming trot. While its slow-burn pace bored those that expected a gallop, and its dark coat was neither elegant nor bright at first glance, the horse that is Sense8 continued to plug away at its own pace as though no one was watching. Now, after nearly two months of being available to stream, viewers are not only watching, but re-watching, as the dark horse has now become a front-runner.
Sense8 is more than just a TV show, it’s a philosophy, a connection, and even a call-to-action for some. These messages are not merely consumed and discarded, the fundamental principles at the core of Sense8 are those of empathy, humanity, and understanding, and we see these principles go beyond this Wachowski work of fiction and bridge the gap into the real-world (smashing the Matrix, if you will). Whether you casually go on Facebook looking to find other like-minds to discuss the show’s many plots, or you’re actively looking to join the thriving community of Sensies 10,000 strong, Sense8 offers a genuine sense of community and belonging that nothing else can match, and, it has inspired a die-hard fan-base that’s eager to let their voices be heard in order to even the scales against much of the early criticism the show received.
Through coordinated Twitter campaigns using the hashtag #RenewSense8 (and the staggering viewership of a recent Google Hangout featuring all eight members of the main cast), Sense8 has done its part to stay in the collective consciousness of the masses and keep the dialogue open, but, with the renewal of Season Two still unconfirmed, Sensies at large are cautiously optimistic that we’ll get to see what happens to our beloved cluster. “Just turn the wheel and the future changes,” Kala tells Wolfgang during a pivotal moment in their shared storyline. Netflix, we’re waiting on you to take her advice: steer your dark horse in the direction of a new season.
In the meantime, however, I sat down to a phone interview with none other than Aml Ameen (Capheus “Van Damme”) himself, to discuss everything from philosophy, to working with the Wachowski’s, and just what it means for him – as both a human being and an actor – to be able to call himself a Sensate:
Evan Morgan (EM): Before we get started, I just want to give a quick shout-out to the Sense8 community on Facebook, in just a little over a month we’ve grown to 10,000 strong, and, in true Sense8 fashion, they’re all sharing in this experience with us.
Aml Ameen (AA): Wow, excellent, man, that’s excellent.
(EM): For many of us fans, Sense8 is so much more than just a TV show, it’s a philosophy, a new perspective, and an entirely new way of looking at the world. What has that been like for you, having gone through the experience?
(AM): It’s exactly what you said, it’s a whole new consciousness opening up about our interconnectivity as human beings. For a long time, those ideas have been arbitrary or esoteric for some people. I remember speaking to the Wachowski’s and saying that what I find groundbreaking about this show is that the world is in need of that. Indeed, so many of the great people throughout time – especially artists I’ve admired – have spoken about our connectivity. Bob Marley and “One Love,” it’s the essence of the show. If I could sum up this show with something like “One Love,” it’s “I Am We.” Me, we…we are the same. For me, its been amazing going around the world and getting a grip of other people’s culture, other people’s ways of life, honoring that, seeing it from my perspective and theirs, and then kind of having a global acceptance and a shift in perspective at times.
(EM): Its been a sleeper hit in a lot of ways and is still very “underground” with a kind of grass-roots following, how has the fan response surprised you so far?
(AA): Its been amazing, man! I’m amazed, people are finding themselves very connected to it, very passionate about it, following all these characters around the world and gravitating towards it. For me as well, it’s particularly lovely because Capheus is someone that, they really admire and love his sensibility. The Wachowski’s and J. Michael create such a beautiful, well-rounded person (and something that we don’t necessarily see in film a lot). In terms of male characters, he [Capheus] has this kind of loving attitude that comes forth, and a wisdom that comes forth – a sense of femininity, but, at the same time masculine – I love that he embodies that strength.
The fans have been crazy. I’ve been a part of big projects before, like, “The Maze Runner” had phenomenal fans, and it’s comparable. I’ve been amazed how passionate people are, and, if we continue to move forward it’s because the fans are so passionate about it. My social network has doubled.
(EM): Speaking of the scope of the show, was there any particular moment at any time during the whole process where you just sat back and went “Wow, this is going to be big!”
(AA): You know, before you even sign on, “The Matrix” shifted my life as a young person growing up watching the films, so, you know, before I signed on I knew it was the Wachowski’s, and I had every faith in them. When I read the scripts, and I read Capheus’ character, that was when I was like, this is something very unique and special. A new voice, the narrative of the human experience…I still “Wow.” And then, throughout it, the scope of it is so large and it’s always big in my life, you know? I’m traveling around the world, going to different places, and meeting the cast who is extremely talented, very talented. The time when I realized that this was going to be “Wow,” you know, when it knocked me off my feet, we were at Lana’s house, and we watched the show all night. We watched the first three episodes at the screening/premiere, and then we watched the rest of the nine at her house.
(EM): All in one sitting?
(AA): All in one, all of them together as well. I was like “Oh, my Gosh! Lana, you are hitting people on so many levels, moving people on so many levels, visually, intellectually, but in a very guttural, emotional place…changing consciousness.” A lot of film as a medium does that anyway, whether it’s good or bad, or whether it’s well-thought out or not, but, from their perspective, it’s so well-thought out and intricate, and detailed…I was knocked off my feet after watching 12 episodes. From our perspective, you’ve got to think about it, I have my own section and I’m walking into other people’s lives. When I’m watching the show, I’m becoming a fan of the show as an outsider, because I’m watching everyone else’s experiences, which I have nothing to do with. It’s essentially like watching eight different movies, and you’re following eight different people’s lives, and I got to experience it as a complete fan in that setting. The scripts are the template for things to move forward, but they [the Wachowski’s, J. Michael] are truly creative on the spot, so so much of the show is a surprise for the cast as we’re watching it. Going with feeling when it comes to art is so important.
(EM): In that sense, did you have creative freedom as far as being able to improvise or work around what’s written?
(AA): What we had, really, was a collaborative experience. We could come to them and speak, and work through everything and create something new together – they’re very collaborative in that sense. They want you bringing your own kind of life, and, after a while, they trust that you’re knowing these characters, and Capheus in a very specific, personal way. They cater to that, and we respect that about them.
(EM): Since you spent the bulk of your time filming in Nairobi, can you talk about what that experience was like for you filming in that part of the world?
(AA): Life changing. It’s one of, if not, my favorite place in the world. I love the people of Nairobi. The Kenyan people, they’re so warm, and, obviously, they’ve got their ups and downs just like everybody, but my experience of them is so warm. My favorite thing about Kenya are the eyes of the people, because, when they look you in the eye – unlike us Westerners – when they look you in the eye, they’re fully engaging in conversation with you, they’re taking you in. They’re somewhat influenced by the West, but, what I love is that the pace is so much calmer, and they’re fully taking you in as a person. Here, we’re so distracted, going left, going right. Such a hard-working and beautiful crew. Tom Tykwer directed me out there, and he’s phenomenal, I love that man, I hope he continues on if we continue on. Paul Ogola who plays my best friend Jela, such a good actor, man.
(EM): You guys had such great chemistry on-screen, it was amazing to watch.
(AA): Oh, I loved it, and he was so giving and open. I’m English, I’m from London, so, just helping with the nuances of words, or, I’d say “Paul, how would I say this?” And we’d do it together. I really admire him and I’d run back there in a heartbeat. I call it my second home. I got a bit excited, I thought “I’m gonna buy a place here,” but I just can’t now, I’ve still got stuff to do in my career.
(EM): Speaking of your character Capheus, your character has endured unimaginable hardship, and yet, his pure optimism and child-like wonder is an inspiration, where do you think that comes from?
(AA): When you’re in great poverty – I’ve noticed this about the people of Kenya, and I think it’s true for the character. When you’re in great poverty, the things you rely upon are the intangibles. You rely upon connectivity naturally, you rely upon your relationships. You appreciate the small things. Often times, us in the West with hyper technology, we’re more trapped than they are sometimes. I really feel that, because we’re a slave to our e-mails, we’re a slave to what we need to do next.
(EM): So desensitized by all the technology and everything else as well.
(AA): Absolutely, absolutely, I agree with what you said 100%. And so, with Capheus, I think it comes from the fact that his mother instilled a love into him very early, and that he’s appreciative that his mother is still alive, and I think one of the things you do to children very early, if you give them a certain doctrine to live by, a mantra, it helps. His mother says to him: “As long as we are together, everything will be okay.” “I think today is going to be a good day.” Those kinds of things, programming a child early with those kinds of thoughts really helps, and the basis of it is an appreciation for what he has.
On the flip-side of that, what happens when that one thing (his mother) is no longer in existence? Mother is the basis of his happiness, which is also a dangerous thing. It’s a place where he’s going to have to grow, because what happens when his mother is no longer there – which is inevitable for us all. What happens when a loved one is lost? Who will he become? And so, I find that a very interesting journey to go on, and I’m hoping to see where the W’s and J. Michael take that.
It comes from appreciating the small stuff, I’ve seen it in Kenya, you know? Food is an appreciation. They’re hungry, they’re actually HUNGRY. A lot of us don’t know what it feels like to be hungry, or we walk past people on the street that are actually hungry, hungry for real. It’s a fascination, of course, because it’s so divorced of their world. I love him [Capheus] he’s very different from any character I’ve played in my entire career. A lot of the characters I’ve played, they’re very troubled or they’ve got a weight on their shoulders. It’s very refreshing for me to play Capheus, and to play this part of myself, and to have him be able to teach me something about appreciation.
I’ll give you a quick joke, I lost my wallet this morning as I’m about to travel, and I thought “Oh my God, where’s my wallet?” And I’m about to travel back to the U.K. I found it and I was so happy because my whole day would’ve gone bad, you know?
(EM): Today would not have been a good day.
(AA): It would’ve been a different conversation.
(EM): Alright, let’s switch gears a bit and take a question from Twitter: @newtzgeizler wants to know: How do you think Capheus would react to meeting Wolfgang in a sharing moment?
(AA): In a sharing moment? I think, it’s interesting, because, you have to understand we’re (all of the eight) all a part of each other. Everything they have inside themselves exists in each other in some small way, you know? I like the idea of meeting Wolfgang in a sharing moment because he represents the absolute opposite of what I represent on a day-to-day basis, however, most things exist within each other, so, Wolfgang has that joy within him, and may find that joy through Kala. And I have that darkness in me, and I might find that darkness in me through the loss of my mother or someone trying to hurt her. We saw how much Capheus changed when his mother’s life was under threat. I love that, here’s this guy that’s got this kind of magical element to him, but when it comes to his mother, and a circumstance where his mother’s life is under threat, he’s courageous! This underdog becomes so courageous! And I love those heroes, we don’t really see them in modern TV and film anymore, they really made it a larger-than-life thing to create an underdog hero. So many of us feel like underdogs, so I feel like they’d really gain a lot from each other (Wolfgang and Capheus). I would love to see the joy of Wolfgang come, and the darkness of Capheus come, and then they oscillate between. I’d love that, it’d be great.
(EM): Without getting into any SPOILER territory, as an actor (and as someone that’s fully invested in Capheus), where would you like to see his character develop moving forward?
(AA): We left him where there were so many open relationships with the Superpower, with the boss (Kabaka), his relationship with Sun, I think is very important to him. I think he and Sun are very much a mystery in terms of how it can develop and how they can help each other. I would really love to explore what happens when the mother element is taken away from him, and how that changes you as a person. What I love about what the Wachowski’s and J. Michael do, they don’t force feed you a quick story, it takes investment, so a lot of people, some of the critics were like: “Oh my gosh! What’s happening? I don’t get it!”
(EM): That slow-burn effect.
(AA): Exactly, so now, after the first three episodes, you’re invested in the characters and you’ll follow them anyway, which is a brilliant technique on their part. I would also love to see him fall in love with a lady from Kibera and see how that relationship would work, you know? I think that would be beautiful.
(EM): That’s actually leading into my next question, which is that we didn’t see Capheus get a love interest this season, but who do you feel he’s most connected to within his cluster?
(AA): Sun, I think, ultimately, Sun. They have a connection. The qualities of Capheus are what you’d call holistic, kind’ve right-brained quality: having empathy, and those are usually associated (in a wonderful way) with women. The qualities of Sun: aggression, more linear thinking, and a lack of emotion. I think that particular bond makes both of them come out of themselves more. For Riley and Kala, he comes across as more of an African kind of prince. His Lancelot is Van Damme, and Van Damme, in truth, is really Sun, you know? I think they have a fantastic bond that should be explored. You rarely see people from their parts of the world in conversation without the kind of setting of the Western world, you know? When you see an African or an Asian coming together without it being in the Western world, Lana said: “It’s funny to see this African guy and this Asian lady have a conversation and it not be in the grounds of the Western world.” And I thought, that’s brilliant! I think their relationship is very interesting.
(EM): On camera, you all have such amazing chemistry, talk about your dynamic off-screen, did you take part in any bonding activities or anything to break the ice?
(AA): We all spent two weeks together eating and drinking in San Francisco, which is a fantastic hub of cuisine, man, my god! We spent that time reading the scripts. We’d travel around, catch up on each others’ journeys and share stories. It’s a very individualistic show in one sense, because everyone is working the most in their specific region or city, it’s so interesting to be apart, and then come together – it literally feels like being part of a cluster in that respect.
(EM): There are a lot of inspirational quotes from the show that people have been turning into memes and using in their everyday life. Do you have a favorite quote? What is it? And why?
(AA): There’s something that Capheus says…I’m drawing a blank right now. “That day I learned, that life and death are always so mixed up.” I think he said: “In one way she lived, and one way she died (talking about his sister), and he said, “That day I learned that…”
(EM): “Some beginnings are endings, just as some endings become beginnings.”
(AA): Boom, wonderful! Thank you…you’re more Capheus than me! [laughs]
(EM): I’ve watched the show enough to pick that up [laughs]
(AA): I love that quote, mate, it’s true to life, people should really study that quote. You will, absolutely, unequivocally suffer loss. I think so much more peace would come to individuals if they realize that loss is an inevitable part of life: you get married, one day you’re gonna lose your loved one, you’re going to lose your youth, you’re going to lose your family, you’re gonna lose your career. If you can get to grips with that loss, and recognize that loss as a transition into another era – even dying, that’s a transition of some sort. It doesn’t matter what your proclivity is, but it’s definitely a transition, you were here, and now you’ve gone. That is such a poignant favorite, its bought me a lot of beginnings of peace. I love that quote. He even says stuff like “life is so violent,” that is so true, it’s tough and it’s hard, but beautiful because of the struggle. Life and death exist in tandem with each other on that duality scale.
As actors, we all talk about shows and stuff like that. On one level, it’s important to be positive about something you’re doing, and on another level you’re appreciative of what you’re involved with. I genuinely believe that the Wachowski’s and J. Michael, regardless of whether you like this or that, they are reaching at the core of humanity through this work, and, the themes have been the themes of every great leader thats ever existed, that theme being: look at me as you would look at yourself, and let us find peace because of that. Whether it’s Bob Marley, or John Lennon, or Gandhi, we’re all connected. Everybody, at the end of the day, comes to this understanding and stops believing in barriers. You and I have more in common than differences. This show is off the richter scale because it’s absolutely filled with that. I’m totally proud and honored to be a part of this show, but, moreover, I’m really happy that this is moving into the consciousness of people out there. If you can just grab on to that, it’s so amazing, it’s wonderful, it’s going to add value to your life.
(EM): Even for the casual viewer, it’s tapping into that deeper level of consciousness and awareness that you simply wont get from other programs.
(AA): Absolutely, I completely concur with that, man.
(EM): As an actor, what was the most difficult scene for you, and why? I’ve read that you had to film each scene multiple times in multiple locations, what was the most difficult for you?
(AA): I didn’t get to do enough fight scenes. I was like “Yo, Lana, man, I wanna do that thing that Miguel’s doing where he’s running with these guns. Come on, man, let me have some of that!”
The traveling is quite challenging, it’s crazy seeing the world, and it’s wonderful, but the changes your body goes through…I know that sounds like something that doesn’t have anything to do with the actual show, but, the different foods, the cuisine, the climates. At one point, I was just sick, man, I had to run to the bathroom, I was not well. That was quite challenging to go from Iceland, to Nairobi, complete opposites weather-wise.
From an acting perspective, it was a challenge that I really welcomed, which was doing the scenes twice. It gives you the opportunity to really grow as a person since the last time you did it, and the environment plays a huge role. I hope people know it’s the nuances of that. The environment plays as a completely different turn of scene. When you see me in Nairobi speaking to Sun when we’re speaking about the decision she has to make, and you see me with her in…an even better scene than that is between Riley and myself when I’m coming in with the tea, I’m so excited, right? But, in Nairobi, Capheus is just so much more relaxed. I love that dynamic of how things change, and I also love the duality of when Capheus travels, because he has a desire to see the world, it’s just pure joy. He’s living the dream.
(AA): Yeah, clouds, he’s thinking “I’ve never been on a plane before.” We have to change our perspective and understand that some people never get on a plane. I get on a plane. I get on a plane every couple of weeks, but some people will never, ever get on a plane, and how fascinating that is.
For him, he’s coming from that perspective of, I’m appreciating what I’ve got, but a lot of these things I’ll never be able to experience, and so, through the cluster he’s able to experience all these different things. However, when he’s at home, the duality is such that he’s much more somber, he’s going through things, and I love the duality of that when it comes to what the W’s and J. Michael wrote. It’s like, when he’s at home he’s in a certain mood, and when he’s traveling he’s in a different place, and I like that.
(EM): For your main story arc, Capheus had to deal with the Superpower and it’s gang boss Lwanda Jawar, take us into that experience and the kind of chemistry you had to build as far as the underdog and villain dynamic.
(AA): Lwanda is a talented dude, man, I think everybody can see that from his performance. He’s got an intensity, and a pain about him, and I hope he continues in some way. It’s interesting for me, because, the showdown part, it was kind of like when people become martyrs, and martyrs are people that accept their demise, their physical demise for the good of the overall picture. And so, one of the things I loved in the showdown scene is that you have this man (Lwanda’s character), he’s not gotten to that place yet. He’s not even a bad guy himself, fully. He’s done some crazy, terrible things, but he’s not a bad person, he’s in pain, things have happened in his life that have put him in great pain…and that could have been Capheus. That’s what we need to check out, is that that character is a direct reflection of what Capheus could have been.
When the showdown happened, before we get to the proper shoot em up scene, there’s a peace that comes over Capheus. There was warring, there was dread, there was anger, and then, what happens is acceptance. When the acceptance part comes, there’s a wash of peace. He says, you know, “Your quarrel is with me, not my mother, or a child, so lets settle this like men”. What he means as far as an attribute of a man, is being responsible, lets be men in this situation, lets not run away.
(EM): Take responsibility for your actions and what those actions led to.
(AA): Exactly. I’m taking responsibility for my actions and how I’ve affected your life, and you’re gonna take responsibility for your pain. I love that, I love all the nuances there, and all the action scenes, I’ll go ahead and do “Matrix 4” or whatever it is…lets get a petition for that, you know?
(EM): Embrace some inner Van Damme, right?
(AA): Yeah, some Van Damme recall or something like that.
(EM): You touched on this a little bit, but one thing I do love about this show is that there’s no cut and dry Good and Evil, there’s a lot of grey area in terms of how a lot of the scenes and the characters operate. For example, with Silas Kabaka, when you first see him you think he’s just a bad guy, but then when you see him with his daughter, you realize that he, too, is human, and he has things that he cares about. And like you mentioned with Lwanda, his character is just dealing with a lot of anger, anger and frustration from his past. Talk a little bit about how that enhanced the storytelling for you with that grey area to work around.
(AA): You know what it is? Life’s not black and white, it’s grey, you know? Not 50 shades, but it’s grey [laughs] I’ve always thought that, here’s where Capheus could go, he could become this boss, Silas Kabaka has an incredible heart. I think one of the things he says is “What have my enemies got in their heart? Greed? Lust? They don’t understand love, and that’s what we both understand.” At the same time, they’re living in a dog-eat-dog world where you have to make decisions whether to go left or right, and so, I would say, for me, what I loved about it is that it’s a direct reflection of who and what Capheus could become, and who and what he still could become. Every choice that we make sends our lives into a certain direction, and that’s how all these characters start the show, you know?
What makes Silas Kabaka an evil guy and not Wolfgang? You know? The reason we can empathize with Wolfgang is because we’ve gotten to understand his experience. And I think that’s what this show is asking you to do. We can’t explore Silas Kabaka’s whole life, but, at the same time, it reminds us that life isn’t as simple as that, people and humans in general are complicated. The narrative for what’s right and wrong is often dictated by the status quo for the moment, but often that changes. Look at what’s happened to America over the last hundred years, so many changes where people thought — from a scriptural point of view or some other kind of old doctrine or old idea — that this is the right.
(EM): As an absolute, yeah.
(AA): Life is constantly changing, it’s that ebb and flow, and you’ve got to move with that, or die in that, and I think that’s what this show is really helping you to do, it’s asking you to really have a think, and it’s providing enough visuals and visceral energy where you can be hooked in, and once you are hooked in, just experience it. Sit there and experience it. It’s something you can definitely watch again and again (and again and again).
(AA): I’ve watched it about three times, you know? So it’s definitely something you can grab and hold onto in that sense.
(EM): On a personal note, what do you think a role like this has the potential to do for you career? Have you gotten more offers or been more recognized overall since the release of Sense8?
(AA): I’ve definitely been more recognized, I had a very good career in London since I was 19-years-old. I did films like “Kidulthood” which is a cult classic where I’m from. I’ve kind of gotten used to fans and being recognized since I was 19, but not here in America. When I moved here when I was 24, I kind of got a sense of normality, like, okay, well, you’re not very good-looking, or no one’s talking to you, they’re not that interested. But now, people are coming up to me impassioned about the show, about my performance, about the performances of the other actors, the themes, and how it’s touching their lives, and I think that is the best case scenario. I was quite recognized for a certain demographic, you know? Teens, for “The Maze Runner.”
In terms of potential for my career, I’ve done two films since doing Sense8, a war film where I play a guy from the Bronx (New York), and he’s totally the antithesis of a character like Capheus – he’s a bit of a prejudiced guy, he doesn’t believe that people from certain cultural demographics should be in America, that kind of guy, you know? And right now I’m working on a film about a Nigerian-American Financier on Wall-street battling with relationship issues and identity issues, and prescription drugs. For me, what’s nice is that Sense8 provided the platform for people to see my work. I play a character that’s very varied in Sense8, they get to see a light, but they also get to see pain, and action, and drama, and its definitely elevated my notoriety in some sense and made people more aware of me. I’m the kind of person where I’m out there pursuing the right kind of work for me, and, after working with the Wachowski’s, if I can hope to live in only half of their shoes, then I’d be happy, you know? It’s yet to be determined how this will change my career completely, but what an opportunity this has been, and I’d love another opportunity to do it again with them.
(EM): In keeping with the globe-trotting theme of Sense8, I just want to get an idea of what it was like for you to transition from life in London to living in America.
(AA): For me, when I got to Los Angeles, I went straight into work, so I never really got a sense of America straight away, because I was in LA, and LA is quite specific, I think. Also, we grow up in your culture so heavily, so it’s kind of easier to assimilate. There are certain things like pronunciation issues. I’ll be like “Can I have a water?” and they’ll be like “I’m sorry?” Or I’ll be like, “Where’s the toilet?” and they’ll be like “The toilet?” Places like Louisiana, New York, and LA to some degree, those places really form American culture and life. I’m still discovering America is what I think I’m saying, and when I’ve been going around, I’ve been able to really appreciate America. In LA, there’s phenomenal opportunity, but, I don’t know if history outside the movie business is here, but it’s been nice to go and get a sense of American history traveling to places like New York and New Orleans.
(EM): As a final question, will Van Damme come back for Season 2?
(AA): [laughs] I have no idea what’s what. I would love to be able to shed some light on it, but I’m waiting like the fans are waiting to know what’s happening. All I can say is that we all love the show, the support of the fans has been absolutely tremendous, really passionate fan-base, and so, lets do what Capheus would do, and say: “As long as we’re together, something good will happen.” So, as long as the fans are together, I think something good will happen.
(EM): That’s amazing. Thank you so much again for taking the time, its been awesome and a great experience, thank you so much!
(AA): Thanks mate, thank you very much, you take care.