By Georgia Humphreys, PA
She may be a member of one of the most successful girl bands ever, but Leigh-Anne Pinnock was “super nervous” about her latest career move.
The 30-year-old, who was born in High Wycombe, swaps performing with Little Mix for singing on the silver screen in new Christmas film Boxing Day.
She plays Georgia, an international pop star dealing with her ex-boyfriend, Melvin, returning from America. The first-ever black British romcom, it’s written and directed by Londoner Aml Ameen, 36, who also stars in the film as Melvin, a British author.
Two years ago, the character fled London for LA, amidst some family drama. But now he’s home for some work commitments – and with his American fiancee Lisa (Aja Naomi King) by his side.
So, how will introducing her to his eccentric relatives go? Especially seeing as Georgia is very much still part of their lives…
Pinnock says Ameen “really took a chance on me” with her role in the movie, considering she had never acted before. “I really, really loved it – I didn’t realise how much I would as well!” gushes the mum-of-two (Pinnock welcomed twins with her footballer fiance, Andre Gray, in August).
“Singing is my number one passion,” she adds. “Being able to act a character and really put myself into it, and differentiate myself from the character as well… it was hard. Like, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’ve definitely got the acting bug now.”
Little Mix formed during the eighth series of The X Factor back in 2011, which they went on to win. Since then, they’ve found fame around the world and sold 60 million albums, thanks to hits such as Shout Out To My Ex, Black Magic and Sweet Melody. Last year, Jesy Nelson left the group – but Pinnock, Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards continue to storm the charts together and are set to tour next year.
Pinnock recognises how passionate their fandom is (they’re called ‘Mixers’), and knows she will have their support with the release of Boxing Day. “I can’t wait for the fans to watch this. I am so excited. They are honestly the best fan base ever,” she says. “They’re going to love it. It’s going to be interesting for them to see me go into this world and see me on the big screen.”
Watching herself back in the film “doesn’t feel real”, she confides. “It’s surreal. To call yourself an ‘actor’ – that is so cool.”
Poignantly, Boxing Day is also a brilliant celebration of what it’s like to be black British. Ameen – known for roles in Kidulthood, The Bill and I May Destroy You – says the fact he’s been able to bring this story to the big screen means the world to him.
“It’s a side of our everyday life, as British people who happen to be black, that’s not been seen. And I think it’s got such universal themes that everybody connects to: love, joy, happiness.
“It was inspired by many of the great films that I like, like Notting Hill, Love Actually and for the African American audience, The Best Man, Love Jones – it’s a combination of that,” he continues. “And I feel like it was an answer to the call, ‘What about our films like that?’ So, it feels special in that way.”
Pinnock – who explored racism across the music industry in BBC Three documentary, Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop And Power, which was released earlier this year – agrees that Boxing Day feels hugely significant.
“This is something that’s never been seen before, and it’s just so important to have these things on our screens,” she says. “Black culture is not celebrated enough on our screens, so to be part of something that’s going to create history is incredible. And the fact we’ve got West Indian families, we’ve got African families, it’s so vibrant, it’s so beautiful, it’s so exciting.”
As for the stars’ own festive celebrations, this year will be a particularly special one for Pinnock, as it will be her children’s first Christmas. “My sister has just had a little boy as well, so we’ve got three new babies in the family, and it’s going to be a magical Christmas.”
When she reveals the family will be watching Boxing Day together, Ameen grins at the thought of other people doing the same. “I love the idea of Boxing Day the movie now becoming one of the classic films you watch every year,” he enthuses.
There are so many joyful and funny scenes where we see Melvin’s family drinking, dancing, joking, and playing games together. And Ameen’s own Boxing Day traditions sound like a lot of fun, as he and his relatives always get together to celebrate too. It starts off small, just “20 people, having a drink”, but then ends up a much bigger affair.
“I have five sisters, so my youngest sisters will bring their friends,” says Ameen. “Then my younger brother brings his friends. And I bring my friends. And it turns into a big party.”
It was the year 2016 that proved particularly inspiring for the filmmaker. “I have the exact moment on video,” he recalls. “We’re dancing to a song called In Her Heart. It’s a Jamaican dance hall song, and my cousin Joshua, who is in the movie as Jermaine, is dancing it as if he’s resuscitating someone, and at that moment, I was like, ‘That’s how I’m starting my movie.’
“It’s not how I started it in the end, but it was Josh who prompted it. And I remember thinking, ‘My life is fantastic’.
“No matter how far I go, my career, or whatever happens in my life, I’m so rich at home,” Ameen adds. “I have such a wealthy home life with my family.”
Boxing Day is released in cinemas on Friday, December 3rd