His Dark Materials: How Shropshire teen went from Theatre Severn to the West End and primetime TV

He has moved from humble beginnings playing a Munchkin at Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn, to fronting a star-studded BBC/HBO drama, via Netflix and the West End.

Amir Wilson. Photo: Nick Thompson
Amir Wilson. Photo: Nick Thompson

Shrewsbury's own Amir Wilson has already packed a lot into his 16 years.

The Shropshire-born actor grew up playing football and messing around on skate parks with his friends in Shrewsbury, but he found his calling as an eight-year-old when he was encouraged to audition for a 2012 production of The Wizard of Oz.

He never looked back, developing his talents in Shropshire and eventually winning a leading role in The Lion King at the Lyceum in London.

From there he cracked Netflix and the big screen, with roles in this year's The Letter for the King and The Secret Garden.

And now he is a weekly star on major British TV, as one of the two leads in the joint BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman's acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy.

Amir plays Will Parry, a troubled youth who finds himself drawn into a parallel world and caught up in an ancient conflict between opposing ideologies.

The second series, based on The Subtle Knife, has been airing on Sunday evenings.

But despite his experience filming around the globe and traversing fantastical worlds, the teenager keeps his feet firmly on the ground, still visiting his peaceful Shropshire home town often.

"I grew up there, I spent all my childhood there. I started acting there. Where I am has been affected a lot by where I come from in Shrewsbury.

"I know I spent a lot of time at Sundorne Skatepark, I've got a lot of friends still. I used to go to Shrewsbury Town games and scream 'Salop!' from the stands.

"My father sadly passed away three years ago and he's buried there. It's nostalgic, I get to go there and be with him."

Amir Wilson, pictured here aged nine, grew up in Shrewsbury before his break as an actor took him to London

Amir grew up in Monkmoor with his sister Iman, father Paul and mother Nagla, who came to Shrewsbury from her native Sudan.

He attended St Giles' Primary School and his first encounter with showbiz was as an eight-year-old when he accompanied his sister to Munchkin auditions run by Get Your Wigle On.

At that time it was a fledgling company set up by partners James Broxton and Ross Wigley, who secretly would have been pleased if 20 or 30 children had applied.

As it happened, more than 120 came to audition – and among them was Amir's sister Iman.

James explained: "I remember meeting him and his family very clearly.

"We held auditions for our production of the Wizard of Oz in 2012... it was at Meole Brace School.

"Amir's sister was auditioning for the show. I went into the waiting room and met both of them. I asked Amir why he wasn't auditioning – he wasn't really sure.

"I coaxed him into auditioning really. He attended the full audition, and he got in.

"It was apparent that he definitely had a love for it, but so do so many other children who come to us. He had a star quality.

"He has a great personality and a wonderful work ethic. He was also quite talkative, his mum won't mind me saying he was a chatterbox.

Amir Wilson with Ross Wigley (left) and James Broxton of 'Get Your Wigle On', the Shrewsbury drama troupe that helped him fall in love with acting

"Amir was with us for a couple of years, he played Chip the teacup in The Beauty and the Beast I remember."

They continued working with him and helped him prepare for his successful audition for the part of young Simba in the Lion King, which would pave the way for him to move to London and pursue a career as an actor.

"He got down to the top 10 and then before we knew it he was playing Simba in the West End, it was incredible. We took a few of the Get Your Wigle On kids down to see him.

"I've been to see everything he's done. I flew out to Prague to visit him when he was filming.

"It's been absolutely amazing, we're immensely proud and delighted for him. It's really lovely for the other students, when he comes back to Shrewsbury he pops into the studio, he will come in and speak to a group of children.

"That makes the dream feel a lot more achievable for them."

Amir is full of gratitude for the two for getting him into acting, and visits them often.

"I hadn't ever really considered it – I was into football, I grew up playing a lot of football.

"I ended up going through the audition, that's where I first found my love for acting.

"I'm here now and I'm really grateful.

"I owe all of where I am now to James and Ross."

London

He travelled to London on weekends to audition for The Lion King, and on getting the part he moved to stay with his older sister Moya for a year while his mother stayed at home in Shrewsbury to support Iman through her GCSEs.

"I can never thank them enough, my sister and my mum have dedicated so much of their lives for me to do what I need to do."

He has been kept busy ever since, with roles in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ and The Kid Who Would Be King eventually leading to successful auditions for His Dark Materials.

Will was introduced partway through the first series last year before becoming a major character in the second, which began screening earlier this winter.

His co-star is Dafne Keen, who is younger even than him and became famous for her role in the 2017 superhero film Logan.

Despite their youth, Amir said that he revels in being treated as a serious, grown-up actor.

"When you're on set your age doesn't really matter. You're there to get filming done.

"I don't ever feel like I'm young. We get treated like we're adults and spoken to like adults.

"Philip Pullman has created these amazing worlds that we're now able to act in. I've always been interested in the idea of other worlds."

The Covid crisis has meant more time spent at home and cancelled exams, plus extra time for studying the intricacies of filmmaking.

"I just chill at home, I play games, I watch films. Over lockdown I got into filmmaking and got it started more, experimenting with different genres.

"Acting is my passion, I want to be an actor, but there are other things in the industry I'm interested in too."

And despite the allure of his adopted city, Amir will always have fond memories of his home on the Severn.

"The big change is how busy everything is. There was so much going on. It's a bit more diverse than Shrewsbury for various reasons, I guess I enjoy that.

"But Shrewsbury is really nice and peaceful. I walk to the Quarry, just walk along the river, it's peaceful and it just brings back a lot of memories."

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