Robbie Amell currently stars in Amazon’s Upload and talks to Awards Daily about why this has been a perfect project for him both as an actor and personally. He touches on some of his future projects and what piqued his interes, including how his history with video games, romantic comedies and hockey inspire his work.
Awards Daily: You started acting at 6 years old. How did you know at such a young age that was the career you wanted?
Robbie Amell: Honestly, that’s kind of taken out of context on the Internet. My mom and dad got me into commercials and print work jobs when I was a kid, pretty much to put away money for dental work that wasn’t covered by health insurance and potentially a college fund for later. S,o my sister and I both did commercials when we were young, and I was always comfortable in front of the camera. But I grew up playing hockey, and while I never thought I would play for the NHL, I played against some guys who did. I kind of thought I would go to college on a hockey scholarship and do something in that world: kinesiology or sports medicine. Then, the summer before 11th grade, my modeling agent called me with an audition for Cheaper by the Dozen 2. I just happened to look enough like I could be Eugene Levy’s son, and I booked it and it totally changed my life. I phoned my hockey coach and told him I wouldn’t be coming back next season, and I got into some on camera classes, and I just really enjoyed it. Luckily there was enough business in Toronto to lay some groundwork before moving to LA to give it a shot.
Awards Daily: The move from hockey to acting is interesting. It’s not the usual lateral move.
RA: No, It’s funny. My mom always brings up Cheaper by the Dozen 2 and that it’s so amazing that something like that changed my life so drastically and put me on a different path. At the time, it just didn’t seem like that big a deal. I booked a movie, and it felt like a small role, which it was, but I shot for so many days because it was the Steve Martin family and the Eugene Levy family. All the kids were always there, and I was the tallest kid so I was always standing right next to Eugene Levy. He was so great with me and all the rest of the cast, and he made me laugh for almost two months. I got to watch him and Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. All these incredible actors had fun and I thought this is such a great job. I can do this. It never occurred to me that everyone wants to do this. It’s such a hard job. The naivete really helped with me trying to pursue acting.
Awards Daily: I read that you’re going to be in the new Resident Evil movie. Are you a fan of the video game series?
RA: I am, that’s actually why I scheduled the call for today. I have been shooting nights, and we just pulled the nights back a little bit so I was able to get to sleep by about 3 last night, which is a lot more reasonable. I am a huge, huge, huge, huge fan of the games. I grew up sitting in my basement with the lights off playing the game, scaring the s*** out of myself. There are such iconic moments from the first and second game that they are putting into the movie. This one is very much a straight adaptation of the games. The first movies are really cool. I’m a big fan of those. I’ve seen all of them. I think Milla Jovovich is unreal, and my buddy Shawn Roberts played Wesker. I’m a huge fan of those, but ours is a little more of an adaptation of the video game stories. As a fan, I’m just really enjoying being on set, seeing them come to life and kind of reliving my childhood as one of the characters, which is such a dream come true really.
Awards Daily: What got you interested in doing Upload?
RA: It was funny. At the time my wife was shooting Designated Survivor, and that was a 22-episode per year show shooting in Toronto, which was great cause we are both from here. I went to my agent and said, with my wife shooting a 22-episode show, I am not really looking to book a network TV show if it doesn’t shoot in the same place as hers. We are never going to see each other, and we knew we wanted to start a family in the near future. They were, like, that’s going to limit what’s out there, and I was, like, yep, I completely understand. Ideally for me it would be a 10-episode or 12-episode show on a streaming network, preferably a comedy with a great producer. Greg Daniels said, two out of three isn’t bad.
Awards Daily: [Laughing]
RA: Honestly, I got all three. So, I got the audition and read the script. Sometimes you read a character and you are, like, I can do this, let me try to get into the mindset. When I read Upload, I thought this is enough of me to really have a shot at this. I went in to meet Greg, and he said, ‘Let’s sit down and chat before you read.’ He said, ‘My daughter and I watched The Duff and think you’re very funny.’ I said, ‘I am a huge fan of yours. You have made some of my favorite shows.’ We chatted for a while about the character and the show, then I read the three scenes he had given me. He wanted me to cold read another one. Then, he wanted me to cold read one more. I ended up spending an hour and a half with him. When I left, I was late picking up my dad at the airport because I never thought that the audition would run so long.
I called my agent (and you never do this). I was, like, I think this is my role, I think I booked it. Then they called me back an hour later and they said, ‘Greg absolutely loves you, but you were the first person to audition for the role, so he needs to see other people.’ I said, ‘Okay, yeah, for sure.’ Then about a week later they phoned and said, ‘We’re sorry, but they’re going in a different direction.’ So I was, like, okay, damn that sucks. Then, a month later, the day before Thanksgiving, my agent phoned me and said, ‘You’re going back in to screen test on Monday for Upload. It came back around.’ I went in and thought it would be a bunch of guys, but it was just me and Greg, and he said, ‘You were the first person to audition for this, and it would be really cool if you were the last.’ And I said, ‘That would be really great.’
Greg was so unbelievable through the whole audition process. He had me chemistry-read with a bunch of the Noras and Ingrids. Andy (Allo) and Allegra (Edwards) were so unbelievably good. You saw exactly why Greg wanted them. Kevin (Bigley) and I actually read together. He was the only one I read with for Luke. It was really exciting to see that side of the business. I had seen a little bit before, but to see that side of the casting process opened my eyes as an actor about why sometimes you get things and sometimes you don’t, even if you do a fantastic job sometimes you just are not that person. I cannot say enough nice things about Greg. He created an unbelievably comfortable work environment. For somebody who is so successful and so talented, he is void of any ego. He is always collaborative and fun to work with and to create such a great stage for, not just during that audition process but while shooting the show. You always feel like you are heard and part of what’s being made. I have been very lucky in my career so far in that I have worked on things that are really special to me and excite me creatively and are just really fun and give me the best job in the world.
Awards Daily: You mentioned the chemistry, and the chemistry you and Andy have on the show is really good. Is there a process you do to get yourself into that mindspace?
RA: Part of it was the luck of the show and the Nathan and Nora characters and Andy all grew as the show grew. We didn’t know each other before we started filming, but I can tell you that anybody would have chemistry with Andy. She is so kind and funny and smart and beautiful. She’s the whole package, so it makes my job really easy right off the bat. We moved to Vancouver for the show. We shot the pilot a year earlier, and the cast stayed in touch over text messages. We all really loved shooting the pilot together, and sometimes you think that you have something as a shot and sometimes you don’t. Luckily for us we all thought we had something special, and it ended up getting picked up, which was great. We got to know each other as our characters got to know each other, so I think that really helped with our on-screen chemistry.
Also, as far as the characters go, I’m dead, and she’s alive. It’s not supposed to work, and I think that gave our characters this casualness that there wasn’t that romantic option until they couldn’t deny it anymore. They really fell in love with each other being friends and learning from each other and helping each other get through what was going on in both of their lives or their deaths at the moment, and they really kind of built this relationship. Now they have to try to navigate it or continue to navigate it.
Awards Daily: So that actually goes into the final episode of the season, and I am certain you can’t say much but we find out some truths about Nathan. Was that something you knew about from the start about him, and do you think it will affect your take on the character moving forward?
RA: I think it’s a nice scene in our show: Are you the decisions you made or can people change? I think with the memory lapse it gives the audience a nice way to find out who this guy is or who they think he is, and then find out he has done some s***y things before. When I spoke to Greg a lot about it, this is a guy who had everything going for him, but there were problems with his family. His mom doesn’t have any money, so you can see why he did some of the things that he did, not to justify them but at least to show that he’s not a total piece of s*** just doing it selfishly for himself. It did give me things to think about while I was shooting.
I think the main thing that you saw leading up to Nathan getting his memories back is more of the real Nathan. I think the other one is somebody who made some mistakes and now has to deal with those moving forward. The writers are so good and so talented, and Greg had us come to the writers room prior to shooting season one to talk about the characters. Then, he had us coming to the room again prior to them starting up season two, which is right before the lockdown hit, back when it was safe to do so. We got to talk to the writers about what we really loved about season one, what we didn’t love about our characters, and what we wanted to see moving forward. It’s a very collaborative process, but at the same time I really enjoy the quality of the writing that comes out of that writers room. I try not to get in the way too much because they’re much more talented than I am putting a story together. I’m not quite certain what’s going to come from season two, but we are in great hands.
Awards Daily: You worked with your cousin Stephen Amell on Code 8. Does this familiar relationship change how you approach your acting?
RA: No, it was fun that we had never really worked together, we had a brief scene together on The Flash which was really cool, but we really didn’t get to work together other than just standing beside each other. So, getting to shoot together was awesome. The very first scene we shot was in the diner in Code 8 when Garrett, Stephen’s character, is not trying to interrogate my character but asking questions and feeling him out. As two people familiar with each other, it was great to have this unfamiliarity of working together because we had never done it before — feeling each other out as actors. The relationship that Garrett and my character Connor built throughout the movie, they have this chemistry, almost a mentor relationship, that was the easier side of things because we are family and we know each other. It was a blast, we are really excited about hopefully doing a sequel in the new year when things are a little easier and safer for an independent production to get back up. But it was awesome, getting to work with family and friends. You can’t beat it. It’s a great way to go to work.
Awards Daily: Another project you have on the horizon is your acting and producing in the movie Float. What got you interested in that project both as an actor and a producer?
RA: Float is based on a novel of the same name from Wattpad. For those who don’t know, Wattpad is a community writing platform based out of Toronto but it is global. They are massive. The Kissing Booth was a Wattpad story. The movie After was a Wattpad story, and they just have this massive fanbase. People write stories and then fans read them and leave their notes and the authors can take them or leave them.
Float has twenty million reads. It’s a really charming, interesting story. We had to make some adaptation changes because the novel is about a seventeen year old and, as young as I like to think I look, I can’t play seventeen anymore, so we have been taking a little bit of liberty but we’ve been working with Wattpad to adapt the novel. You know I haven’t done a romantic comedy as a lead since The Duff, and this would be more like a romantic dramedy, but it is a genre that I want to stay familiar with and want to continue to explore. I grew up with my mom and sister and my wife’s a huge fan of romantic comedies and dramedies, so I’ve seen enough of them to know that I can be comfortable in them. We are hoping to get that up again in the new year when things are a little easier to put together and safer.
On the production side of things with Code 8, it was a passion project of mine, and it took a long time to put together but I learned a ton. Jeff Chan, who directed the project and produced it as well, is a little bit of a mentor to me, and I’ve been navigating the producing world beside him. He is unbelievably smart and talented, and he’ll be producing Float with me. And it’s been really cool to be part of something from the beginning and trying to see it through. We’ve got our writers adapting the script right now. We’ve already read a draft, and it’s really really really good. I was super impressed with it, and we are excited to continue along that process.
Awards Daily: As a romance reader, I appreciate an actor saying they want to stay in the romance genre. That’s something you don’t feel like you hear as often.
RA: [Laughing] I love doing my Sci-Fi movies, I would kill to do a hockey movie, but I like to do a little bit of everything. Matthew McConaughey and Gerard Butler made a name for themselves in romantic comedies, and I think when they’re done right they can be really great movies. I think it would be silly not to pursue a little bit of everything.
Awards Daily: It sounds like there is not a lot that you know, but is there anything you can share with us about the second season of Upload?
RA: I don’t think so. I think I would get into a little bit of trouble if I said anything. What I will say is this was Greg’s baby. He thought of the story for Upload decades ago when he was on Saturday Night Live. He tried to adapt it into a novel and then back into a TV show. The level of story and thought that he has put into world building is so beyond what most writers do. This has been percolating in his head a very long time, and I think that anyone who enjoyed the first season will see that it’s only going to grow from there. There is a reason that Greg has created most of the world’s favorite TV shows. He’s brilliant, and I couldn’t be in better hands.