You might know Robbie Amell from his roles in The DUFF, The Flash, The Tomorrow People and many other films and television shows. However, it’s his next role leading the cast of Amazon’s much anticipated series Upload that might be his biggest to date.
I got the chance to talk with Robbie about how he originally got into acting, his audition process for Upload, why he and his cousin Stephen Amell chose to make Quibi series instead of a traditional movie sequel for their movie Code 8 and more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
I’ve followed your career for a little bit, but one thing I don’t think I know is how did you get into acting originally?
Oh I just kind of fell into it. When I was young, I did commercials and print work, just little stuff like that. My mom and dad always saw it as a way for me to put some money aside for college and I was just always comfortable in front of a camera. I was playing really competitive hockey in Toronto, where I grew up, and I hadn’t even been on an audition in years, and then, my modeling agent phoned me with an audition for Cheaper By The Dozen 2, and it was my first movie audition I’ve ever had. I went in and luckily I looked enough like I could be Eugene Levy’s son. I booked it and shot for a couple of months over one summer – I think it was the summer before 11th grade. I just had such a great time and I learned so much that I quit hockey and got in some little on-camera acting courses. I booked a TV show that shot in Toronto called Life with Derek. Then, I was going to go to school. I was probably going to go to McGill, where my sister went. I just decided to go to LA and give it a shot and if it didn’t work after a year, I could always go back. But luckily, it’s gone okay so far.
That’s awesome. You’ve had a bunch of different types of roles over the course of your career so far. I’m curious, is there a specific role or a type of character that you haven’t gotten the chance to play yet that you’re hoping to cross off your bucket list one day?
I don’t know yet. I mean, I’d love to play a villain. Now that I’m a dad, I’m excited to play a father in something, but I still look pretty young to do that. I don’t know. I mean, I just kind of gravitate toward good scripts. I don’t really have a preconceived role that I am dying to play. But I really enjoyed the roles that I’ve had so far. I love the challenge of doing comedy. It’s what I wanted to do after doing 1600 Penn and The DUFF and having so much fun with those.
I actually learned so much doing True Jackson VP, which you think, “Oh that was a Nickelodeon show”, but the people that made it all came from big network TV shows like Frasier and that type of stuff. Our director Gary Halvorson had directed over 60 or 70 episodes of Friends and just learning from people like that was really fun. So my new Amazon show coming out was something that I really wanted to do. I wanted to do a comedy with a great producer and Greg Daniels, who created Parks and Recreation and The Office, is pretty high up on that list of people I wanted to work with.
Kind of going on off of that and talking about your new series Upload. What was the process of you getting the role like? Did you have to go out and audition? Did they offer it to you? What was the process like?
It was a long process, actually. I was the very first person to audition for it. It was October of 2018.
Yeah. And then I went in and Greg had seen The DUFF and he thought I would be great for the role. I had two or three scenes to read and I read them and then he printed off three more scenes from episode one and two to see me do them. It was one of the best auditions I ever had. I left and I called my agent was like, “I think I’m the guy. I had such a great time.” I went to pick my pick my dad up from the airport, and I told him. Then, the next day, they called and they were like, “Greg loved you, but they’re going in a different direction.” And I was like, “Damn, okay.” But then, a month later, it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, they said, “Okay, they’re bringing you back in to screen test for it on Monday.” So I was thinking about it all Thanksgiving weekend. And I went in, and Greg was sitting there and he was like, “You were the first person who auditioned for this and it would be cool if you were the last.” I was like, “Yeah. That would be really great.” I ended up reading with him again, and then I read with six or seven girls for the Nora role for chemistry read, and then six or seven girls for the Ingrid role. They weren’t ready to say ‘yes’ to me, or Amazon wasn’t ready to say ‘yes’ until they found the other people as well. So I was I was kind of in this weird limbo for like three weeks wondering if I was going to be the guy or not. Luckily, it ended up being me.
But the process has been a long time. We shot the pilot in January of 2018, which means it must have been October of 2017 [when I was cast] because the pilot shot January 2018. And then it took them a full year to pick it up because Amazon had changes regarding who was in charge, so we didn’t shoot the episodes two through 10 until February, March and April of 2019. Now it’s 2020, and it’s finally going to come out. So it’s been a very weird, lengthy process. I’m 29 in the pilot, 30 in episodes two, three, four, and five, 31 in six, seven, eight, nine and 10, and I’ll be 32 when it airs.
Wow, that’s crazy. That’s wild.
It’s wild. It’s just kind of unlucky the way that things all rolled out. But at the same time, Amazon’s Prime Video is growing so we’ll get more eyes on it. The only frustrating thing is a lot of the stuff that Greg kind of predicted in the show has actually come true in the few years that we’ve been waiting for it to come out. So it would have been very interesting to see these things happen having already heard about them, even though he did predict them; the show just hadn’t released yet.
Right. Because there was such a time gap between [when you shot] the pilot, episodes two, three, four and five and then the rest of the episodes, does that make it harder for you as an actor to create that consistency between your character, especially when all that’s happening technically in the same season?
It was the pilot, and then a year [break], and we shot the show, and then a year for it to come out. So the only gap between filming was between [episodes] one and two.
And pilots are so weird. Pilots are such an introduction to everybody. It’s like here are the characters, here’s everything you need to know and I feel like after that you can actually get into watching the show. If you watch a lot of comedy pilots, it’s difficult because you have to introduce so many people and you need to get to know them before you can laugh at them. So the nice thing about the gap between episodes one and two was I had a year to kind of digest the character and think about it more and think about the world that exists because Greg created this really weird world that Upload exists in and I mean weird in a great way. I think there’s so much content out there I think you kind of need to be weird now, and the world is a weird place. It was really fun to get to think about it and talk to him about it and meet with the writers. So as frustrating as it was to have to wait as long as we did, it was cool to kind of get to know that character in that world before we actually started shooting because sometimes in this business, things move so fast and by the time you’re finished, you feel like you’re just getting a grip on the world and the people involved. So that was I wouldn’t say a downside to it.
Kind of going off of that, on the show, you play Nathan. What is he like and how does he fit into this world that you’re talking about?
My character Nathan is a coder in the year 2033. He’s a bit of a playboy, party douchebag and then his self driving car crashes. In our world, if you know you’re gonna die, and it doesn’t happen too suddenly, you can upload to a digital afterlife, which is essentially heaven run by a corporation. My rich girlfriend uploads me to her account because my vitals are dropping in the hospital and now she owns me in the afterlife. Our relationship was a little on the rocks at that point. This was a guy who kind of had everything going for him, took it for granted and now is in essentially a retirement home in a digital afterlife and is trying to figure out what life means to him now.
I know a lot of actors bring a little bit of themselves to the characters they play so in what ways do you think that you are personally similar to Nathan and in what ways do you think you’re different from Nathan?
Everybody can relate to making stupid mistakes and not being proud of every little thing that they did growing up. I grew up in Toronto with a great group of friends but I mean everybody does dumb shit when they’re teenagers. So I feel like everybody can relate to having made mistakes growing up. I like that this guy kind of has that. But at the same time, at his core, he’s a good guy trying to do the right thing. And I think something that you don’t always see on TV is how lost people in their late 20s/early 30s can be because it’s such a life changing kind of 10 years, [ages] 25 to 35 or even early 20s to early 30s; you’re trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do and where you fit. [Nathan is] trying to do this and then it’s taken from him. I think that’s something that’s really relatable is trying to figure out where you fit in.
As far as similarities, I like to think that I’m a very kind person and I think that Nathan, at his core, is that. He tries to help people. He’s got a good sense of humor. He doesn’t take things too seriously. I found that Greg Daniels’ writing was so natural, which is why I felt so good about the character. He writes so well for the way that I talk, and he wrote Nathan in such a way that I relate to his sense of humor.
So in addition to Upload, I know that it was recently announced that a series based on your movie Code 8, which just came out, is in development over at Quibi and it’ll serve as kind of a sequel to the film. When you guys set out to make that film, did you ever see that world expanding like it has, and especially into television? And why make it a TV series instead of a movie sequel?
I mean, we always hoped it would be successful, but you never know. I mean, we just took a chance on ourselves and started with a short film, a very expensive short film and just hoped it didn’t blow up in our face. But at the same time, we have so many talented friends that worked so hard, which is why I think the movie feels so much bigger and more expensive than it actually was. We had such a great time making it that we always knew that we wanted to make more. Quibi just seemed like such a great fit because the storytelling storytelling aspect with Quibi is the length of a movie, but cut into episodes so we kind of get the best of both worlds. They’re making a series but it’s the length of a feature. We always thought the world building was very cool, but we definitely weren’t finished with it and the nice about Quibi too is that it doesn’t preclude us from doing a sequel in the future. Right now, we’re just focused on Code 8, the Quibi series but when we’re finished that, if we feel like there’s more story to tell, we would definitely be interested in doing a film or another series. It’s been such a great past four years of my life, working with friends and getting to make something that we would be proud of and the success and the outpouring of love from the fans who helped get it made has just been such an unbelievable experience.
That’s awesome. Last question – our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have some kind of inner-nerd so what is something you are currently nerding out about?
I love video games. I grew up playing a ton of video games. Apex Legends on Xbox is my game right now. Jeff Chan, who directed Code 8, that’s kind of our go-to thing. Me, Jeff and my other buddy Davey, most nights, Italia [Ricci, Robbie’s wife] and I will put Robbie, our baby, to sleep and we’ll hang out for a bit and then she’ll go to sleep and I’ll play video games. It’s a nice unwind for Jeff who’s been writing the sequel to Code 8 for Quibi and Davey works in the entertainment business as well in Los Angeles so you know that’s their escape. So I’m a big, big, big nerd when it comes to Apex Legends. Jeff bought me the Apex Legends Christmas sweater this past Christmas, so that’s how into this game we are.
Featured Photo Credit: Rowan Daly