It's safe to assume that actor Robbie Amell will look back on 2015 as a particularly good year. Not only did it see him star opposite Mae Whitman in the critical success The DUFF, or become a full-fledged DC Comics superhero in The CW's shared Flash/Arrow universe, but landed him a role opposite Kevin Spacey in Barry Sonnenfeld's high-concept comedy Nine Lives.
That's quite a turn of events from the failed CW series The Tomorrow People, and packed with no shortage of personal moments - not the least of which being the twist of fate that brought him from sharing a night of television programming with cousin Stephen Amell, but sharing the screen as two Justice League members. We recently had the opportunity to discuss that team-up with Amell, along with other tales from The Flash set, working opposite Mae Whitman (Parenthood), his hopes for DC's TV and movie universe, and much, much more.
A month ago you’re on TV playing a DC Comics superhero. Now you're filming a Barry Sonnenfeld film in which Kevin Spacey plays a cat. How surreal is your life at this moment?
Robbie Amell: [Laughs] Kevin has been shot out. He shot the first three weeks of filming. I can’t tell you how cool it was. I’m such a huge fan of his for the weirdest reason: I thought K-PAX was such an awesome movie. I told him that. I was like, “By the way, the whole House of Cards, Usual Suspects, that’s all great. But I’m a huge K-PAX fan.” He thought that was pretty funny.
But it’s unreal. I’m getting to work with people I grew up watching and I’m such huge fans of. Christopher Walken’s in this movie. My dad brought me up on Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty and now I’m working with a guy from each of those movies, or the guy who directed one of them. I’m just very happy to be where I am and I’m very excited about it.
One of the most pleasant surprises of The DUFF was that you weren’t playing the bumbling obnoxious jock, or the sweet best friend; you were playing a combination of both. Were you eager to play Wesley because of his dual nature, it being so against type for that type of movie?
Robbie Amell: First off, thank you. I appreciate that. To be honest with you, I read the first 30 pages and I put the script down and I almost didn’t pick it back up, because the character was that stereotypical douchebag. I know that guy. I grew up with that guy in high school. I didn’t want to do that. And my fiancé convinced me to read the rest of it. You found out that this guy does have a heart, he’s just young, and he’s just a bit of an idiot and says some things he probably shouldn’t. But it just takes somebody like Bianca [played by Mae Whitman], just a friend, to kind of call him out on his sh*t to change a little bit.
The nice thing was, reading it, I definitely saw a version of myself in the character where I could just have a little more fun. I like the relationship between he and Bianca. The people at CBS Films were very cool, and in the meeting they said, “We want this movie to feel real and grounded and we’re going to give a lot of room for improv.” I’m such a huge fan of Mae’s, and I was before. I knew her work from Arrested Development and Parenthood. I knew there was a lot of improv background, so when I went in to chemistry read with her, I brought in a bunch of alternate lines. She never missed a beat. She was always right on top of them. But I made her laugh at one really inappropriate joke. We just got to kinda do that for five weeks, just try and make each other laugh and make it feel like these two people could actually have a relationship.
You mentioned how important chemistry is, and you spoke in the past about the challenge of joining The Flash, stepping into an existing cast to play Ronnie Raymond in a flashback that required sort of instant chemistry with Danielle Panabaker. How did that challenge evolve over the course of the season? Had you become a member of the family by the end, or did you have to find a place for yourself alongside the other cast members?
Robbie Amell: No, the nice thing about Danielle is we have a mutual friend - Aaron Yoo, who was on The Tomorrow People with me the year prior - he was like, “You guys are going to get along so well.” And Danielle is so sweet. I can’t say enough really nice things about her. And again, the producers were great, because we hadn’t had any time together. When we got to set we just hung out a little bit and they were like, “Feel free to just change up the lines. Make it feel like you guys have this history and this relationship.” So we tried out a few things in the first couple scenes.
What I always liked about Ronnie Raymond was that he doesn’t take things too seriously. He’s kind of goofy, which I thought was a trait that… it's something I can relate to. I really like playing a little bit of goofiness. Chris Pratt does it really well. I just think it makes him feel more real and more like a buddy. So they let me goof around with that. The nice thing is they have such a great cast over there. It’s like 80% the same crew as The Tomorrow People. So it really felt like I was going back for Season 2 with some new faces.
Then when Victor Garber was cast, he and I had worked together a year prior on a little TV movie. He is such an incredible actor and just as incredible a friend. When I first met him, I was talking him to about my fiancé loving Titanic. When she came to visit set, before she could even get on set to come say hi to me, he had sought her out and sat her down and talked her ear off about Titanic and made her feel like family. Victor is incredible. We go out for dinners whenever we’re in town together. It’s just a nice family over on Flash. It’s a really nice place to work.
Now that you’re on set with Barry Sonnenfeld, moving from TV to film and back, people have said so often said that these superhero TV shows are almost akin to making a feature film. Has that been your impression?
Robbie Amell: Yeah. The only main difference is on The Flash you're making a feature every eight days. When you are working on an actual feature, you have… on Nine Lives I think we have 47 shooting days. On one episode of The Flash you have eight shooting days plus a second unit day. So the only difference I really see is time. You have that freedom in features to take more time with scenes, but with that being said, those shows - Flash, Arrow, I’m sure some of the other ones - they just move so smoothly. And to do that much work in eight days, it really says something about the cast and crew and everybody involved. Those are really huge, huge productions. And you are doing a brand new small feature every eight days.
It now seems that Victor is going to be playing a more substantial part of Firestorm, which is nice for him, since you did get all of the glory shots as the superhero. He's also said that you'll both be returning for the next season premiere of The Flash. But you have yet to be confirmed for DC's Legends of Tomorrow. I know you're going to be cryptic, but as the immense Firestorm fans we are, is there any tease you can give us?
Robbie Amell: I can’t tell you anything other than I will be in The Flash next season.
Well, that’s a relief.
Robbie Amell: That’s all I can tell you. Sorry. [laughs]
It's funny to even discuss, since we were expecting a small supporting role for Ronnie in the first season, not wanting to get our hopes up. Fast forward a few months and there’s Firestorm, right off the comic book page - a full-blown superhero. Were you aware of that plan going into it? Was it a big secret you managed to keep, or were you surprised to learn how substantial a role it would turn out to be?
Robbie Amell: No. I mean I never underestimate Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns, because they’re so unbelievably good at what they do. But when I read the episode that I burst into flames and fly away - first of all I was laughing like the teenage-- no, the 10-year-old version of myself - but I asked them, like, “Is this too soon? Do you want to save me flying away?” They’re like, “Oh, no. we’re just getting started.”
I’ve had a blast getting to play this character. The sad thing is there was a moment in the finale that had to be cut out just because it was such a massive episode and it didn’t actually have anything to do with plot where they introduced matter manipulation. There’s a scene where Danielle’s character is checking my temperature and giving me the once-over. I call Victor in the room and we merge, and I turn her thermometer into a daffodil. It was just like a really nice, sweet way of showing… because she’s asking if we’re going to be OK, and I’m like, “Actually, we’re getting pretty good at this whole Firestorm thing.” And we merge without even missing a beat and turn that into a flower. It was a nice moment, but ultimately it just didn’t hold any bearing on the plot.
So, matter manipulation I’m sure will be reintroduced, or maybe it will be available on the DVD director’s cut of the episode. But there’s so much they can do with this character. My biggest fear with the character was that he was too powerful. I think that sometimes that can be an issue. I feel like that’s the only problem I ever have with the Superman comic book, is other than kryptonite, how do you stop this guy? But they’ve done an unbelievable job.
How much of a rush was it getting to actually share the screen with your cousin as two DC superheroes?
Robbie Amell: That was so cool. They told us they were going to try and figure out a way to do it. The funny thing was there were a bunch of different versions written where we have lines to one another and ultimately, they just said, “We don’t know how to do this without nudging the audience and giving them a wink.” So they just left it as, like... we don’t address each other [Laughs]. We’re both there on business and that’s it, which I thought was actually pretty funny.
Stephen has become the cheerleader for just about every DC Comics adaptation, saying that the way he sees it, this is the beginning of the golden age of superheroes on TV. Are you of a similar mind?
Robbie Amell: Oh, absolutely.
If that is the case, how will you look back on being a part of that?
Robbie Amell: I’m getting to live out my dream every time I get to set and shoot on The Flash. But he’s absolutely right. I mean technology is now at a point where visual effects can look incredible on television. You don’t need $200 million for an hour and a half for it to look good. Not only that, I mean the filmmaking level on television is just beyond what it used to be, from the shows that are on The CW with Arrow and Flash to the trailer for Supergirl, which was absolutely massive. I ripped through Daredevil in a week. It was unreal. He’s absolutely right. It’s a really incredible time to be working in television.
Alright, I'm hoping you can surprise us here. Because you are now officially a member of the DC Comics Universe, what are you most looking forward to from DC in the next few years?
Robbie Amell: Oh, man.
It doesn’t have to be one.
Robbie Amell: I’m very interested in Ben Affleck as Batman. I actually think he’s a great choice. I’m a little worried about a Batman versus Superman movie just because it’s… I just think it’s really tough to pull off. I’m very excited about seeing it, but I think it’s really tough to balance those two characters in the same movie. But I’m a huge Ben Affleck fan. I think he’s a great choice for Bruce Wayne. As long as he doesn’t have a Boston accent, I think he’s going to be awesome.
Great. Thank you again for taking the time to talk with us, and good luck with the rest of production.
Robbie Amell: Thank you. My pleasure. Good talking to you.
The Flash's Season 2 premiere is scheduled for Fall 2015. The DUFF is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.