Welcome to Refinery29's North Stars series, which shines a spotlight on the rising talent of Hollywood North. Whether they're already having a moment or are on the cusp of breaking the Internet, these are the Canadian celebs we think you should know.
Robbie Amell is a new dad. His son, Robert Amell V, with his wife, actress and fellow Torontonian Italia Ricci, was born in September. Amell is the kind of new dad who will pull out his phone to show you pictures of his baby, whom he affectionately calls “fat ass” and “an absolute tank.” The 31-year-old lights up much in the same way when talking about his other baby — the new film he stars in and executive produced with his older cousin, fellow actor Stephen Amell.
Code 8 is the Amells' first collaboration even though they are both part of the Arrowverse, as fans call it — Stephen plays Green Arrow in Arrow and Robbie was Firestorm in spinoff show The Flash. The movie is also the younger Amell’s grittiest role to date. In the film the cousins spent years crowdfunding, Amell plays Connor, a man born with super powers in a world that disenfranchises people with supernatural abilities. He resorts to a life of crime to earn money to save his dying mother.
Amell’s hero-worthy grin and piercing blue eyes — seriously, there is no other way to describe them — make it easy to understand why his IMDB page reads like a classic leading-man resume: from romantic comedies (The Duff, the upcoming sexy novel adaptation The Hating Game) to stints as superheroes (The Flash, The Tomorrow People). Here, we talk about getting pigeonholed as a “hot jock,” that time Amell became a meme, and the L.A.-based Canadian's thoughts on hockey culture in Canada.
You're not going to like my first question. One of the first things that comes up when Googling you is “Robbie Amell Football Throw.”
Oh, yep. [Laughs.]
To recap, a video of you throwing a football went viral and everyone was saying you can’t throw correctly. You're never going to live that down, are you?
It was for The Duff and it was a five-week shoot, so we just didn't have a whole lot of time. The director was like, “Just throw it beside the camera." And I was like, "To who?" They had a poor PA standing beside the camera, three feet from me. And so, I have to literally do a little dip pass. I fought [the director] on it and he's like, "It's a teen comedy; it's not about that." I thought I was in the clear after the movie came out, but then the whole thing went viral.
So, it bothered you when it went viral?
Oh, I hated it. I was miserable. Getting meme’d is not an enjoyable experience. You know, the Internet's a nasty place as is. The other thing is, I grew up playing sports my entire life. This hurts me on another level. It's so fucked up because if it was something I was actually shitty at, I'd be like, "Oh, well, whatever. I'm not good at that." Crush me for singing. I am a horrible singer!
Code 8 is truly a passion project for you and Stephen. Tell me how it started.
My cousin and I knew we wanted to work together. Jeff Chan, who directed it, is one of my best friends. We made the short film. Steve was supposed to be in the short film, but the dates didn't work out because of Arrow and he had a very tight window. So, Jeff and I were talking about who would work. We're both huge fans of the Fast and Furious movies and [the character] Hon. So, we reached out to Sung Kang. I met them for a beer and he was like, "I'm in." So, we shot the short film over two weekends in L.A. We thought it would cost us like $30k, it cost us $70k or $75k and we self-financed it.
So, that was $75,000 of your own money?
Jeff and I split it. I remember Italia being like, "Oh yeah, have fun on your little short film” and then she found out how much it cost, she's like, "What?" We weren't married at the time, so it wasn't our money yet, but she was like, "Oh my God, what are you thinking?" [Jeff and I] just figured if we're not willing to take a chance on ourselves, then why should we expect anyone else to? Then we took it to Indiegogo hoping to make a couple of hundred grand and it just caught fire. We kind of broke Indiegogo. We did contests, we did giveaways, we did anything we could to keep people excited and interested. And 27,000 backers later, it ended up being pretty special.
You and Stephen have become this family power duo in Hollywood. Are you going out for the same roles? Is there a bit of a rivalry?
Pretty rarely, but occasionally, we'll go out for the same role. As for the rivalry, not really. We're seven years apart. We've both been in the industry long enough now that, although we are similar in certain ways, mainly from below our eyes to our forehead, we're still very different actors. We're innately different people and that reads on camera. If you're going to hire one of us, you probably weren't going to hire the other one. I kind of walk in, I do the job and I'm like, I'm either the guy or I'm not.
Speaking of what kind of guy you've been on camera, you've played a lot of “hot jocks.” This role in Code 8 is one of the few where your looks are not a part of the character. How does that feel that your conventionally attractive looks are very much tied to the roles that you play?
I'm grateful that it helps me get a job and then after that, I just want to elevate it to something else. The Duff very much had to do with the way I looked for sure, but at the same time, going toe-to-toe with Mae Whitman and Ken Jeong in a comedy is not something that many people can do — no matter how they look. If it helps me get the job, awesome, but that's where it ends for me. I just want to try and do a good job and prove that I should be there for other reasons.
How strategic are you with the roles that you choose?
Navigating a career is very tough. At one point, my agents wanted me to read for a show where essentially the character would have been McDreamy [Patrick Dempsey in Grey’s Anatomy]. I’m a best-case scenario person... so, I'm thinking, "Okay, this goes for six, seven seasons [filming] nine months, a year.” I'm the lawyer version of McDreamy. I don't want to do that.
It's interesting because some actors would kill to play McDreamy for seven seasons.
Yeah, it's a great job. But doing things in your off-season during that gig is really tough. Squeezing a two-month movie into two and a half months of off time is really difficult. I've just been trying to navigate my career in things that I'm interested in and passionate about without being pigeonholed. But it's tough because I want to keep working. I love working. I love being on set. I love my job. It's a huge risk to take every day to try to find the career I want.
Coming up, you’ve got The Hating Game. It's based on a steamy romantic novel. You're playing opposite Lucy Hale. What do you think makes you a natural rom-com lead?
I'm very charming [Laughs]. I enjoy making my wife laugh and if I can do that to other people, then I think that's the best starting point. With that being said, I think some of the best rom-coms are the ones that can balance the silly with the dramatic.
You're a big hockey fan. The Toronto Maples Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock was just fired, then accused of verbally abusing players. Don Cherry was also recently fired. We're in a very interesting moment in Canada where there is this national conversation about toxic hockey culture. Have you been paying attention to that?
We didn't get any of that conversation in L.A. Just from an outsider looking in, [the Leafs] have all the talent in the world and it looked like they just were like, "Fuck this guy." I think it looked like the players were done playing for Babcock. The Don Cherry thing was just a really, really, really stupid thing to say. He should have just apologized and said that he was wrong. It sucks because he's Don Cherry. He was a Canadian icon. As for the hockey culture thing, I grew up in it, and I think, like anything, if it's taken too far or if it's pushed too far, it's going to go bad. But at the same time, it's a very physical sport. I had coaches yell at me, but I think it’s the intention. There’s yelling and then there's malicious, hurtful yelling, and I think that's the line.
How connected do you feel to hockey and Canada living in L.A.?
I mean, there are a lot of Canadians on the Kings. I still play in a little beer league, but it's much, much, much smaller. You barely get hockey on national broadcast networks. I miss it. You don’t get hockey on Sports Center. You can’t compare it to football.
Well, you can’t for sure since you can’t even throw one.
[Laughs.] I know.
Do you think people now know that you can throw a football?
No, probably not. I mean, it's the Internet.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Code 8 is in select theatres now and opening wide and on-demand on December 13.