The sci-fi drama Code 8 is set in a world where the 4% of the population who are born with different supernatural abilities face discrimination and live in poverty, pushing them to resort to crime to survive. When a power-enabled young man named Connor (Robbie Amell) is lured into a lucrative criminal world by Garrett (Stephen Amell), in an effort to help pay for his ailing mother’s health treatment, he quickly ends up being in over his head and fighting for his own survival.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Robbie Amell (who’s also an executive producer on the film) talked about the long journey to getting Code 8 made, telling a story that keeps the sci-fi element grounded, the experience of working with his cousin Stephen Amell, what he learned from being involved with the development of the film, how he’d like to keep working on the production side of things, continuing to tell the story of this new world, and that he’s always game to return to The Flash, if the opportunity were to arise.
Collider: I appreciate you talking to me about this film. It sounds like everyone involved with this went on quite a journey, getting it made, and it’s quite impressive when you get to see the finished product of something like this, knowing how much work everyone put into it.
ROBBIE AMELL: Thank you! It’s been a long journey, but it’s been the most exciting and rewarding part of my career, so far. With the support from all of our friends and family, and the tens of thousands of backers on the Indiegogo campaign, it’s been really cool to be able to share the experience with so many people.
This film has a great balance between exploring a new world and superpowers while also making us interested in the characters, which seems like it would be tricky to do. Was that something that was important to you?
AMELL: Yeah. When we first started talking about even the short film, we knew we wanted to make something that we would all enjoy, and we’re all big fans of grounded sci-fi. But once we started putting the script together and really tried to figure out what story we wanted to tell, we knew we wanted to make a dramatic crime drama that had sci-fi elements to it. We didn’t want them to be the reason people liked the movie. We wanted them to fade into the background. Everybody has seen big, huge, planetary-sized explosions and huge cities being blown up. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy those. I go see all of those movies. But we didn’t have the budget to do that, and we also wanted to make something a little more grounded and a little easier to lose yourself in the realism of it. We wanted people to go, “Is this what it would be like, if people did have powers?” We wanted to give everybody something a little bit different, and we just had great people involved who really cared you. Nobody got paid a lot of money. All of the money went on screen. We called in so many favors. The visual effects company did so many hours of work that we couldn’t really pay them for. They just did such an amazing job, and it’s because they’re all friends of ours and they all cared about what we were doing.
You and your cousin, Stephen Amell, have worked adjacent to each other for awhile. How was it actually getting to work together? Were there things that you learned about working with each other on set, as actors, that you wouldn’t have known about each other without having made this project?
AMELL: I don’t know about that. It was cool because on The Flash and the crossover, we only got to hang out for a night, shooting the fight scene, and we don’t even say anything to each other. The first scene we shot together (on Code 8) was in the diner, and it was cool to actually get to interact and talk and, be on screen together. It was cool to see his process and how he works. It was super fun. We grew up really close, and then we fell out of touch a little bit ‘cause he’s seven years older than I am. When he was 15 and I was eight, there wasn’t a whole lot of middle ground to hang out. And then, when he moved to L.A., shortly after I did, we fell right back into being good friends. But then, he went to Vancouver and was shooting Arrow, so we hadn’t really hung out, other than family get-togethers and weekends during his off-season. So, it was nice to just spend a summer in Toronto, with both of our families still there, and get to hang out and catch up and be family again. It was really nice.
Is it fun to share a common bond like that with family?
AMELL: Yeah. We owe it all to Greg Berlanti. It was really cool of him to give us both such great starting points in our career. We’re both very lucky to be able to do what we do, and have such great fan bases to help us continue to do that. We’re hoping to do some more of the same, just because we had such a great time during this first one.
Danielle Panabaker recently said that she believes that her character’s one true love on The Flash was Ronnie, and that she still holds out hope that he’s alive somewhere out there because she loves that character and you. Do you still hold out hope that maybe they’ll find a way to bring you back, before that show is done?
AMELL: Oh, yeah. Anytime that they want me to and I’m available, I’m there. I love everyone on that show. Danielle is the sweetest. Everybody on that show is like family. It was nice to be able to be there, at the beginning, when they first started. It’s tough. There’s a lot of story to tell and a lot of characters to give their time. If it ever does work out, I’d love to go back, but I also don’t want to step on any toes. So many people there have earned their opportunities to have some great storylines. I think it would probably just be something small, but I would love it.
Because you were more involved and hands on with this movie, as it’s been developing, what have you learned, that you’ll carry with you now to other projects, in the future? Do you feel like you learned a lot about making something like this, from that side of it?
AMELL: Oh, yeah, I learned a ton. During the whole filmmaking process, from start to finish, I took in as much as I could. Jeff Chan, who directed it, is a good friend and I just tried to watch, as much as I could, of what he was doing. I’d love to direct one day, but not for something like this. I want to start a little smaller. I’ve gotta rely on Jeff for things like this. But being able to wear the producer hat and be a part of the casting process of, finding the woman to play my mom, finding Greg Bryk, who played our villain, and seeing the whole project come together, from beginning to end, with the editing process and everything, it’s amazing how much goes into it and how many people really matter when, when making a film. There’s so much effort, by so many departments. I learned a ton. I try to think about that, on the set that I’m on now. Everybody has got their job to do, and you just want to help everybody out, as much as possible. It’s pretty amazing.
How was it also to work with the visual effects and the tech in this, especially with the robot police force? What was it like to work with that side of it and to be more involved with that side of it?
AMELL: Our visual effects company, Playfight VFX, out of Toronto, are friends of ours. They did the short film, and they did the entire feature. They are unbelievably talented. With a lot of visual effects, you have to know that you’re gonna look pretty silly during the filming, and then you just, you need to rely on the fact that the people you’re working with are talented and are gonna take care of you and make sure that you look good in the finished product. The robot cops are just men in green suits with vests on, and the electricity coming out of my veins is literally nothing, at all. You just have to throw away all self-consciousness and trust that he people putting together the visual effects are gonna take care of you and you’re in good hands. Luckily for me, in my career, I’ve always been well taken care of.
Are you looking to continue to get more involved with the production side of things, and find a balance between roles, as an actor, and projects that you want to develop more?
AMELL: Yeah. We’re at a really interesting time in the business, where filmmakers are in a great position, with all of the streaming outlets and, all of the different places for projects to go. It’s never been a better time, to be able to make your own stuff. Ideally, I would like to continue working on Code 8, whatever the next step is. Jeff, Stephen and myself are all very excited about it. And I would love to continue making and producing my own stuff, and eventually get into directing. I just don’t have any immediate plans for it. I have a couple more things coming out, this year. I did a show for Amazon, called Upload, which comes out in April. If that were to get a second season, I would probably try to get myself involved on the directing side. All of these are things that you just have to balance because, more than anything, they take a lot of time and you never want to be the guy that’s not prepared, or that tried to do something they weren’t ready for. So, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can, before I wear another hat.
Code 8 is in theaters and on-demand.