From creator Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Rec), the futuristic comedy series Upload is set in a technologically advanced world where humans can be uploaded into a virtual afterlife when they are clearly on the path to their departure. When Nathan Brown (Robbie Amell) is forced to make a quick decision about his fate, after a self-driving car accident, he makes the choice to be uploaded into the highly sought after Lakeview, where he meets his customer service guide (Andy Allo) and the two form an unlikely friendship in this new digital realm.
During a virtual press day for the new Amazon Prime series, actor Robbie Amell spoke to Collider for this 1-on-1 phone interview about why he wanted to be a part of this series, wanting to ensure the audience could get behind his character, his favorite Nathan-Nora moment, and how he feels about the concept of uploading yourself. He also talked about how the Netflix success of Code 8, the indie sci-fi flick that he was a producer on, has been totally mind-blowing, and his desire to do more producing.
Collider: When this came your way and you read it, what did you most strongly respond to? What were you most excited about, with telling this story?
ROBBIE AMELL: Immediately, I heard Greg Daniels and I thought, “That would be amazing!” And then, I read the script and, first off, Nathan and I share a similar voice and a similar sense of humor. The way Greg writes dialogue is so natural and so easy. Then, I went in and met with him, and he had me read the three scenes, and then three or four more cold read scenes. We hung out for an hour and 20 minutes, and then I left and was like, “That’s it. I booked it. That’s my job.” I told my agent and they were like, “You were literally the first person to audition for it, so they have to see some more people.” And then, I got a call a week later saying, “Sorry, they’re gonna go in a different direction.” I was like, “Damn, I really thought that I nailed that one.” And then, a month later, the day before Thanksgiving of 2017, they called and said, “You’re going in Monday to screen test.” I went in and thought it would be me and a few guys, but it was just me and Greg was like, “You were the first person who auditioned for this. It would be pretty cool, if you were the last.” And I was like, “Yeah, that would be great!” It was awesome. I ended up reading with a bunch of Noras. Greg’s casting process is so great and so collaborative. He just put together such a great group. What I really loved about the script was it’s sci-fi, it’s romantic comedy, it’s murder mystery, and it’s all of these things, but at its core, it’s about the relationships between these people – Nathan and Nora, Nathan and Ingrid, and Nora and her dad. I feel like people get so invested in that and they just wanna see what happens to these people, and Greg is so good at that, as you’ve seen in his previous work. It was great. Everything about it was awesome.
A lot of the humor in this show comes from poking fun at your character, which essentially means, as the actor playing the character, you’re also poking fun at yourself, a bit. Is there a fun in that because it helps not only take the subject matter less seriously, but it also helps you take yourself less seriously?
AMELL: I would trust Greg with my career, so that was an easy step. The other thing is, I don’t take myself very seriously, most of the time, anyway. Reading the script, at the beginning, I was like, “Okay, this guy is pretty shallow, a bit of a brat, and a little bit of a douchebag. My only concern is that I don’t wanna lose the audience. I don’t want them to not be able to get behind this guy, for the arc that he’s gonna go on, in the season.” So, Greg and I talked about that a little bit. At his core, he’s a nice guy. He’s just in a bit of an odd place in his life. He’s coasting and he’s just a little bit shallow, and that’s something that a lot of people can relate to. It doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. A lot of people in their mid-20s aren’t really sure what they wanna do, or where their life is going. It’s a common time to be at a little bit of a crossroads. You may think that things are going a little better or that they’re a little more interesting than you thought. And then, someone comes along and shows you that there could be a little bit more meaning to what you’re doing. With Nathan, he meets Nora after being uploaded, and he thinks he’s got problems, but then he meets someone who has lost their mom and who is working their ass off to try to help their father. He sees what can be important in life, and their journey together is really sweet.
Does it almost feel a little bittersweet that it takes death for him to find his humanity?
AMELL: I know, I had thought about that. It essentially takes him dying to figure out how to live, which is interesting, but definitely hurts, if you’re Nathan. But with that being said, there’s a nice moment in Episode 7, when he’s with Nora’s dad, where he says, “For everything that I learned here, if you told me that I could go back, I’m not so sure I would.” That speaks to having like a second chance for him, which is really beautiful and shows the evolution and growth, over the first season.
There is something so fun in watching the dynamic between Nathan and Nora. How was it to play that dynamic with Andy Allo, and do you have any favorite moments, in that relationship, between the two characters?
AMELL: The “Uptown Funk” scene was an audition scene. First of all, Andy is musically incredible, but she’s also so sweet and thoughtful and kind and charming. I think it really bleeds through in that scene, where you see her dancing with me, and then dancing at her desk. And I rewatched the show recently, with my wife and my mother-in-law, just ‘cause I had to refresh before the interviews, and all three of us were just smiling and goofy, sitting on the couch, and I think it’s because Andy is just so charming, in that scene. Tat’s a really big moment for the two of them because it’s the first time they have some fun together. This is a relationship that both of them need. You find out that Nathan doesn’t have any real friends, in the real world, and Nora has been doing everything she can for her father, so it’s almost a little break between them. But also, one is alive and the other one isn’t, so there’s a little bit of the pressure off. It doesn’t feel like it’s a romantic possibility, so the two of them can just have fun and get to know each other and become friends, before anything else could happen.
When you have to do a scene like that, where you have a duet and you’re not normally a singer, as an actor, is that something that makes you nervous, or is it something that you just jump in and have fun with?
AMELL: Not normally a singer is more never a singer. I don’t have a musical bone in my body. But with that being said, the way that the scene was written and the way that we handled it, it’s definitely more of a goofy side of things from Nathan. It’s not like he’s trying to sing. This is a weird moment where he can’t remember something, that turns into a nice moment with a friend that’s definitely need it. We just went for it, and I definitely let her lead.
You’ve also had your fair share of experience with effects. Did the effects on this show feel any different or more technical, in any way, or do they feel easier because you’ve had so much experience with effects before?
AMELL: It definitely felt easier because of my experience on The Tomorrow People, The Flash and Code 8. That helped a lot, just strictly from a comfort level of having been around green screens and understood how certain visual effects shooting works. It was really nice to be able to have that. I continue to learn and grow with that, every time I’m on set, whether it’s visual effects driven or something else. The industry is evolving and the cameras are evolving, so it’s really nice, from the producer’s side and the actor’s side. It’s just nice to keep seeing things evolve and grow and change.
How do you feel about the entire concept of uploading yourself and essentially living within a digital world? Is that something that you’d ever consider doing yourself, or do you consider yourself more of an analog type of person?
AMELL: I would do it, but not until it was absolutely necessary, kind of like Nathan. He doesn’t want to upload, at the beginning. He would rather upload than die, but because you can’t reverse it, it’s still the end of your normal life. It’s definitely an ending and beginning. So, I would wait as long as I could, but at the end of the day, if I could spend more time with the people I love, I’d do it. That is reason enough for me to upload, to spend more time with friends and family.
We spoke last year about Code 8, when it hit theaters and on-demand, and now people have the ability to watch it on Netflix. When it comes to that project, since you were so much more involved with the development and getting it made, what are you most proud of being able to do with that, and what do you feel you learned about yourself, as a producer?
AMELL: The fact that we were the number one movie on Netflix, for four or five days, and we’ve been in the top five movies on Netflix, is totally mind-blowing to me. We set out to make something that we would be proud of, and make something with friends and family and 36,000 Indiegogo backers, and I was really proud of what we made. It took a long time. Making independent films is really hard, and it’s really nice to have outlets, like Netflix and Amazon, where you can get eyes on them. We did really well with our video on-demand release, and it was a fraction of what we’ve done on Netflix, which says something about the audience for these streaming networks. We’ve been so blown away by the response. We’ve been getting tweets from all around the world. It’s so awesome. We’re in pre-production on the Quibi series for Code 8, and we just wanna keep the story going and give a little more to the people that helped make it happen. It’s been something that I’ll never forget, for sure.
Does it make you feel like you want to do more producing and be more involved in the projects that you’re doing?
AMELL: I like producing, in general, but even when I’m not producing something, I like to be as involved as possible, just because I love what I do. I like to have my input heard. The amazing thing about working with somebody like Greg Daniels is that, even though I’m not a producer on this show, he still makes sure that all of us are heard and that our voices matter, and he empowers us to do everything that we can, which is really sweet and speaks a lot to who he is, as a producer and creator. But I loved it, and I would love to do more. I’d like to direct, one day. For the time being, I’m doing Code 8, and hopefully some more Upload.
Upload is available to stream at Amazon Prime.