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 Stephen Amell (who’s also an executive producer on the film) talked about why he’s so proud of what they were able to do with Code 8, his one requirement for being in the film, figuring out what his character’s power would look like, and the experience of working with his cousin, Robbie. He also talked about what made him want to jump back into another TV series, when Starz’s Heels came along, his eight-season journey on The CW series Arrow, and shooting a short with his wife Cassandra Jean Amell as the director.
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.
STEPHEN AMELL: Yeah. The first time that I saw it, I was really, really happy that it was actually good. Does that sound weird?
No. I would imagine that being proud of the work that you do is probably something that makes you breathe a big sigh of relief.
AMELL: Yeah. I think that we operated within our limits and made a really good movie that I think will spawn other stuff. But the biggest thing for me was that, once I saw it and I saw that we did it, it’s proof of concept that me and Robbie [Amell] and (director) Jeff [Chan], and Robbie and Jeff principally, were able to make something. You think about how you can maybe do it again, going forward.
This originally started as a short and then as a Kickstarter campaign. Did you always have a sense that you’d get to a place where you could do this, or was there some worry that any of this would actually work out?
AMELL: We hoped that it would work out, but if it didn’t work out, then we’d say to people, “Hey, thanks for supporting us. We did our best, and it didn’t work out.” But, it did. Robbie and I got the opportunity to go to a bunch of premieres, which were a part of the campaign, and see people that actually spent considerable amounts of money to go to a premiere or contribute to moving, in some way, shape or form. And to watch it with them and see the way that they feel ownership of it is really special.
This is a story that’s in the superhero genre, which is a genre that you and Robbie are both familiar with. Were there things that you knew you wanted to do with it, specifically because you know they work and wanted to shake things up?
AMELL: Well, I left a lot of that to Robbie and Jeff, along with Chris Pare, the writer. But in an early draft of the script, my character didn’t have superpowers and I was like, “Guys, there is no world where I do this movie and I don’t have superpowers. Understand? Okay.”
Did it feel very different to play a character that does have a power and doesn’t have a costume?
AMELL: Yes, and yes.
Was it fun to adjust to figuring out how to use the powers and how to convey that how you wanted to?
AMELL: Yeah, that’s a great question. The first day of filming the full length trailer, where you see me use my mind to take a light bulb and give it to Robbie, I didn’t know how my powers worked or what that would look like. I just remember turning to Jeff and going, “Look man, I have an idea. Let’s assume that, as telekinetic, I’m right handed, so my right hand will be back and my left hand will be forward, and I’m going to try really hard. You just have to promise me one thing.” He said, “What’s that?” And I said, “Don’t make me look stupid.” But it was really cool because Robbie is an electric in the movie, so he created what an electric looks like and how an electric uses their powers. And as a telekinetic, I did the same thing. In the Code 8 world, that was really cool. And um, have you seen the full movie?
I loved getting to see the dynamic between your characters because it’s fun to watch actors who have a history, and with you guys being family, you definitely have a history there. You’ve worked adjacent to each other before, but did it feel different, actually getting to work together directly and having more involvement with the project?
AMELL: Yes, and yes. Like you said, I worked in close connection with Robbie, for a number of years, but had never really worked with him properly. I remember our first day, and getting to the end of it and being like, “Oh, thank god, he’s good.” I said that to him, but I also thought that to myself ‘cause I didn’t know how he works. And I did have a chance to have more involvement in this project, in terms of being an EP, but this is Robbie’s movie. It was very refreshing for me to take a back seat, and I was very happy that he’s as good as he was, in this movie. Otherwise, it would have been awkward.
After eight seasons on a TV series, it would be easy to understand, if you decided you wanted to take a long vacation, but apparently you’ve already lined up another TV series, with Heels for Starz. How did that come about, and what are you most excited about with that show?
AMELL: I knew that it was time to be done with Arrow, but I didn’t have any plans, as to what I was gonna do next. And then, all of a sudden, this project, Heels, came about and my agent and manager got in touch with me and were like, “Look, we think that Starz is gonna come at you with an offer for this show.” It was right before I went and saw my friend Emily [Bett Rickards’] play in New York, and Greg Berlanti ended up being there the same night, totally randomly. I was like, “Hey, man, this really awesome show is probably gonna give me an offer to do it. What do I do?” And Greg said, “Maybe don’t do the first thing that comes along, after Arrow is done.” And I went, “Greg, I agree, but also, I’ve read the first three scripts, and it’s incredible.” And he said, “Well, then you should do it.” And that was that.
When I read about the series, I have to admit that it seemed tailor made for your interests.
AMELL: Doesn’t it?! I’m researching, and I’ve been watching professional wrestling, all morning. When something comes along like this, I think it’s gonna be great. But finishing eight seasons of a TV show, I wanted to be done with Arrow, but I love working, so much, and I love being on set. I just wanted to be done with Arrow.
It certainly seems like, if you want to find a project that’s very different from Arrow, this is the way to do that.
AMELL: Yeah, which is cool.
Now that you’ve finished your run on Arrow, how did your first day on that show compare to your last day on that show?
AMELL: I can’t tell you anything about my last day on Arrow without spoiling things. But one of the coolest things about the first day versus the last day is the number of people that were there, on the first day, that were also there, on the last day, speaking specifically about crew. I’m not ready to talk about Arrow. It was this past Wednesday (this interview was conducted on November 21st), and like I said on Twitter, after I wrapped, as I was sitting in my trailer, before I took off my wardrobe for the last time, it was the greatest eight years of my life. I’m in the process of getting over it. I’m not totally there yet.
At the same time, is it cool to see the legacy that it carries on, with all of the shows that now exist because of it, and the spin-offs that are still to come?
AMELL: Yeah. I was lucky, in the sense that I was the first. I do take pride in the fact that we contributed to other shows being spun off. I’m just happy for people like Grant [Gustin], Melissa [Benoist], Ruby [Rose], Caity [Lotz], Kat [McNamara] and Cress [Williams]. I just want them to keep doing their thing, and doing a good job.
You also recently posted on social media about shooting a short with a bunch of the Arrow crew and that your wife (Cassandra Jean Amell) was directing. What was that experience like, and how did she do, as a director?
AMELL: First of all, it was great. It was a real treat to share a scene with Aisha Tyler ‘cause we’re best friends, but also I look up to her, as an actor, a lot. My wife has been shadowing on a couple of episodes of Arrow for Season 8, and is working on Roswell right now and also looking to shadow an episode there. This was a short that we thought was a really cool idea that our buddy, Kamen, wrote, and we did it because Cass wants to get into the Warner Bros. program because she’s interested in directing, but also because we thought it was a really cool project. So, we had a bunch of the Arrow crew come out on their weekends, during the finale, and they did so happily. A lot of the people who came out were some of my closest friends on the crew, and it was really fun to do a comedic thing on the Arrow set, when I had one day left to film. It was cathartic. And they nailed it.
Code 8 is in theaters and on-demand.