April 15th, 2024

After drifting apart as kids, Stephen and Robbie Amell lead sci-fi franchise ‘Code 8’

By Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press on February 26, 2024.

Stephen Amell, left, as Garrett, and Robbie Amell, as Connor, are seen in an undated handout still image from Code 8 Part II. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Netflix, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

For years, Toronto-born cousins Stephen and Robbie Amell inhabited the same superhero universe but never interacted on screen.

“Steve and I knew that we wanted to work together.We had shot one scene in “˜The Flash’ where we weren’t allowed to talk to each other,” Robbie, who starred as Ronnie Raymond in the CTV/CW series, says on a video call with his cousin from New York.

He says the show’s producers “just thought it was too weird” to have him and Stephen, who played lead character Oliver Queen in CTV/CW’s “Arrow,” converse in the show, given that they’re related.

“Ask [Arrowverse creator] Greg Berlanti. We don’t know why,” says Stephen.

The desire to act together was partly why the Amells decided to create their own superhero franchise, starring themselves.

“Code 8″ began as a proof-of-concept short they made with director Jeff Chan in 2016. The subsequent Indiegogo campaign, which aimed to crowdfund $200,000 to make a full-length movie, raised a staggering $2.4 million.

The Amells debuted the film theatrically in 2019. It was later released on Netflix, where it cracked the Top 10 list in the United States.

The Toronto-shot sci-fi action film depicts a world where four per cent of the population is born with special powers, but instead of getting the superhero treatment, they face discrimination and economic hardship. One such person is Connor Reed, played by Robbie. Desperate to raise money for his ailing mother, he joins a group of criminals led by Garrett Kelton, played by Stephen, using his powers to pull off a series of heists.

The sequel, “Code 8 Part II,” premieres Wednesday on Netflix. The streaming giant has acquired the global rights for the film.

“I really tried to cultivate a fan base when I was on “˜Arrow,’ and these people just supported me and they came with me,” Stephen says of the overwhelming response to “Code 8.”

“The way that it happened in terms of the amount of support was completely unexpected. But, I mean, people just did it and it was amazing.”

“Code 8 Part II” picks up after the events of the first film. Connor is working as a janitor and is distancing himself from Garrett, who has ruined his life. But when 14-year-old Pav, played by Toronto’s Sirena Gulamgaus of CTV’s “Transplant,” is targeted by corrupt police officers, he finds himself once again working with Garrett to save the young girl.

Despite Netflix being on board this time around, the Amells, who produced the film, say they were given complete autonomy on the sequel.

“They really believed in us to make the second movie the same way we made the first movie, just with a little bit more money,” says Robbie.

Robbie adds that the first film’s crew was “all friends and family,” and “90 per cent” of them returned for the sequel, which was shot across the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Kingston, Ont.

Chan, a friend of the Amells who directed both films, says rather than splurging on “bigger explosions,” the goal of the sequel was to make it feel “very human-scale and very intimate,” similar to the first.

“Whether we’re independent or whether we’re working with Netflix, the fact we had a partner that allowed us to keep our connection with the story we’re telling, with the way we want to make the movie, and with our fan base, I think really helped keep this one special,” he says.

For the Amells, the chance to film a sci-fi franchise in the place they grew up felt surreal. One scene was shot just outside Stephen’s childhood home in the Bayview Avenue and Highway 401 area, northeast of Toronto.

“I didn’t even know we were filming there,” says Stephen.

“I got driven to set. They were like, ‘All right, we’re going to go to the location.’ I was like, ‘OK. Awesome. Wait a minute. Where are we going? We’re hanging a left turn here? This is so cool.'”

It may sound like the kind of film the cousins grew up dreaming of making together, but they insist this isn’t the case. In fact, Robbie, who’s 35, says he and Stephen, who’s 42, drifted apart as kids because of the age gap.

“We actually didn’t know the other one was getting into acting. We both kind of fell into it separately around the same time. And we became buddies again when we were both living in L.A.,” says Robbie.

The two bonded while catching L.A. Kings games together and talking shop about the industry.

“It was really nice to have somebody you can confide in and bounce ideas off of because it is such a lonely business and there’s a ton of rejection,” says Robbie.

Finally getting to work together all these years later has been “incredibly cool,” says Stephen.

“I’ve learned a lot from Rob as an actor. He is much more thoughtful than I am. He just goes about his business. I’m particular and occasionally annoyed. I learned from him how to calm down.”

Robbie says despite not spending much time together as kids, he and Stephen now know each other very well. Almost too well.

“Stephen knows how to pull a smile out of me. He knows how to piss me off. And we get to use that to our advantage, which is really great. It’s been fun to watch him in these movies. It’s just the best job in the world. We get to work with friends and family.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.

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