Toronto born Stephen Amell got his start on Canadian television before moving on to smaller roles on U.S. shows like Queer as Folk, Private Practice, and Hung. His big break came when he was cast as the titular lead in the hit CW series Arrow. Now Amell is taking his acting and action skills to the big screen, taking on the role of Casey Jones in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. We had a chance to sit down with him on the set of the Turtles sequel to talk about his experience working on the film.
What was your relationship to the TMNT franchise before you signed on to play Casey Jones? Were you a fan, or are you a newcomer to the Turtle world?
I’m a fan principally from the movies, actually. The three movies that came out timed up nicely with me in elementary schools. And I actually remember going to three successive birthday parties where we would go see the Turtles movie and then we would just go home and eat cheese pizza til everyone was sick to their stomach. So when I booked the job, my wife, who was also a huge fan and had a Turtles-themed birthday party, went back and watched the original movies. I can’t remember the Casey Jones character but she actually remembered it much more than I did, when I had my initial meeting and chat just about Turtles in general not actually the character. She met our director, Dave Green, and asked maybe one pointed question. He gave a rather unspecific answer and she immediately went [gasps] ‘Is it Casey Jones?’ I think she was more excited than I was.
So you weren’t very familiar with this specific character before you signed on?
I was from the original movie franchises and I happen to be familiar with vigilante characters myself. So once I did the math and thought back to the Elias Koteas version of the character, I became very curious about it.
You have a very passionate fanbase on Arrow, so was there any trepidation about joining a franchise with an equally passionate fanbase?
No. I’ll join as many franchises with passionate fanbases as humanly possible. I like going into roles where people have an expectation. I actually kind of like going into roles where other actors in recent memory have played the character. Because in those instances, both with Oliver Queen and with Casey Jones, we are meeting the character at a very early part of his evolution. When we meet Casey Jones in the movie, he’s not a vigilante, he’s a corrections officer. So all of the elements that inform the traditional Casey Jones people have come to know and love is something we will hopefully build out over the course of time and not just the finished product in the first film. Or second film, as the case may be.
So what drives Casey Jones to become a vigilante?
He is involved in an incident as a corrections officer and thinks he does the best that he can, and because that was a lot of resistance and quite possibly a little bit of snickering from his boss and with the police department. So as a result of this, he starts looking for alternate methods.
Does Casey have a romantic relationship with April O’Neil in the movie?
I’d say that they have a burgeoning relationship, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s romantic. I think we saw from the trailers that he saves her from a little bit of a sticky situation, so that always incites certain feelings.
What is Casey’s relationship with the Turtles like in the movie, and how does it evolve throughout the film?
His relationship with the Turtles at the beginning of the movie is, he’s totally frightened by them. Or, no, I wouldn’t say frightened actually, I’d say much more taken aback. I mean, we live in a pretty fantastical world with the Turtles, but you know, he has to reconcile the whole, “What are these 7-foot tall talking turtles doing in front of me?’ But Casey has some information that the Turtles need. So I’d say that there’s a bit of an uneasy relationship at the beginning, but a stronger alliance forms as he moves through.
What are his relationships like with the individual Turtles, or does he only really deal with them as a group?
He’s got a slightly adversarial relationship with Raphael. But that’s sort of Raphael’s personality and Casey’s personality. With Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo, he’s much more amicable, but it’s a little bit confrontational with Raphael.
Do you think Casey has a future in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles world?
I mean, he’s certainly set up as — again, it’s sort of an origin story for Casey Jones, and it’s certainly left in the position where if the franchise were to continue and be successful, that he could certainly come back. I’d love to come back. It was such a blast. Filming in New York City. I got the opportunity to do some amazing stunts in the movie, and that’s sort of right up my alley, so. I’d love to continue with this character.
You’ve had extensive fighting, martial arts and weapons training for Arrow, so has any of your previous training translated to your role of Casey Jones, or have you had to learn like an entirely new skill set?
Well, I wouldn’t say a new skill set, but I would say that he’s certainly a different type of fighter than I am on television. He has different skills. I want to make sure that, especially in the first time that we see Casey Jones, that he wasn’t necessarily a super-polished fighter. He’s more flying by the seat of his pants, which is a departure from what I’m used to. For our big stunt sequence, I think the biggest part of it was, I grew up playing hockey. And I had to get on some crudely fashioned Rollerblades. Which was a blast. I’m extremely, extremely proud of that sequence.
Is that your favorite scene that you get to do in the movie?
Um… yeah. From a selfish standpoint, yes, because it was, I mean we essentially set up a separate stunts unit for that, and it was just me for five days, and once our director realized how eager I was, they built every shot around me doing it myself. It’s certainly not the biggest set or action piece in the movie, but as we’ve seen, we have like flying ships over New York City, but it’s definitely a fun one.
As a Canadian, is wielding a hockey stick as a weapon a major highlight for you?
Absolutely! I mean, I feel like Canada would’ve been very quietly and very politely outraged if we didn’t cast a Canadian as Casey Jones. Despite the fact that, you know, he is most definitely and most famously a New Yorker.
What’s the biggest difference between this version of Casey Jones and the others that have come before in the movies and comics?
Well, he’s certainly more clean-cut than earlier versions. Which I know is something that people have noticed. but again, the fact that he is a corrections officer, I think really does properly explain why that is. but basically, you’re looking at a Casey Jones that tried to do it the good way and tried to live on the straight and narrow, and it just didn’t work out for him. And so he gets that glint in his eye, maybe a few shadings of what might become as a character.
Could you picture being in a solo Casey Jones movie, or do you think he’s more at home fighting with the Turtles?
I mean, I would love to — of course. The dream of any actor is to take a character as part of an ensemble and distinguish yourself enough that you would eventually get, maybe get your own movie. But as for now, I’m perfectly happy and excited and honored to be under the umbrella of a franchise like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which has such passionate fans and such global reach and that’s certainly satisfaction for now.
What’s been the biggest challenge of starring with four motion capture characters?
Honestly, the biggest thing, and it’s only one thing, is that they have these little — when you’re acting with the actors, with Noel and Pete and the boys, it’s — you have to stare at little bulbs above their heads, which are their eyes. So I was taught growing up to look someone in the eye when you talk to them. It’s a completely natural reaction over the course of so many years. And to not do that is jarring. Like, it takes a little while. Because you can stare at the bulbs when you look away from them, but when you look back, your eyes want to go back to their eyes. So yeah. It’s challenging. but once you get it down, you’re good.
Has working with those motion capture characters made yo want to try it sometime?
Nah. No, I like playing characters that are human beings. My specialty is non-superpowered pseudo-superheroes. I’m set for now.
Do you see yourself in Casey at all? What do you personally connect to about the character?
I personally connect to him. He’s certainly more towards my level of humor. I like that. I like the fact that he’s got a little bit of a hair-trigger temper. I mean, I’m not that way necessarily, but I mean, he’s got like a funny scene in a bar where a little bit of my personality comes out. Leave it at that.
Both Arrow and Casey are really physical parts, so in terms of preparations, how are they similar in physicality and how do they differ, in as far as how you prepare for the role?
Well, I mean I certainly exercised some muscles I hadn’t in a while. I did five straight days of skating. But you know, the similarity is, at the beginning of every season of Arrow, I meet with the stunt team, and I did that as well on Turtles. So basically, at the beginning of every season of Arrow, I get to meet with the stunt team and we go over stuff and maybe some new techniques. The difference being that there’s so much more time in the world of feature films to prepare. I mean, I had, I think it’s about two or three fight sequences in the movie and I would spend entire days off, which is not something I typically enjoy on Arrow, practicing. And getting ready. And as a result, it actually allowed me to do way more of my stunts than I typically do, and I typically do almost all my stunts. So I was actually really surprised. I didn’t know how that was going to go, but once they found that I was eager and willing, they just threw everything they could at me. And I appreciated that, because you know, they have a certain standard of action for Turtles movies, and I’m glad that they felt that I could live up to that.
How did you wind up coming to this role?
So in early January, in a pretty standard way actually, in early January I had a meeting with Andrew Form and Brad Fuller over at Platinum Dunes. And we got along really well. We weren’t necessarily speaking about anything in particular. Although apparently according to my manager it was more about Turtles than not. Then I had a nice meeting with Dave Green when I was in New York for Late Night with Seth Meyers, and we sat down and again had a nice Turtles meeting. He was in New York and scouting and getting ready. And then when we found out that it was going to work within the window of my hiatus — which was the big miracle of this whole thing, that it actually fit in to my time off from Arrow nicely — I put myself on tape, the tape went well, I came down to LA, I got to screen-test with Megan I think on a Friday, and then I think on Monday morning, come Monday morning, I was alerted that Michael Bay was gonna be calling me, and the rest as they say is history.
Has there been a lot of secrecy around this role and around the project?
I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of secrecy. People have seen the Turtles and they know what they look like. The biggest sort of amount of secrecy from my standpoint was, they wanted to reveal my mask before it got snapped by a paparazzi. And we were filming outside and on the streets of New York City, which means that you have to do it immediately, otherwise someone’s going to catch it. So that was the secret part for me. But I do know that there have been a lot of things about the movie that Turtles fans will love that they have been able to keep under wraps and that I was incredibly excited to see that trailer and to see the response, I was more excited that there are a lot of amazing things within the movie that they didn’t actually put into the trailer, which is always a good sign.
What are some of the responses you’ve gotten to your appearance in the trailer?
Well, for starters, there was a lot of people like, “you’re in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” Which is always so weird, because they announced it, and I would say it like a hundred times. But there are still obviously people that don’t discuss this stuff until they see a trailer. The response seemed great. I felt like I was in the trailer the perfect amount. To be able to introduce myself in the trailer, to get little snippets of a fight with Bebop and Rocksteady and all that stuff, it just — to me, last week was one of the greatest weeks of my career. Seeing how, it really is jarring how far and wide the Turtles franchise reaches. I mean, typically if I put a post on my Facebook page, a huge post, the reach would be four, five million people. And I put the post up for the Turtles trailer and the reach was 75 million people. I’ve had the situation a couple of times in my career, the first time being actually when I joined up with Hung on HBO, all I want to do coming into that franchise was fit in nicely with the franchise. And just feel like I belonged, and not like a piece of furniture that sticks out and catches your eye in a bad way. And that’s the exact same thing with Turtles. I wanted to settle in and be a part of the franchise that people can enjoy, and it seems like it belonged.
Was it hard fitting into a group that were all in the last movie together?
Absolutely not. Andrew Form is great, he took us out for dinner when we started filming, and just introduced everybody, and got everyone comfortable. Megan was great, Will Arnett’s great, and my first couple of nights was all stuff with the Turtles and all of those guys just could not have been more welcoming. I knew that it was a good sign when a couple of hours in, they began making fun of me for something. But we were laughing between takes. It was a really nice way to start filming, because it’s Casey Jones at like level nine of sort of being freaked out by something. So it was a nice way to start being able to build the character and bond with the guys.
What kind of research went into the role besides the physical preparation?
Just the scripts. Just the scripts. I’ve always been lucky that on Arrow I had, during the pilot we had David Nutter and Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim and Geoff Johns, and all the people who care so deeply about a character that is deeply embedded in DC Comics. And with Turtles, Andrew Form and Dave Green and Brad Fuller, they’re all there, we had writers on set all the time, and filling in jokes. These are all guys that are Turtles fans. So I really put my faith in them.
Did you look at Elias Koteas?
I knew of his performance but I certainly don’t want to do an imitation of somebody. I just made sure that I was putting my own spin on it. And again, it’s certainly so helpful that when we met Elias Koteas in the first Turtles way back when, that’s a fully formed Casey Jones. My character’s totally different in terms of where we are catching him in his life, so I don’t think that would have been that helpful.
Who’s your favorite Turtle?
Well, growing up my favorite Turtle was Michelangelo. But that’s the last time I’m going to answer that question because that was my opinion as a kid and from the previous film iteration of it. Now I do not have a favorite Turtle. I’m never gonna pick. I don’t want to play favorites.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows also stars Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Pete Ploszek, Jeremy Howard, Laura Linney, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Sheamus, and Gary Anthony Williams, and is scheduled to open June 3, 2016.