In “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Arrow” actor Stephen Amell trades in his bow for a hockey stick. Amell plays Casey Jones in the film, a comic-book vigilante who fights bad guys with sports equipment. I got the chance to talk to Amell about how his life has gone to the turtles.
Were you a fan of Casey Jones and the turtles growing up?
Amell: “Yeah. I started watching the cartoons and I can’t remember Casey Jones as much as the turtles because I was young, watching the original animated series. But then obviously the live-action movies came out and Casey Jones was a big part of them. As a kid, watching the turtles, if someone asked me which character I’d want to play, I actually think it might’ve been Casey Jones subconsciously in my very young brain, because he was a hockey player and he wasn’t a turtle, and I couldn’t totally conceptualize being a turtle. So I’ve been a big fan for a while.”
What was the audition process like?
Amell: “I had a meeting with some of the producers, but it wasn’t really about Casey Jones because there wasn’t any chance at all with my ‘Arrow’ schedule that I’d be able to film a movie like this. So when we found out that I was actually going to be able to do it and got the go-ahead from Warner Brothers about finishing and start dates for ‘Arrow,’ I did a tape that afternoon. That was a Tuesday, and that Friday afternoon I was testing with Megan [Fox]. Monday morning I got a phone call from my agents and manager, which is always a good phone call to get when it’s a joint call, and they were like, ‘You are to be expecting Michael Bay’s phone call.’ And that was it.”
What are you bringing to this rendition of Casey Jones?
Amell: “I think I’m bringing some enthusiasm, and some fun. I’m bringing also an origin story that’s unique to any iteration of Casey Jones, which allows me a little bit of freedom and creative license, which I think is important when you’re playing any type of character that’s been represented before. For me, with Casey Jones, that’s being a corrections officer and wanting to do the right thing and wanting to play by the rules, and the fact that I keep running up against authority figures who don’t see things the way I do leads me down a different path.”
Casey Jones uses sports equipment to fight. If you had to fight someone evil in real life, what piece of sports equipment would you use?
Amell: “A baseball bat. It would probably have to be a baseball bat. I mean, maybe a golf club? But I don’t know about that. A baseball bat’s the way to go. It worked in ‘Inglourious Basterds.’”
How would you describe the dynamics on set?
Amell: “It was fun! Will Arnett’s a funny guy, and Megan has a cool relationship with the boys who play the turtles, and the boys who play the turtles have to spend a lot of time together, from coming in the mornings and having dots put on their face, to wearing outfits that make them look ridiculous. They bust on each other all the time and they’re always making fun of each other. They started making fun of me by hour four of the first time I filmed with them. I was like, ‘Good. I’m being accepted here.’ If they were super quiet and standoffish, I would’ve been worried.”
What was your favorite scene to film?
Amell: “The scene where Casey meets the turtles for the first time. It was the first big dialogue scene that I shot and it was an incredible important moment in filming for me, because when Casey sees the turtles and what they are and what they look like, he thinks they’re aliens and that they might eat him. So he had to react in a very crazy manner, and it was important that I could bring that element of the character in. One of our producers, after we shot that scene, said, ‘Amell. It feels like we have a Casey Jones! It feels like we have a turtles movie! This is cool!’ And that really instilled me with confidence that I was on the right path, and gave me confidence in all the other scenes we shot.
What was it like to train for the movie?
Amell: “I had some time. There are a bunch of fight scenes, but I was able to meet with the stunt team and talk specifically about fighting with a hockey stick and fighting with a bunch of different guys coming at me at the same time. So you have to learn it, and relearn it, and then try to forget it so that when you shoot it doesn’t look super rehearsed. But the stunt team was and is phenomenal.”
What was the most difficult stunt that you filmed?
Amell: “I had to slide under a pole that had fallen. It wasn’t that it was difficult; it was that it was awkward. There was also an incident where I’m standing next to a car, and the car gets shoved into a wall by someone with superhuman strength. So the car comes into the wall via a ratchet at a hundred miles an hour. They said to me, ‘Look. We can make safe on this one. We’re confident that you can do it. Do you want to?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, of course.’ Normally I have to be demonstrative and demand that I do it. When the car goes into the wall, my hand immediately goes up and covers my heart because I thought I was going to pass out, and then I run away. So that was difficult because it was scary.”
You have a long history of television acting, and now you’re filming a movie. What’s it like making the switch?
Amell: “They’re the same. It really is the same thing. It’s a camera and a lens. Again, more time affords you the opportunity to make a much more personal vision. On television, we’re on a tight schedule and we’re producing at the maximum rate. I was expecting, because the scale is bigger in film, everything to be a little bit more stilted, but it was the exact opposite. Feature filmmaking allows you to create an incredibly personalized vision, because if you don’t make your day, you can just come back the next day.”
On “Arrow,” you play Oliver Queen, who’s also a vigilante. How did you try to distinguish between the different characters?
Amell: “If by the time Casey meets the turtles, you don’t realize that the character’s different, you don’t want it to be different, because it really is. Oliver’s closer to the turtles. Oliver’s closer to being a ninja: he thinks, he’s analytical. Casey Jones has more guts than brains, and he’s actually pretty funny.”
In this day and age, anyone can reach you through Twitter. Playing these iconic characters, it’s hard to make everyone happy. How do you deal with criticism?
Amell: “First of all, it feels incredibly rare that I get horrible messages. There’s a very loud faction of people that seem to think that ‘Arrow’ was one show for a while and now it’s becoming another show, but that’s a problem that you’ll run into when you’ve finished your 92nd episode. So I learned very early on, actually when we were shooting the pilot of ‘Arrow,’ that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy. If no one cared, no one would write anything. You just have to learn to roll with it. The other important thing is, especially with Twitter, if it’s not something that people are willing to attach their name to, why would I take it seriously?”
How do you feel, a year later, now that the movie is finally coming out?
Amell: “The whole thing is actually a bit surreal. It’s weird because I know that we filmed a lot of stuff, and it’s not all in the movie, and there was some additional photography, so I don’t even really know how it all pieces together. The biggest factor is that you are filming these scenes either with guys in platforms wearing CGI suits, or you’re talking to ping pong balls above their heads, or once you get those scenes on their feet, you’re filming with nobody there. So, the idea that I’m going to see a scene where I’m standing in the same space as a nine-foot-tall turtle is mind-blowing.”
What does your daughter think about you being friends with the turtles?
Amell: “She doesn’t totally understand it yet, and she doesn’t really like movie theaters either. She’ll get used to them, but she walked in and was like, ‘What is this?’ And the lights went down and she was like, ‘Oh my god,’ so eventually we’ll sit down and watch some curated scenes from the movie and see how she does, but she knows that she’s going to the premiere and that I’m buddies with the turtles. She thinks it’s very cool.”
If you could play another superhero, whom would you play?
Amell: “I don’t know. I feel like I’ve had my fill right now. I like the Riddler; I’ve always liked the Riddler in Batman movies. If I could stick within the superhero genre, which includes villains, I’d go with the Riddler.”
What would you like for moviegoers to take from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows?”
Amell: “I think we made the fun superhero movie, you know? It’s a movie that has real stakes and real villains, but has relatable characters, and because of that has real stakes that you care about. There are a lot of moving pieces in the movie, and I know that a main focus of our director Dave Green was to focus on the relationship between the turtles as brothers. Personally, I think that’s what makes the turtles a universal property and a property that has stood the test of time. Although this is a unique set of circumstances with four teenage mutant ninja turtles, it is in fact a story about four brothers, and everyone can relate to that.”
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” hits theaters on June 3.
Photo Credit: G. Ducanis
Caption: Ducanis (third from right), interviewed Amell (third from left) at a press day for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” along with journalists from other colleges.