Interview: Stephen Amell on Arrow, Heels and being surprised by his own career success

Most well known for his titular role in the television series Arrow, based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, Stephen Amell has long been part of the comic culture since the series first aired in 2012.  After 8 seasons, Amell has retired the hood (or has he?) and has since incorporated his own professional wrestling history into his latest project, the acclaimed drama series Heels, where he plays a renowned “villain” wrestler vying for national attention in small town Georgia.

Arriving in Australia ahead of this year’s Supanova Comic Con & Gaming convention, Amell spoke with Peter Gray about being surprised by his own success, why he has his own cousin to thank for the biggest role of his career, and what he wants to explore outside of his television career.

The last time you were here in Australia for Supanova was 2019.  In terms of differing crowds, how does Australia compare to the convention audiences in the United States?

I would say there’s a difference.  Australian fans are very prideful.  They’re lovely, they’re passionate, they’re thoughtful.  Before I ever went to Australia I was aware of the fanbase.  They’re just really lovely, thoughtful people.

Obviously your role in Arrow is the main drawcard.  But do you have people coming to talk to you about other roles, like Code 8 or even Hung?

In Australia, specifically, people talk about Code 8, all the time.  They seem to love it.

I think Australian films always feel so small in comparison, so that indie mentality is what we can connect with.  I know there’s a sequel on the way too.  How far along is that process?

It’s been filmed and it’s been delivered to Netflix.  They’re just going to figure out when they’re going to put it out.

Did the positive reception to Code 8 fill you with a certain confidence? It was obviously a passion project, and now having a studio like Netflix behind the sequel, does it fuel your interest further in producing films?

I was surprised by how successful it was.  I thought it was good, but I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be as successful as it was.

And working with your cousin, Robbie Amell, does that make things easier?

Oh, absolutely, yeah.  It makes things way better.  It’s the coolest thing.  And then Netflix gave us a bunch of money to shoot the second movie, so that’s great.  And this movie is really, really good.  I can’t wait for people to see it.

On the mention of Robbie, I believe he’s essentially the reason you got the role in Arrow.  He was going to read for it, but he thought it suited you more?

He was going to read for it, he was going to audition.  He told me that he was going for this pilot, but he didn’t know if he should because he thought it should be me.  Then, like, an hour later my manager emails me with an Arrow audition.

I understand as you were auditioning, more and more people kept coming into the room to watch you, and then days later you found out you had the role?

Yeah, (my manager) and I had the conversation on a Saturday night, I had the audition on Tuesday morning, and I got cast the following Tuesday.

Was that one of the few times you’ve experienced such a quick turnaround?

For me? It’s the only time.

Did that validate the decision for you in being an actor?  It’s not the easiest profession to find continued success.  Having 8 seasons of a show seems like such a rarity now, so did that solidify in making the choice of being an actor for you?

No one’s ever asked me that before.  Yeah.  I got to do this role for a decade, and I’ll probably continue doing it in some way, shape or form.  I’m a part of a culture, and that’s a really cool, lovely thing.

And now you’re starring in the show Heels, where you get to bring in your wrestling background.  Was that always an ambition of yours to merge those two passions together?  Was it a surprise or did it happen quite organically?

(Laughs) It came as a complete surprise!  I was shooting the final season of Arrow, and I was preparing to take a really big break.  I was tired, because it was hard, and my manager called me and asked me to read this script (for Heels) because there was an offer coming.  I wasn’t going to do it.  I wasn’t going to sign up to another TV show (laughs), and my manager knew that but I read it (anyway), and about 10 minutes in I was, like, “Fuck!” (Laughs).  I had to do this.  And here we are, and I’m very, very proud of what we’ve done on Heels.

Being with Arrow for a decade, did that limit the type of opportunities you could take regarding film work? Obviously we’ve seen you in Code 8 and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel, but was television ever a medium you saw yourself thriving in?  Or are you the type of actor who’ll take on anything as long as it’s something you personally respond to?

That’s exactly right.  I think people think actors have a lot more autonomy over their careers than they actually do.  Like DiCaprio after Titanic? He had autonomy.  I didn’t know Arrow was going to come up.  I didn’t know Heels was going to come up.  I didn’t know Ninja Turtles was going to come up.  I’m here to do my best.  And it’s whatever is presented (for me).  When I got Heels and Arrow, two days before both of those projects, I had no idea about them.  The next big thing for me might be right around the corner.

Is there one particular genre you want to explore?

I think I just want to do feature films.  I’m a massive Paul Thomas Anderson fan, so I’d love to work for PTA, or Tarantino, or Spielberg.  Directors that I admire deeply.  Right now (though) it’s just about promoting this next season of Heels.

Is there anything we should be looking out for regarding the next season of Heels?

Nope (laughs).  I can’t talk about it yet.

Stephen Amell will be appearing as a guest at this year’s Supanova Comic Con & Gaming convention at both the Gold Coast (April 15th and 16th, 2023) and Melbourne (April 22nd and 23rd, 2023).  For more information on each event, head to the official Supanova website.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.