The High Cost of Not Living
Robbie Amell finds a different kind of afterlife in Upload.
There's an old adage about being at rest when one's dead. Actor Robbie Amell (The Flash, The DUFF) can attest this is untrue; there's no resting in the afterlife.
Amell stars as Nathan in Upload, the Amazon Prime Video series by Emmy-award winning Greg Daniels (King of the Hill, The Office). When Nathan dies, his memories are uploaded into a virtual reality environment complete with data plans, hacks, and purchasable downloadable content.
Helping Nathan is his "Angel" Nora (Andy Allo), with whom Nathan slowly bonds and builds a strong relationship. Nathan's life in the afterlife is fraught with intrigue, romantic tensions with his living girlfriend Ingrid (Allegra Edwards) and Nora, and the mystery of his missing memories.
How would you describe your character?
Nathan's a bit shallow. He's a coder in the near future who thinks life's going pretty well. He's got a hot girlfriend, a cool job with his best friend. And then, his self-driving car crashes and it looks like he's not going to make it.
He gets uploaded to his equally shallow girlfriend's account at Lakeview, a digital afterlife. He starts to see that maybe his life wasn't that meaningful. He meets Nora and she shows him what life could really be like.
What was appealing about the series for you?
Right off the bat, Greg Daniels is a genius. I'm a big fan of Parks and Recreation and The Office. When I got the audition, they sent over [the scripts for] episodes one, two, and three. The way that Greg writes, it's very natural for the way that I speak.
Nathan and I had a similar voice and the same sense of humor. I went in [to audition], and he said, "Let's just chat before you before you read the audition." He told me, "My daughter and I watched The DUFF, and we thought you're very funny."
I was like, "Oh, I'm huge fan of yours. I think you're very funny."
An hour and 20 minutes later, I left and called my agents and said, "I think I booked it." They called me back and said, "You were literally the first person to audition for the show, so Greg needs to see some more people."
They circled back a month later and I tested for Greg, and he said, "You're the first person audition for this. It'd be cool if you were the last."
Robbie Amell: Being able to work with someone like Greg Daniels on a half-hour comedy is a career dream come true.
Being able to work with someone like Greg Daniels on a half-hour comedy is a career dream come true. What really appeals to me about Greg's shows are the characters that he's created and the relationships between them and like Jim and Pam from The Office.
It's just one of those things where he just does such a great job of pulling the audience in and really having you invest in those relationships and the characters onscreen.
I thought that with the dynamic between Nathan and Nora and Nathan and Ingrid, from comedic and dramatic standpoints, was a really interesting to jump into.
Greg was so collaborative from the beginning, always talking to us about the storylines, the character arcs, and where we were going throughout the season. It was really exciting from start to finish.
It's interesting you mentioned The DUFF, as that's the last comedic role you've done in a while. What was it easy to get back into comedy?
I think it was just kind of the way that my career unfolded. I love comedy. I've had a great time doing it.
I've been really lucky in my career to work with such funny people from Eugene Levy, Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, at the beginning of my career, to people like Josh Gad, Bo Burnham, and Mae Whitman. I've always really enjoyed it.
True Jackson, VP, the first job I had in LA, was a half hour comedy with a live audience tapings.
It was just one of those things where the roles I was booking were definitely more on the sci-fi or drama side. Before Upload, I was talking to my agents about what I wanted to do, my wife (Italia Ricci) was on Designated Survivor at the time, and we knew we wanted to start a family in the coming years.
I told my agents, "I want a half-hour comedy for a streaming network with a great producer." Greg [Daniels] said, "Two out of three ain't bad." But obviously I got all three because he's so great. I just really lucked out.
Robbie Amell: I'm really excited to be back in comedy. I love it. It's scary, but it's exciting.
I'm really excited to be back in comedy. I love it. It's scary, but it's exciting. I get to go to work every day and try and make other people laugh or try to get them to try and make me laugh.
The great thing about Upload is Greg really blends a bunch of genres. He calls it a "genre stew." It's a romantic comedy, it's sci-fi, it's a murder-mystery. It's a little bit of everything, and I think he does such a great job of riding that line of not letting it become too much of one of those things.
At its core, it's about the relationships between the people on screen.
As you put it, Upload dips its toe into all different genres, including gaming, satire, and consumer culture. Which one of the genres resonated most with you?
I love sci-fi. I'm a bit of a techie. I love video games. I love virtual reality. That's a side of things that's really cool for me.
The chemistry and the relationship between you and Andy Allo as Nathan and Nora is palpable and strong. How did that work for you as an actor as you never physically meet during the pilot, yet sharing many scenes together?
Through the pilot, we were always there for the other person, off-camera. Throughout the series, unless one of happened to not be in town, we were always on-set for one another.
I think part of it is just kind of lucky the way things worked out. In the first episode, Nathan and Nora don't really know each other, and neither did me and Andy. We became fast friends. What really makes the relationship work is Nora is the heart of the story.
Andy is so kind, she's just got such a sweet personality, that shows through her character. She's really easy to get behind, and that's a big part of her and Nathan's relationship. She shows him that maybe he was a bit of a shallow douchebag without just straight out saying it.
Greg does such a great job of creating these situations where Nora's in upload and real life, I'm only uploaded, and the relationship is not supposed to be one that can work.
I think that it takes the pressure off of the romantic side and these two people can become friends and learn from each other before anything romantic seems like a possibility. These are two people who I think are really looking for a friend.
When Nathan gets uploaded, he quickly realizes that he didn't really have the relationships in real life that he thought he did. Nora is his connection to the real world, and his guide in the upload, and she takes care of him and shows him what a true friend can be.
It's a nice story where there's two get to learn from each other
One of the notable aspects of Nathan are the gaps in his memory. In some ways, there are two Nathans.
I agree. I think the story shows a lot about whether or not someone can change, whether you are your past, if you can become somebody else, or if you can change and be something different.
Were you aware of the differences between Nathan in the real world and the uploaded version when you started playing him? Or was that something that unfolded for you as it will for a viewer?
It was a little bit of both. Greg gave me a kind of overview of the first season. He did not reveal everything to me, which I think is actually better as an actor, because Nathan doesn't know, so it helps a little bit if I don't.
With that being said, he's kind of a douchebag at the beginning. Greg and I talked about the character arc and [about Nathan] becoming a better person and learning from the situation that he gets put into, and the people around him like Nora.
That was something we always wanted to lean into. We wanted to make sure that there's an arc, but we didn't want to lose people with somebody that was too unlikable and who people couldn't get behind in the pilot.
I think it was a little bit of what I learned from The DUFF, where this guy is not a bad guy, he's just kind of coasting through a situation that he thinks is a little different than it actually is. Innately, he seems like a good guy with a good heart, and you just need to show those moments along the way.
But Greg kept enough from me that if I were to have been in his position, then I would have given myself the same amount that he did - which I appreciate as an actor, just from a performance standpoint, so that I'm not trying to juggle too many thoughts about revealing something or not revealing something.
Once uploaded, there are promises of great environments, custom avatars, looking like your ideal self, and buffets. Do any of the afterlife options shown appeal to you?
For sure. A big thing for me is that the breakfast buffet is killer. I would love that. Every morning, that would be ideal.
I'm an avid golfer, so I'd love to be able to play golf all the time. But one thing I agree with Nathan about is I would want to work. I feel like if you were to get uploaded at a young age, and you can't work or have some kind of a career, it would feel a little bit like a retirement home, and you'd be void of some kind of purpose.
I love that Greg touches upon the pitfalls in Upload that are similar to real life, like with the division of wealth. You have these [characters on dataplans of] two gigs who can't afford what the wealthy have, even though it's all code and it should be free.
And I think that that's so gross, but so real. Greg always described it neither a utopia or dystopia, but this middle-topia. It makes it more interesting, something that people can watch and say, "Oh yeah, maybe this is what it would be like if it actually would have happened."
Greg's the first person to say, "It's a comedy. We're not trying to make people think too hard." But at the same time, Greg introduces a lot of interesting points that will make people think and poses some questions about our world versus this world. He does it in a way that's never preachy or heavy handed.
What's next for you after this?
It's been a pretty wild month. One of my best friends, Jeff Chan, directed a movie that we did together with my cousin, Stephen Amell (Arrow) called Code 8, which came out on Netflix. We're in pre-production on a Quibi series to go along with that.
I have another Netflix movie coming out at the end of June called Desperados, another comedy, which I really enjoyed. And then The Babysitter 2, a horror-comedy that should be coming out in the summer or in the fall.
I'm hoping that, that people check out Upload. I'm really excited for people to dive in. Obviously there's a lot more important things going on in the world right now, but if we can give people a half hour here, or an hour there, of a little escapism to laugh and smile along, I think that would be really cool.
Upload is available on Amazon Prime Video.
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