Stephen Amell’s career takes off
This North Toronto heartthrob on his runaway hit TV series, winning a Gemini & why activism is as important as acting
Sometimes finding a path to success can be a long, winding road. For Torontonian Stephen Amell, his acting career almost ended before it even began.
Having first tasted acting in high school at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, he became drawn to the art. But at 19 years old, he decided to go out west to pursue an education in California.
TV’s newest heartthrob and star of CTV’s show Arrow almost became a professional career man, but the threat of a permanent job put things into perspective, Amell says, and he realized acting was what he wanted to devote himself to.
Yet even after that initial wake-up call, it would take several years of on-again, off-again acting gigs, moving around Toronto’s Yonge and St. Clair and Eglinton areas, ending a long-term relationship and wanting to leave his formerly shared apartment on Merton Street to shake things up a bit.
“I had a little personal, professional upheaval in 2009, and I just decided that I was 28 and it was just time to go to L.A. and give it a proper try, so that’s what I did,” he says.
The period forced Amell to re-examine his life. “I asked myself an honest question, which was, ‘What is it in my life that makes me happy?’ And my friends make me happy, and my family makes me happy, and acting really made me happy.”
On the cusp of his career erupting and even with an already impressive Hollywood resumé — such as winning a Gemini Award for his guest role on ReGenesis, another Gemini nomination for Rent-A-Goalie, working alongside Mischa Barton and other notable career highlights — it doesn’t take much time to recognize that Amell is a true friends and family man.
He relies on his inner circle for grounding and support, helping the 31-year-old maintain a sense of realism in his life. There are also new additions to his crew, ready to squash signs of arrogance. He jokes about his co-star Katie Cassidy, who keeps him in line.
“She threatened to beat me up,” he says, and laughs. “She said to me, ‘If this goes out and it does really well and you turn into a d*ck, I will kick your ass.’ Those were her exact words to me.”
The Arrow premiere doubled the audience of The Middle and Modern Family on CTV, and it became The CW network’s highest-rated premiere since The Vampire Diaries.
Amell remains calm and collected, though, even on a day when he’s doing back-to-back press meetings to promote his new show. With a hectic schedule of working nearly every day, running through scenes and learning lines, hitting the gym to maintain the chiseled abs of his burly character and finding time to sleep and appease the press, the Toronto native hasn’t had much time to think about what his future may hold.
“It’s really hard to know what this experience is going to be like if it keeps going in this direction, if the viewership stays where it is, if people continue to be excited about it. I don’t know how my life is going to change,” he says, “but I do know that I am pretty comfortable being myself, and I have a pretty good network of friends.… If I ever tried to pull some of the stuff that other actors pull, they’d just look at me like, ‘Hey dude, come on.’ ”
He hadn’t even checked the ratings on Arrow’s premiere, despite the fact that critics (and swooning females) had rave reviews.
“I haven’t stopped to think about what I would want the ratings to be, but that’s because, when I used to audition … and I wasn’t totally prepared for it, I would bug my agent for feedback because I wasn’t totally confident with what I did in the room,” he says. “Once I started being confident with what I did in the room, I never phoned my agent for feedback. If I got the job, I got it. If I didn’t, I didn’t.”
He admits that confidence is a necessity for a successful actor, but it wasn’t until he re-entered the acting world post-breakup that he had a new air of confidence about him.
“When I went to L.A. in the beginning of 2010, I was very comfortable in my own skin. And I think that that’s 95 per cent of the battle when it comes to embodying someone else on the television screen or the movie screen,” he says. “I immediately saw the results in the audition room. That didn’t immediately turn into jobs, but by late summer of 2010, I started booking jobs, and it just escalated all the way up to Arrow.”
He has also used his celebrity status to rally for a cause he and his family are close to. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 25 years ago and survived. But this past December, she was rediagnosed.
“As I work in this acting world, there are opportunities through social media to bring awareness to things that I am passionate about,” Amell says, who is also working to encourage F*ck Cancer Foundation to hold a fundraiser out in Vancouver. “And it just seemed to make sense to align myself with breast cancer.”
The same week that Arrow premiered, Amell was in Toronto to attend the Boobyball, an annual event launched in 2002 in honour of a 23-year-old who battled aggressive breast cancer.
“Most importantly, it’s thrown for a girl that is a survivor, and it’s done really well,” he says. “So if I can lend any profile to it whatsoever, that’s great. I’m happy about that.”
Whatever the root cause of Amell’s positive outlook on life, it’s refreshing to see a good-looking boy from Toronto make it big onscreen and remain real.
“One of my big things is I never, ever, ever want people to think I’m taking myself too seriously,” he says, referring to comedic commentary on Twitter.
Like all of us, he admits to sometimes unloading his daily frustrations on his close friends, but he’s quick to catch himself when doing so.
“We’re talking about this because we’re friends,” he says of those conversations, “but in reality, I don’t have any problems right now. My life is perfect. And it is. It’s just that it’s a demanding schedule, so every once in a while, I get a little testy, but you can either laugh or cry.”
And laugh it is. Even when talking about his hometown, he throws in a good zinger.
“Toronto will always be home. I don’t know if I’ll ever live here again, but it will always be home,” he says. “I just wish the sports teams were better.”