In “ARQ,” “The Flash’s” Robbie Amell and “Jessica Jones'” Rachel Taylor are experiencing an extremely bad day – over and over and over again.
Directed by “Orphan Black’s” Tony Elliott, the Netflix original movie finds Renton (Amell) hiding out and secretly working on ARQ, an experimental machine he believes might provide a limitless energy source in this post-apocalyptic world. However, when masked intruders invade his home to steal the device, Renton, Hannah (Taylor) and other allies become trapped in an endless time loop, where they repeatedly perish and wake up. Now, the group must somehow piece together their strange circumstances, break the cycle and stop their assailants – or continually die trying.
CBR: What was it about “ARQ” that made you say, “This is a project I have to do”?
Robbie Amell: I read this and couldn’t put it down the entire time. I remember I was sitting in a cast tent on “The Flash” and in between scenes, I read it screen-to-screen on my phone. I phoned my manager immediately and was like, “I want to do this. It’s awesome.”
While casting was setting up this Skype call with Tony, they were already getting me approved by Netflix, which luckily worked out. My meeting with Tony went great. It’s tough to write a big, cool, sci-fi movie for the budget we have. He wrote it knowing that budget was going to be a restriction. He wrote it contained. The movie doesn’t hurt for its lack of money. It’s the right amount. It’s really impressive what Tony did as a writer/director. Everything has been very smooth so far.
Rachel Taylor: The opportunity to arc out a character in a different way than any other feature was appealing. “ARQ” doesn’t adhere to any three-arc structure. Aside from that, there’s Robbie’s involvement. He’s a super-talented, smart actor. I could say the same thing about Tony. I’m excited about the films he’s going to make, not just this one. He’s incredibly talented and astute.
What can you tell us about your characters and the situation they find themselves in?
Amell: My character’s name is Renton. I used to be a military engineer at a company called Taurus. The world is a little bit post-apocalyptic, nuclear warfare. There are some ravaged countries, there’s not much renewable energy left in the world. While working at Taurus, I found blueprints for something called the “ARQ.” I started working on it and I built it. I believe it is creating limitless energy through perpetual motion. Turns out that’s not the case, and it’s actually created a time loop. That’s where I find myself. I keep waking up at the same time, on the same day, reliving the same three hours over and over again.
Taylor: Hannah is someone who has seen the full extent of the horrors of this apocalyptic world we find ourselves in. This is a world that’s endured a great deal. It’s been environmentally ravaged. It’s now owned by corporations, so there’s no such thing as a sovereign state or a democratic government anymore. It’s all been completely monopolized by big businesses.
Hannah is someone who probably started out as a good corporate citizen and was quite unaware of the world as it was changing. A series of events lead her on a path of great suffering. What I love about this project is in some respects, it’s a love story. It is sort of about a reconciliation, as much as it is about time looping, which I thought was an intelligently layered story.
What’s the dynamic between Renton and Hannah?
Amell: We definitely have a lot of history. We both worked at Taurus. It was one of those on again/off again relationships where there’s a lot of passion and love for one another, but also a lot of head butting and differences. When we first see each other again, it’s been a year and we have both been holding grudges and worrying about each other. You really see all that history unfold over the next 90 minutes.
Rachel, viewers love you in physical roles. How scrappy does Hannah get?
Taylor: She’s a tough girl. What’s so great about the world Tony has created is, it’s gritty and real. None of the characters are versed in Kung Fu or Krav Maga. She doesn’t bring a certain kind of physical skill or set of abilities to it except out of sheer necessity. It’s always cool to bring a strength to the characters I play as a woman. I’m really thrilled that Tony is committed to that.
What did you most enjoy about “ARQ’s” take on the time loop trope?
Amell: That’s the cool thing. I loved “Edge of Tomorrow,” I loved “Groundhog Day,” but you don’t want people to get bored. Once you’ve done it, it can get old quickly. Tony was able to write some innovative ways of introducing new ideas within the same context. The fact that it’s only happening within a contained area is very unique and cool. Other people start becoming aware of the time loops. I can always gauge a script by whether or not I know what’s coming up. With this movie, most of the time I was wrong. It just happens so quickly. The pace is so fast, which I think you need if you’re going to do an elevated genre piece.
Taylor: The most interesting thing is who knows what, and when, and trying to access how far along other characters are in the narrative. Renton is the first person to get ahead of the story, and Hannah is the second. It keeps going down the chain. Hannah has some questionable allegiances in the film, and she double-crosses a number of different people at a number of different times. It’s been an intricate line to walk. There’s the issue of, “are we ahead of the time loops?” but also where the characters are at in terms of their deceitful actions. There are a lot of narrative nuances that are complex and fun to play because there’s plenty of meat on the bones.
To expand on that, the main characters slowly clue in that they are stuck in a time loop. How confusing was that while filming, attempting to remember who knows what and at which point?
Amell: We were originally going to shoot the entire movie in order, but it’s just too difficult to do that. We did as much as we could, which really helped. Reading the script multiple times helped. I read it six or seven times before we started shooting. I always had our script supervisor ready with the scene immediately before, and then with the loop that we were in. Because I die so often, most of it was, “Okay, how did I die last loop? Who knew what was going on?” It didn’t matter who knew what was going on in this loop, unless they had found out in the loop before, because I wouldn’t know they were up-to-date. There was definitely a lot to keep track of, but we all leaned on each other.
Does setting the movie in one location, in this one house, amp up the tension?
Amell: They built an incredible house on a soundstage with a lot of corners you can’t see around. There are a lot of shadows. You need that. It’s a time loop thriller. It has to have that heightened suspense. The composer is going to have a field day, because there’s so much room for anxiety. The other thing is, because it is a time loop thriller, you really get to know the space you are in.
Science fiction often mirrors the real world. Does “ARQ” have a larger message to tell?
Amell: Because we don’t see a lot of the outside world, but it’s talked about, there’s a lot of hints towards a global apocalypse with global warming, nuclear warfare and what something like that might turn our world into. People are fighting for their lives and turning on each other. That’s something that is true today, in a lot of parts of the world.
Taylor: That’s why I like working in genre so much. It’s a mistake for actors to write off genre. You get to play slightly fantastical elements, but they have echoes that apply to the world we live in. Smart writers, like Tony, will write in a way that’s an allegory for the world that we’re in. I do think “ARQ” is that. I do think of global warming and this crazy, beautiful, warm winter that we’ve had in Toronto while we’re shooting this. You see pictures of cities in China that are incredibly polluted. It does certainly make you pause and consider a world where pollution got to such a devastating and critical level. I’m not the most educated environmentalist, beyond the fact that I certainly care and do my part to an extent, but I do think we’re not rocketing towards a good outcome at the moment. So, is this sci-fi, or scary foreshadowing?
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