Stephen Amell is no stranger to portraying masked vigilantes, having played Oliver Queen in The CW's superhero series "Arrow" for the past four years. Now, Amell trades in his bow and arrow for a hockey stick to become a somewhat different kind of crime fighter in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows."
Amell's take on the classic "Turtles" character Casey Jones is not like those we've seen before. Not only did screenwriters Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum give Casey a new origin as a corrections officer, they also positioned him as a character figuring out his life's direction.
"[W]e don't get in this movie quite yet the full-fledged, five alarm fire Casey Jones that a lot of fans of the Turtles and the cartoon and the comics are used to," Amell explained during a press conference held in Manhattan for the film. "This is a Casey Jones that's trying to figure out what his path is, so we get glimpses of that. But the fact of my motivation is that I've bumped up against the idea of being a police detective in the New York City Police Department my entire life, and it hasn't worked out. That allowed me to take Casey Jones and make it my own."
The film marks Amell's debut in a big studio feature film, and the actor was surprised by how much he was encouraged to play around with the material. "Obviously, we wanted to honor and respect what was on the page, but beyond that, I found it to be one of the most collaboratively invested sets that I've ever been on, just in terms of let's make the best scene possible," Amell said. "I'd constantly have the writers and the director and the producers coming up to me and saying, 'Cool, we got that. Let's give this try. Let's try a new line here, let's try this there.' And you'd be amazed -- I know, for me personally, a ton of that stuff ended up in the movie. That's a very fun set to work on, in that type of environment."
Despite a resumer based primarily in television as the lead on "Arrow," "Turtles" producer Brad Fuller says Amell was his first choice to play "TMNT2's" hockey-garbed hero. "We always wanted Stephen for Casey Jones, and this is where sometimes luck has to really favor you," said Fuller during the press conference.
Amell began work on "Out of the Shadows" "five days after I wrapped season 3 of 'Arrow,' and I wrapped ['Ninja Turtles'] four days before I started season 4." Fuller noted that the timing couldn't have been better. "Two or three weeks either way on a swing, you're dead," he said of the scheduling variables that could have prevented Amell from starring in the film.
The first scene Amell shot was a major one, involving a clash between the hockey-masked hero and a group of Foot Clan ninjas. That scene also included his first encounters with April O'Neil and the Turtles. Amell said he was initially preoccupied with "trying to bring it at a level 10 out of 10," but he got some words of encouragement. "Andrew Form, our executive producer, turned to me at lunch, which was actually dinner, 'cause we were shooting nights, and he turned to me and he goes, 'Got a Casey Jones. Feels like we got a Turtles movie.' He was just making a casual comment, but it imbued me with so much confidence and so much good will and good feeling for the rest of the production."
Words of encouragement couldn't fix one thing, however: Casey Jones' iconic mask did not fit Amell's face at all. "I wore it for two straight nights, and it pushed on this part of my face and I would complain -- and Megan [Fox] would tell me that I was a sissy, so I would stop complaining," Amell recalled, good-naturedly. "And then the next day we were filming in an alley, same alley in New York City, and I got a sinus infection and almost begged off work for the first time in my life. So if I get to don the mask again, we're gonna get that sucker fitted."
But though the mask nearly took Amell down, the actor was more than game to perform Casey Jones' superheroic feats. "I ended up doing every single stunt in the entire movie, save for one stunt where I get ratcheted into a car -- which I didn't want to do, nor would they let me do."
Amell's physical abilities even impressed his co-star Stephen Farrelly, better known as the wrestler Sheamus in the WWE, and Rocksteady in the "TMNT" sequel. "The first time I sat down, I met Steve [Amell] on set. Straight up, he's telling me like -- he surprised me. He said he was a huge WWE fan, and he was so knowledgeable about WWE throughout his life," Farrelly said. "Then he shows me this video of him literally, like, doing, like, kind of parkour, jumping out, like, jumping -- climbing walls, doing flips, coming down, another flip, jump onto another wall. And I'm going, 'Oh, I think I'll just stop talking about myself right now.' It was really impressive."
The filmmakers even expanded one fight scene in particular, just to make sure Amell's talents weren't going to waste. "My first fight with the Foot Clan went so well that the director and the producers got together and they were just like, ''Mel's last fight with Bebop and Rocksteady needs to be bigger,'" Amell said. "So they brought in a second unit director and an entire unit, and we were out there at Pier 92 for five days, just going wall to wall the entire time."
Producer Brad Fuller echoed Amell's comments, saying the initial showdown between Casey and the henchmen "was not much. It was a very quick beat." The team brought on "Fast and Furious" action scene director Spiro Razatos to expand upon the altercation, fleshing out the sequence to something much more elaborate. Amell, who was extremely pleased the result, said, "That sequence and that week of filming is probably the thing that I'm most proud of in my entire career."
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" opens in theaters on June 3