Sci-fi thriller Simulant is already breaking the mold by being an original story, directed by April Mullen (Wander) from a screenplay by Ryan Christopher Churchill. Despite not being tied to a tentpole franchise, it boasts a star-studded cast that includes Shang-Chi's Simu Liu, Upload's Robbie Amell, the Fast and Furious franchise's Jordana Brewster, and the Avatar movies' Sam Worthington. Amell plays Evan, a man who discovers he is actually a synthetic version of himself brought back to life by his partner Faye (Brewster).
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Simulant bears similarities to Blade Runner, especially given the character of Agent Kessler (Worthington) who is meant to track down rogue A.I. and stop an uprising. The movie leans heavily on Evan's human memories, however, juggling his love for Faye with the new knowledge he is gleaming about A.I. from the mysterious hacker Casey (Liu). The result is a story that is romantic, political, and overall bittersweet as it asks the question, "What makes us human?"
Screen Rant spoke to Amell about how he prepared to tap into the android aspects of his Simulant character, what it was like working with Jordana Brewster and Simu Liu on set, and why he was okay with ending Killer Frost on The Flash.
Robbie Amell Talks Simulant
Screen Rant: I love that you got to play different variations on the same man in Simulant. What was it like for you to step into those different aspects of Evan?
Robbie Amell: Well, I read the script, and I was super interested. I spoke with April, and right away we were on the same page about the tone and the version of the movie she wanted to make. My biggest question was, “How robotic is this guy at his most robotic?” And she's like, "Not at all. There's weird moments for him where he can't open a door, but those are restrictions. He doesn't question them. They're just a little odd and he moves on." I was like, "Great, if that's the most robotic, then I can play that."
Because as an actor, I want to play a human being, even if this human being is a robot. I think that the only way to get people to care about this person is to make them real, and to show people something in him that they can see in themselves or see in their friends.
I also found myself sympathizing with Evan, with the Sims, and with Jordana's character Faye. I know that if I lost somebody the way she did and didn't have a chance to say goodbye, and I had this simulant waiting, I would probably turn it on too. Then I would regret it and not know what to do about it and not be able to turn it off. So, I just found it really interesting and subjective. Some people are going to think that the decisions made are not the right decisions, and I think that makes for good storytelling. Let people argue.
You and Jordana have this really complex relationship throughout, and it obviously goes in directions that one may not have expected. Did you discuss Faye and Evan’s backstory, or the kind of relationship they originally had together?
Robbie Amell: Yeah, we talked a little bit about it because we have a few flashback scenes. It was fun to get to play the smiling, happy version of these characters because you come into their world once she's regretting having brought him back, and he just thinks that they're on a rocky patch. Everybody who's been in a relationship can think about those times when things just aren't going as well, and you don't really know why.
That's what I tried to picture for Evan. He’s thinking, “What's going on here? Why is this not amazing?” When he's like, "We need a night out," he's just trying to get that thing going again. Little does he know that she is in her own personal hell of living with another version of her husband who's dead. I just found it really interesting.
We got to have a lot of fun shooting those handheld memory scenes, and a lot of that was unscripted. We would take the scene and just try and make it a little [flirtier], or I would try to make her laugh just because we don't have those moments. I feel like that's such an easy way to see two people who love each other. I love making my wife laugh, so that's where I tried to go with that. But we talked about it a little bit, and it ended up being really fun to shoot those old memory scenes.
Between Simulant and Upload, and even in The Flash, you've been presented with a few options for coming back or extending one's lifespan. If you had to pick one for yourself, which would you choose?
Robbie Amell: You can't kill me. You cannot kill me. [Laughs] Probably Simulant, because then you're still living in the same world as those people that you would technically be leaving behind. If you went to Upload or did stuff with The Flash, there's so much stuff going on there that it's like, “Which Earth am I on?” I would probably pick coming back as a Sim, but I'm going to try and preserve this life as long as I can.
Speaking of The Flash, it literally just ended, and I was so upset not to get my alternate universe Snowstorm ending. What would've been your perfect ending for Ronnie and, by extension, Caitlin?
Robbie Amell: It's so funny. When I came back for the last time as Deathstorm, they talked to me about it and were like, "You get to kill someone." And I was like, "Who do I get to kill?" And they're like, "You get to kill Caitlin, but not real Caitlin." I was like, "Great, okay, I'm in!"
And then I was like, "Wait, is she okay with this?” But because Danielle has two kids, she was like, "I'm exhausted from playing two characters." She's like, "Kill her." But when my buddy watched the episode, he goes, "Dude, fans love that character. They are going to be pissed." But whatever, I didn't write it! [Laughs]
You do seem drawn to sci-fi in your work. How has a project like Simulant made you kind of rethink your relationship with technology and AI?
Robbie Amell: Because I've been doing so much sci-fi, I've been thinking about it for a long time, like with Upload. I really started thinking about it when my wife and I had our son, and just what role it's going to play in his life. I try and be on my phone less, but I'm bad at it. It's so convenient. We try and keep him from it as much as possible without making it into crack for him.
Also, YouTube is unbelievable. You can learn anything on YouTube. Obviously, there are some dark sides to everything, but with a family filter on YouTube? It's pretty unbelievable the stuff that he can take away, and just the learning games in general. If I had some of that stuff when I was a kid, because I grew up such a gamer, I'd have been a genius. [Laughs] But there’s a lot of Spider-Man too. It's not all educational.(Video) 1on1 with Jordana Brewster, Robbie Amell & April Mullen (SIMULANT)
You also got to work with Simu Liu a lot, and I love your scenes together. What was that dynamic like, and are you going to be in the MCU now? Is he going to hook you up?
Robbie Amell: Oh, God! I keep telling him, "Just get my foot in the door. Come on, Simu." He was awesome. It's great to work with a fellow Canadian; somebody who is absolutely crushing it. I'm a big fan of his. My first question was like, "How'd you shoot the bus scene in Shang-Chi?" And the answer did not disappoint. It was incredible. The guy is multi-talented, very kind, and super down-to-earth. I loved working with him, and I hope to do it again.
Set in the near future, Evan (Robbie Amell), an android simulant, is created for Faye (Jordana Brewster) to replace her dead husband. To fully realize all his human traits, Evan enlists Casey (Simu Liu), a brilliant global hacker whose mission is to remove all restrictions governing simulants' thoughts and capabilities. In doing so, he unleashes an A.I. uprising, triggering a government manhunt led by Agent Kessler (Sam Worthington) who will take extreme measures to eliminate the rise of the android machines.
Simulant releases in theaters and On Demand on June 2.