For Canadian actor Robbie Amell his latest starring role was all about chemistry. To make sure he had the kind of spark needed to play opposite potential The DUFF co-star Mae Whitman he not only had to audition, he then had to try out again at a “chemistry read.”
“They narrowed it down to a few guys,” says the youthful looking twenty-seven year old. “They had signed Mae and they brought us in one after the other. Before I went in my best friend Nick, who’s very funny, and I sat down and figured out some alternate lines. I thought I’d have a shot at this if I could make her laugh.”
Preparation aside, he says for Whitman, fresh off a stint on Parenthood, it wasn’t love at first sight.
“Mae didn’t want to drive in for the chemistry read,” he says. “She was already sour and she said she was not excited. I walk in and she said, ‘Screw this guy.’ But I dropped some really rude improv line on her and she totally busted out laughing. I think that was the turning point.”
Then it was a waiting game. “My chemistry read was at 11 on a Friday morning,” he says, “which means there is nothing else I am thinking about for the next couple of days. It slowly started to disappear and it got to a point where I thought, ‘If I’m the guy, great. If I’m not the guy, I’m not. I just want to know.’”
Two weeks later he had the part of Wes, the best looking guy in Bianca’s (Whitman) school, who informs her that she is a DUFF, the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. He tells her she is the gatekeeper; the approachable one boys befriend to get closer to her prettier friends.
The all-important high school social hierarchy is the backbone of the story. Bianca and Wes are at opposite ends of the ecosystem, but Amell explains, “the movie is about knocking down these labels, embracing what makes you, you.”
Amell, who in real life graduated from Toronto’s Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in 2006, says his school experience was very different than the one depicted in the movie.
“I didn’t have great skin in high school so that was kind of my DUFF moment but I always joke around that I grew up in Canada and everyone is polite so no one would call anyone the DUFF.
“I went to high school not that long ago but not every kid had a camera in their hand. Now everything is so documented you can’t get away with anything. It sucks. I don’t know if I could be an actor if there were camera phones when I went to high school. Everybody makes mistakes and you should be allowed to make a few without them being documented in HD.”