Interviews

12 MONKEYS Scoop: Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull Talk the Complexities of Time-Travel Intertwined with Eco-Terrorism

12 Monkeys Syfy Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly, Aaron Stanford as James Cole

12 Monkeys Syfy Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly, Aaron Stanford as James Cole

When you know for certain that the future holds only eminent extinction of the human race, it is incredibly motivating to build a time machine and find a way to fix the past to save the future of all mankind.  It is a lofty ambition, yet the television series 12 MONKEYS has embraced this thorny and mind-bending task of doing just that.  It’s hero is a man literally out of time who has traveled into the past to try to find the one thing that will save the planet from a pandemic which will exterminate every single one of us.  Along his fractured journey is Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), who by fate or circumstance, is perhaps the only person who can help Cole (Aaron Stanford) navigate the portals of time and be the constant resource he needs each time he reappears.

In a recent press call, stars Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull candidly shared their experiences in bringing 12 MONKEYS to our screens and the challenges and fun they had a long the way.

Because 12 MONKEYS deals with time travel, as actors, do you ever find all the different timelines confusing and how did you manage to keep it all straight?  

AARON: Thankfully, there’s a large army of people devoted and dedicated to keeping all that information straight, but it can get very confusing at times, particularly when dealing with situations and scenes where there’s multiple versions of yourself running around.  So I was definitely confused by it, but there were always plenty of people on set that you could turn to if things get to be a bit too much.  

AMANDA: I concur entirely with Aaron.  I also am a very meticulous note taker, so I usually have my notebook on set just even for things that they wouldn’t necessarily be – the army that Aaron mentioned of people who are dedicated to that sort of thing.  I have my own notes what my character knows, what she doesn’t yet, what has happened, what hasn’t happened yet because with time travel it can get a little bit confusing for sure, not only for Aaron’s reasons where there might be multiple versions of yourself, but also in different years what you may or may not know and what has or hasn’t happened yet.  

For people who are actually familiar with the original movie and fans of that movie, how would you convince them that they need to watch the TV series?  

AARON: I’m a huge fan of the original movie and I was excited to get involved in the project for that reason, and what I like about it is it’s a chance to expand and explore the universe of 12 MONKEYS on a much larger scale.   It’s a great chance to turn it into a much more epic story.   The film 12 MONKEYS was based on a short film called La Jetée by a filmmaker named Chris Marker in 1962.  And it was basically the same plotline but it was a very different execution it was a small bite-sized chunk and then 12 MONKEYS took that and they expanded it and made it their own and now what we’ve done is the same thing.   12 MONKEYS is the inspiration and it’s the source material and we took that and we turned it into to something different and much more expansive.  

AMANDA: You don’t need to be just a fan of the film or just a fan of the series.  I think you can be both because what Aaron said that we expanded but also our characters are different from the film and the storylines are different from the film.  It’s got the same sort of original kernel but its own entity.  We have this luxury of researching episodes.  We’re not constrained by time.  So we have a lot of different characters that are introduced and – with guest stars and storylines that I think will be interesting for people who loves the movie and people who aren’t familiar with the movie.  

Given current day concerns about things like pandemics, the story in this show is probably timelier than it was in the movie 20 years ago. What do you all think about that?  

AARON: There’s a lot going on right now for sure, but honestly I think that this subject has been ripe for exploration for a very, very long time.  I mean, right now everyone’s mind is on the newspaper headlines about Ebola, so that’s what you’re thinking about right now.  But this type of this has been going on for a very, very long time.  It’s the plague in the Middle Ages, and the influenza outbreak in the early 20th century, 1918, and H1N1 – the list goes on and on.  It’s been a very viable threat for a really long time, now just as much as ever.  

If you all had a time-travel device and you could go anywhere you wish, where would you like to go?  

AMANDA: I think that my answer was that I would want to go explore kind of a monumental moment in history, but maybe I would just like to go and hide probably, hide out, but witness dinosaurs, sort of roaming the earth.  I think that would be fascinating.  

AARON: I mean the difficulty is this: all these periods throughout history are fascinating; but the question is: would you really want to go there?  Do you really want to give up hot showers?   You want to give up indoor plumbing.  You want to give up all your conveniences?  So I think if I could go anywhere in time I would go to a fictional future where they had created a hollow deck, like on STAR TREK, and then you could visit any place you want throughout history with all of the modern conveniences.  

Both Demore Barnes and Todd Stashwick have mentioned that they’re going to be on the show.  Can you tease anything about their characters, who they’re going to be relating to, if we’re going to see them in the past, present, future?  

AARON: I think we’re allowed to tease it.  They’re both from the future and they’re both pitted against each other on opposite sides, and one of them is going to be like – sort of like a scavenger king, and he’s like – he’s leading an assault against Demore and the force of the civilization.  

How is the show going to split between present and future?  I’m assuming that Amanda’s character just going to be basically in the present, right?  

AMANDA: Yes.  Dr. Railly was in 2015.  So what she knows of the future is basically only what Cole has told her.  So her understanding of what’s going on is limited to that at this point.  

What’s really cool is the chemistry between you two, which is so important in the series like this. Can you talk about how you developed working with each other a little bit?

AARON: Well, Amanda couldn’t stand me at first.  In fact, it was a long period of having to win her over.  That’s what has bled over into our characters.

AMANDA: (Laughs) At first.  

AARON: No, I think it gradually develops for me also over time.  It’s not like a film where you read the scripts and what the story is from beginning to end, because you have the whole scripts right in front of you.  We don’t really know the whole story at the jump.  So you’re watching things, like the relationship sort of unfolds in real time (from my perspective anyway), and they’re thrown together by fate.  They don’t really have much choice at the matter and they’re very, very different people.  They’re absolute opposites, but they’re thrown together.  I think that through this the crucible of what they have to do is a very, very difficult mission and they form a bond.  

AMANDA: I would add to that as working with Aaron just from a personal level, not just from character level, he shows at the set very prepared and he gives you a 110 percent for every single scene, for every single page.  So I think that helped with just our on-set chemistry, which hopefully translates to the on camera chemistry. It’s nice working with someone who gives you as much as you give them and you can have an equal relationship and that has allowed us to be honest with the material because we both invest completely into each character. 

What is also cool is the way they kind of perceive each other.  Like from Cassandra’s vantage: Is this guy a psycho? Is he stalking me? Then Aaron, as Cole, you’re trying to convince her that you’re from the future and you have all these details about her. The show does not really speak to that line: Is he crazy or is he not crazy?  Only that Cole says some things that are believable and plausible. Maybe you both could kind of talk about playing that aspect of the relationship.  

AARON: Yes.  From my perspective, as Cole, you have believe something that is known to be the truth to you, which to everyone else  seems completely impossible or it seems like it couldn’t possibly be true.  So it’s a very frustrating situation to be put in.  It’s a pretty tall order to get someone to believe something that is impossible.  So what Cole ends up having to do in that scene (in the first episode) is gives her bits of information here and there — and that starts to sway her a little bit. But, eventually, he realizes the only way to prove to someone that the impossible is true, is to really show some things that are possible and it happens right in front of their eyes — and that’s what he ends up having to do.  

AMANDA: From my perspective, for Dr. Railly, it’s exactly what Aaron just said.  It was really just to prove it is not anything that he could possibly say.  It’s something that she sees with her own eyes.  She trust herself.  She doesn’t trust this man in front of her. So she trusts what she sees and she knows that to be true, which is what sort of allows her to go on this ridiculous journey with him because she knows what she saw and she knows her own intelligence.  Otherwise, nothing he said would matter.  

Does the show ever look back at those intervening two years to see what made Cassie decide to tell everybody what she saw rather than keep it to herself and wait Cole out?  Also, although her career seems to fall apart between 2013 and 2015, the timeline’s unaffected as far as she is still at the CDC in 2017.  So will we get into a little bit of that about how these things have managed to still keep Cassie’s timeline intact, as well?  

AMANDA: I think that a lot of that will be playing in [upcoming episodes] about her not keeping her mouth shut and sort of telling the police are on the scene right when he disappeared.  So we don’t see on camera what exactly happened.  But I would imagine that they know that something happened, although they probably assumed he disappeared like climbing into a pole or up a ladder or somehow escaping.  But she knows what she saw.  So I think that’s why she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.  She maybe doesn’t necessarily scream it from [the rooftops], but she definitely told Aaron (Noah Bean) because he’s her partner in life and she would obviously share with him something that’s really troubling her, intriguing her, fascinating her — and who knows who he told and, in her state of shock, what she said to the police on the scene and the report.  

When Cole comes back and Cassandra immediately says she was a doctor and she’s not anymore, that is when he realizes that he’s really upended her life.  Does that weigh in to how Cole approaches each mission going forward since that sort of the basic construct of the show is he’s going to have to keep coming back and using her?

AARON: Yes. Absolutely.  As time goes on, and the relationship develops and she comes to mean something to him, he starts to realize really what he’s asking of her, and the toll that it takes on her and it becomes an inter struggle for him whether or not he wants to continue with this and put this person that he cares about through difficulties and in danger.  

 Can you tell us about how each of you came to be cast, where there multiple rounds of auditions for you both and chemistry reads or the like?

AARON: Well, Amanda was cast first.  So, why don’t you take the lead?  

AMANDA: I don’t even know if that’s an accurate statement though because I would say I got the script before Aaron and I did go into the hopper before Aaron did, but I think it wasn’t until Aaron and I had a chemistry read together that they finalized the casting.  I’d say that that was really when it was all filled up. Wouldn’t you say, Aaron?  

AARON: Yes, I would say.  It was a confusing casting process and that’s usually how casting processes are.   They can be sort of a mess because you’re looking for something very specific, and you are looking often times for a very important chemistry between two characters. So they don’t necessarily want to nail one person down until they’re sure the other person’s going to be and they’re sure if those people are going to have that sort of intangible ephemeral thing between them that spark.  So I can tell you the final round for me was coming in and reading with Amanda and I still remember it was was a great experience. They really put us through it.  There was a lot of improv and she came 100 percent prepared and ready and it was extraordinarily helpful.  And we made something happen in the room. I think that’s how I got the part anyway at least.  

Amanda, you appeared in an episode of NIKITA in 2013. Did you have any scenes with Aaron then or perhaps get to meet him at that time?

AMANDA: No.  I didn’t have any scenes with Aaron.  All of my scenes were with Maggie and I had one scene with Lyndsy.  So I didn’t get a chance to work with Aaron or Noah at all.  

AARON: No, she was busy kicking ass on that show. So it’s a primary function.  

AMANDA: I think that final ass that was kicked was mine, however.  

AARON: Well, you got some good ones in though, for sure.  

AMANDA:  (Laughs) I got a couple of punches in.  

If you could go back and change one thing, either globally or personally, what would you pick?  

AARON: I would definitely moment to moment because it’s like butterfly effect ?  It’s a ripple. 

AMANDA: It would change one thing and what does that change going forward?  I mean, maybe you’re not supposed to get so heady with this question, but this is really …

AARON: I tell you what, I’m not prepared until like I have a nice long bull session with a bunch of friends and we talk about like what’s the most important thing to change, I won’t be confident in my answer.  But I will say this, one thing that I would love to do, which I think anybody would love to do is go back in time and find a much younger version of myself and fill myself in all the things that I don’t need to worry about and give myself a little bit advice on life.  

AMANDA: Yes, but, Aaron, that would totally change what you would be like going forward.  

AARON: Yes.  It’s true.  She’s right. What if you screw everything up? See what that makes.

AMANDA: Well, how do we know there are no repercussions?  . . . There are probably some people whose numbers I would delete a lot faster than I did.  

AARON: Also, the very first unexpected thing that I came across [after starting on this show] was that essentially time travel is possible. It’s mathematically possible.  It’s been proven to be so, which was not something I was aware of.  I thought it was entirely a flight of fancy and fiction. But the truth is essentially they know how to do it; it’s just a matter of having the technology and the resources to do it.  So that was an eye-opener for me.  

AMANDA: When we went to go do the pilot — Aaron and I — we were going for this hair and makeup test before we actually shot it and we were only going to be in Detroit for one night.  And Aaron had a carry on of about six different books relating all to time travel.  He thought he was going to somehow read all in one evening and be able to totally understand time travel by the time we started shooting.  

AARON: (Laughs) I didn’t really think that one through. And then of course almost none of them proved to be helpful because our version of time travel is is our own.  It’s like it’s a fictional version of time travel tat is a little more conducive to storytelling.  

 Was there anything in particular about the characters from the movie that maybe you thought about as you created your version of the characters?

AARON: For me, it was a really interesting role for Bruce Willis — what he did with it.  He’s generally remembered for really his action roles, like John McClane, and yet he really brought this child-like innocence to the role in 12 MONKEYS.  This was a man coming from unimaginably unpleasant, difficult place where all of the pleasures, comforts, and everything, art, it was all stripped away from him.  So his experience of our world was very similar to that of a newborn.  He’s experiencing everything for the very first time. I really liked that choice and that idea, so I did try to bring a little bit of that to my performance as well.  

AMANDA: Well, I didn’t re-watch the film before we shot the pilot.  I didn’t want Madeleine’s performance to affect my performance because we’re different characters and I don’t think I could ever do her performance.  She’s brilliant.  So I made the choice to be different from that and we are different characters in a lot of senses: different careers and different life trajectory.  But going forward in the series, I did watch the film before we shot the show and I think that the soft-spot that Dr. Railly has for Cole is probably a very similar dynamic as in the film that a lot of things can happen on the periphery, but at the core there’s a connection between the two characters.  

Do you have any favorite action scenes?

AMANDA: Aaron did a lot of fight and action sequences.  He’s great at them.  

AARON: Yes, there’s a lot of action.  I’m trying to think, if there was a favorite. I think any favorite action sequences I had involve other actors we have in the cast, like Barbara Sukowa who’s a very well-known and celebrated German actress who has been around for a long time and has a pretty amazing resume and body of work.  But one thing that she had never done ever was an action scene.  She’d never been involved in an action sequence.  She’d never heard a gun fire and she’d never fired a gun.  None of that.  So basically any action sequence were she was around was my favorite because I could watch her react to these things.  She was so like blown away by everything in sight.  That was a lot of fun for me.  

AMANDA: I actually do get to do a bit of action around the series, and anytime that I know I get to do something, I’m very excited.  There was one scene with you, Aaron, where I slipped into kind of like a slow-motion like slide to my knees, that was not one of my favorite things.  It was in that warehouse that night, and it was really slippery.  It is painful to watch in my embarrassment.  But I think anytime I get to do something myself I’m thrilled, just because I love to be physical with my work.  So I’m always excited when I have an opportunity to do that.  

In the original movie,  they held the belief that time was somewhat immutable — that is you really can’t change anything significantly by going back in time.  But in the series, the opposite at least appears to be true in that that’s actually Cole’s mission to go back in time to change the past to prevent the plague from even occurring.  Is this actually a true statement something that they’re changing or are we going to find out more information as the series go along?  

AARON: I think I’m allowed to say that your observation is 100 percent correct.  In the film, the understanding was that time was fixed.  There was absolutely no way that they could change it and Cole’s mission was only to go back and observe and bring back information.  And that holds with the current theory of time travel that comes from Einstein’s theory of relativity that you can travel through time but you cannot change it.  So for the series, in order to tell the kind of story they wanted to tell, they needed there to be the possibility of change.  So they sort of went a different route and there are ultimate series of time travel that do allow things to be altered and changed and that’s quantum theory.  So the movie goes with relative theory and the TV should go with the quantum theory.  

When you were given guidance about playing your roles, did the producers give you any guidance about how you deal with pandemics?  Like what is the edge by dealing with health crisis going out of control?  

AARON: They might’ve spoken to you a little bit about that, Amanda.  I mean, your character ends up working for the CDC.  

AMANDA: Right.  They didn’t give me any guidance specifically about how my character would deal with that other than what a virologist would do specifically in that instance.  And, in episode 3, you’ll see a flashback of Dr. Railly dealing with that exact scenario and you’ll understand how she would handle that sort of situation because she becomes immersed in it.  

AARON: They get into various various little bits of protocol here and there, right?  

AMANDA: Right, yes.  

Did either of you receive show “bibles” ahead of time to detail your character’s back stories or did you essentially discover all those of types of details as the shooting progressed?  

AARON: I certainly wasn’t given a “bible,” but I did have a sit-down with Travis Fickett and Terry Matalas, were the two writer-creators of the show, and they gave me a rough breakdown of what the character’s journey was going to be.  And in TV, I think that’s usually as good as it gets because that’s all the writers had, a rough idea. And as time goes on and they watched the episodes develop, they see how things change on the day and what the dailies look like and what the acts look like when they’re cut together there’s always little nips and tucks and tweaks that are going to be made.  

AMANDA: I wasn’t given a “bible” either and, like Aaron, I had a couple of long conversations with both gentlemen, as well as checking e-mails and we’re very fortunate that both of them came up periodically to watch and we could talk between scenes and even talk during the scenes about what did he meant and the trajectory of the character in the short term as well as the long term over the course of episodes.  My character does have a very specific arc and they wanted to make sure that I was aware a bit of the endpoint, that they knew that they were going to get to, so I could keep that in mind, which is a nice luxury because, as Aaron said with television you don’t know where you’re going, but I knew the definite point that I was going to finish up. I just didn’t know the specifics of how I was going to get there.  So I just needed to make choices along the way that would justify that endpoint.  

AARON: Yes.  You usually know the start and the destination and the road there is sort of a question mark.  

With the character that Noah Bean plays and Emily Hampshire plays as well, it seems like there’s a possibility that at some point you could become a trio.  Is there a third character or an additional character that either of you spent the most time with besides each other that you might want to talk about shooting how that went?  

AARON: I think Noah would be the third member of the ménage a trois you speak of, right?  Noah Bean plays the character of Aaron.

AMANDA: Aaron Marker.  (Laughs) You have trouble remembering that name.  

AARON: Marker is a love interest and he is put into a very difficult and precarious situation.  He is in love with Cassandra, but he believes that she’s lost her mind and in trying to protect her he ends up pushing her away and damaging the relationship and then it develops from there.  I don’t want to get too much into it because that’s spoilery.  

You mentioned that there are different versions of timeline effective and how time travel is characterized between the show and the movie.  Does that give you a little bit of a safety net from episode to episode where sort of in the back of your mind, well we can reset this, is something kind of goes one way or another with the characters or with an art, is that ever brought up in the conversation that if you mess something up or something goes sideways, there’s going to be other opportunities to go back and fix it?  

AARON: Yes.  There’s an element of that.  but I think they don’t want to use too much of that.  You don’t want to lean too much on that because it takes the stakes out of the situation.  You want there to be the sense that things matter that if you don’t achieve this goal or if you screw this one thing up, it’s going to have consequences.  So what they’re trying to use the time travel element for is more to complicate and make things more difficult and less to use it as a get out of jail free card.  

Could talk about working with Kirk Acevedo ?  

AARON: Kirk, yes.  Yes, he was fantastic. He was great to work with.  He’s the real thing and he absolutely will go wherever he needs to go to get the job done.  Very, very intense actor and great to have as a scene partner because that’s your lifeline in the scene.  Y You’re reacting to what they’re doing and Kirk was always deeply, deeply invested in the scene.  it was great to be opposite that and feed off of that.  

Are you able to shed any light on if there might be a chance of the story arc actually concluding while then opening up room for new story arcs down the line?  

AARON:  I would say absolutely anything is possible and that’s the nice thing about this premise and type of story.  It could really conceivably go absolutely anywhere.  I haven’t talked to the writers about exactly what their plans are for season 2, but they crammed a lot of story into season 1.  I mean, in my opinion, it’s like three seasons’ worth of story.  So where we go in season 2 is really anybody’s guess.  

AMANDA: What’s interesting about the writers — and just tagging on with what Aaron just said is that we did cram three seasons of story and I was talking to Terry and Travis about that one day and Terry said they have a motto:  that they write as if they’ll never get that opportunity again, as if there’s never going to be a second season or a next episode.  Sothat makes a really interesting viewing for an audience because it is so jam-packed.  There aren’t a lot of dull moments.  I actually can’t think of a single dull moment.  It’s like freight train.  Then as an actor, you don’t ever feel like, “We did this already” and are just rehashing this all over again.  Because those two guys are really creative gentlemen and they don’t ever want there to be a dull moment and I think it’s also for selfish purposes that they get really excited by the subject matter and they love to write and create.

AARON: They’re the biggest fan boys you’re ever going to meet.  That’s what great having them work on the show because they absolutely eat, sleep and breathe this stuff.  It’s all they care about. It’s all they’re into. So it’s nice having somebody like that during the show.  

Where would you each like to see your characters go?

AARON: It’s tough to say.  Like I said, there are so many different possibilities.  The only thing I care about is that the journey’s a long one.  I’d like that and as always you want to see your character stretched to extremes. So wherever Cole goes, I want it to be somewhere that is very, very far from where he began.  I want to see some kind of very, very fundamental change in who he is.  

AMANDA: I agree with Aaron.  I would like for it to be a very long journey. It’s really exciting for an actor to be able to change and how rewarding is it to be able to know the core who this person is and where they came from and then have the gift of storyline over the course of a series, a season, even an episode, and also what the subject matter with time travel be able to be different versions of this person and be so affected by major events that it changes this person on so many levels that we’re really given this luxury of creativity but comfort within one person one character.  So I think we’re spoiled in that regard, and if I could say that choose anywhere for my character to go, they are actually taking her to some pretty fantastic places over the course of the first season, so I can only imagine that it’s going to get even more exciting if we’re lucky enough to have a second.  

To see how entangled and intertwined the lives of Dr. Cassandra Railly and the mysterious Cole, a man jumping in and out of time, become as they race to literally save the human race from extinction, be sure to catch all new episodes of 12 MONKEYS on Friday nights at 9:00 p.m. on Syfy.

Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Amanda Schull to find out more about how Cassandra’s path aligns with Cole in Season 1 of 12 Monkeys.

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