Making its premiere this week is Syfy’s new science fiction drama 12 MONKEYS, a story loosely based on the film of the same name. What makes the 12 MONKEYS television series so remarkable is its great casting. Syfy’s 12 MONKEYS stars Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull portray a man (who volunteers to go back in time to kill the one man responsible for creating a virus resulting in near human extinction) and the virologist (who reluctantly agrees to help him track down the story’s villain). Aaron and Amanda’s distinctive chemistry highlights their characters’ journey, not only foreshadowing how their interests are aligned, but their characters may be the only two people who truly understands what the other is going through. It is the foundation of an intriguing star-crossed romance.
In an exclusive interview, star Amanda Schull talked about the transformation of her character Dr. Cassandra Railly and the intriguing dynamics of her relationships with the two men in Cassandra’s life that may prove to be the key to saving the future of mankind.
First of all, I have to say I loved the first two episodes of 12 MONKEYS. I have not been this excited about a sci-fi series in a long time.
AMANDA: Oh, thank you so much. That is really kind of you to say!
Because you have an active role on SUITS, how did you get involved with 12 MONKEYS? Did you decide, “Hey, I’m not busy enough. I want to take on a second TV show”?
AMANDA: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s exactly it. I woke up one day and I said, “How can I make my life even more exciting?” I got the script the usual way through my representation. I’m not a regular on SUITS, so I was definitely open to having a regular job. I’m just recurring — although, this season I was fortunate enough that they gave me some wonderful storylines, which gave me a bit of work. So I got the script through the regular way, auditioned, and fought for this fantastic female role, and I was lucky enough that they chose me.
What drew you to the role of Dr. Cassandra Railly? What is it about her that spoke to you?
AMANDA: What spoke to me most was her strength. She is a very strong woman and intelligent. It is so wonderful to be able to play someone like that on television and not needing a man to rescue her. It is much more likely that a woman is going to take on the task of saving the world without complaining about it, than to cry about it. So I was very fortunate that these male writers/creators wrote such a wonderful, strong, smart woman.
12 MONKEYS is science fiction, which is not a big draw for a lot of actors. What made you think you wanted to be a part of that world?
AMANDA: It’s science fiction, but it is not. We play it as reality. It’s not so fantastical that you do not believe it. Yes, there is this man who disappears right before her eyes — on a somewhat regular basis — with some paradoxes that is not a normal occurrence. But we do not look at that is so far fetched that it is not realistic to embody. I think that is an interesting aspect of this sci-fi show. I do not think that only fans of science fiction will only be able to relate to or appreciate the subject matter. Going forward, there is so many other storylines that are not necessarily science fiction. There are also government conspiracies and different subplots and different character or groups of characters and what they are trying to accomplish. I think that is interesting for audiences who are not necessarily familiar with the genre and that they will be able to relate to those aspects.
Do you think Cassandra is itching to get into that chair and do some time-travel herself, or would she want to steer clear of that?
AMANDA: (Laughs) I think for the time being that she is just fine with her creature comforts in 2015.
Interestingly, there is a dynamic between her and James Cole (Aaron Stanford). We are not sure if it is a romantic interest or if they are both aligned in wanting to save the world. What is that relationship between them?
AMANDA: I think it is a complicated relationship, especially going forward when they work more closely together and they get to know each other better. They are thrust into these situations, which at times are life and death. So their relationship becomes more complicated. The show definitely does not fall into a formulaic sort of obvious relationship between the two of them. But, like you said, they do have chemistry, which complicates matters — and complicates Cassandra’s life quite a bit. So, in future episodes, you will see that.
It was startling how, when Cole disappeared the first time, that Cassandra so readily agreed to meet him in the future and that she then waited such a long period for him to return. Why did she do that? Why did she think in her mind that this is something she wanted to do?
AMANDA: I think there are a number of reasons that she did that. The first is that she knows what she saw. He did disappear in front of her very eyes. She is certain that he did that. Maybe, at some point, she questions that he did that, but we don’t see that taking place on camera. But I don’t think she ever wavered in her conviction what she witnessed. So that is one of the reasons. She is also very intelligent and she has always relied on her intelligence. She knows what she saw. The second is: if he is telling the truth, if the world in the future does basically get decimated by a plague, what does that say about her as a virologist — as a doctor — if she chooses to turn her back on it? It would be basically her whole life’s work that she would be dropping the ball on, and she’s not going to do that.
Cassandra has a certain element of curiosity. She is interested in what all it means, not just the responsibility behind it. Do you see that to be an asset for her that she has that curiosity, or is that going to be something that trips her up once in a while?
AMANDA: Probably both. Her curiosity probably stems from what she has chosen to do with her life as a virologist and wanting to understand these viruses as they spread and just medicine in general. You have to have a natural curiosity. That is who she is on a professional level, as well as a personal level. So she is just the right person for the job for all of those reasons because she will go down these rabbit-holes trying to figure things out. And she will get herself into some pickles because of her curiosity, that’s for sure.
She, of all the characters, has the most wide transformation pretty quickly in one episode. We meet her initially and she is one person, and by the end of the episode she is kind of somebody else. How would you describe her after she’s met Cole? That was just a life-altering thing for her.
AMANDA: You’re absolutely right. It has been a life-altering thing for her. He flips her whole world on its head. I think she is hardened because of it and very lonely because of it. I think choosing to believe him and choosing basically what he has laid out for her has forced her to not choose other elements of her life. So she does change significantly. It is out of necessity for what she has decided after having met him. Going forward throughout the course of the season, she evolves even further. By the last episode, she is a very different person than who she is when you first meet her.
It seems like we are watching the transition of her becoming a bad-ass hero for humanity. Do you actually get to see that side of her?
AMANDA: (Laughs) I, personally, have never been described as a bad-ass. I am going to savor that you just said that in some context of me being involved, in general. But she knows what she needs to do. By any means necessary, she will accomplish it — for personal reasons, as well as the reason of basically saving the world.
Cassandra also seems to have given up the pursuit of a relationship with Aaron Marker (Noah Bean) because of it. Does she have time for love as the series goes on, or is that something she has set aside?
AMANDA: There is always time for love!
So she is going to make time, in other words.
AMANDA: (Laughs) There will always be time for love.
Cassandra is inadvertently in the middle of this crazy love-triangle that is mixed up by time. Is that something that the show will explore or is that something that arises just naturally?
AMANDA: I don’t know if “explore” is the right word. But we definitely see the dynamic between the two gentlemen and Cassandra. What that means for them and whether they want to accept their particular position in each other’s life and whether she wants to be put in that position — without giving too much away — it’s definitely explored. Sure.
Was that a perk of working on this particular show? In SUITS, it did not seem that Katrina really got to pursue romance or a relationship.
AMANDA: No, Katrina does not have a lot of time for love. She really only has time for Louis and the law — to other “L’s.” I don’t know if I would call it a perk. I love both roles quite a bit. But it is very nice to relax into a character’s personal life, every once in a while and just see the human side of them. It is also really nice to explore that as an actor and to be able to understand the person that you are embodying a little bit better.
Because you have had these recent experiences working with SUITS and 12 MONKEYS, what were the perks for you working on both shows?
AMANDA: I am a recurring on SUITS, so I get to just drop in for a few days of fun with all these wonderful people and then just kind of disappear. Then I just drop in again a couple weeks later. So that is really fun to just be able to catch up with everybody. And, gosh, I would be remiss if I didn’t say the wardrobe isn’t a serious perk at SUITS — and the wonderful writing, of course! On SUITS, I work predominately with Rick [Hoffman] and that is just an honor and a blessing. I love working with that man. Then to go right into working on 12 MONKEYS, to be able to be this great character every single day — I really love my coworkers on that show as well. Everybody really puts their heart into it. Everybody cares about the material and shows up prepared and I have a character that I get to portray that has a huge emotional range of things happening to her and things that I get to act out that never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to portray on film. So that has really been a role of a lifetime.
It was hilarious that in the very first episode that we get to see one of your fellow recurring actors from SUITS, Zeljko Ivanek, also in 12 MONKEYS. Did you and Zeljko ever get to share scenes together on SUITS or were your characters in just the same circles this season?
AMANDA: We never got to work together on SUITS. There was one episode and I knew he was shooting on a day when I was in for a fitting, and I was still in plane clothes since I flew in that morning and I kind of crashed his scene. He was in the courtroom and I sort of walked in and crashed it and chatted with him. It ended up that they kind of had to kick me out ’cause I was totally disrupting everything and they wanted to get on with the shoot. So I only got a chance to chat with him. I didn’t get a chance to work with him on SUITS.
What was it like to so quickly work with him on 12 MONKEYS? It was startling to see him pop up in the first episode. It was like mixing fictional worlds on TV. It felt like a total reality trip seeing the same actors in such different characters.
AMANDA: We’re both so very different characters from SUITS to 12 MONKEYS. So it’s the same person, but we’re not the same characters. Zeljko is so brilliant at embodying characters, even one take to the next, putting on such a different performance that I don’t ever feel like I am with the same person.
It was an interesting dynamic. Wrapping up, is there something you can tease about 12 MONKEYS and the arc we are going to see this season?
AMANDA: Dr. Railly — Cassandra — is really a different person by the end of the first season. It is through a series of circumstances that force her to do things that she never thought she would have to do, and never thought she would want to do, that just turn her into a different woman from the one that you first meet in that lecture hall.
Should we be praying for her survival? It seems like this is the kind of show where you never know if the main characters are going to make it through to the end.
AMANDA: (Laughs) I can’t tell you that!
On that teasing note, be sure to check out the premiere of Syfy’s new drama series 12 MONKEYS on Friday, January 16th at 10:00 p.m. The future is not yet written in stone and it will take the conviction and strength of a determined time-traveler and the one woman who believes him to save the entire world from extinction.