Inspired by the critically acclaimed 1995 science fiction film, the intriguing and compelling new Syfy series 12 Monkeys follows Cole (Aaron Stanford), a man from a post-apocalyptic future in which a plague has wiped out almost all of humanity. Using unpredictable time travel technology, Cole sets out on a mission, with the help of virologist Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), to stop the mysterious Army of the 12 Monkeys from releasing the virus that will have catastrophic consequences. From show creators Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, it also stars Kirk Acevedo, Barbara Sukowa, Noah Bean and Emily Hampshire.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Amanda Schull talked about how she came to be a part of 12 Monkeys, how awful the audition process can be, how great it is that the show has such a strong female character, Cassie’s plight to seek the truth, what makes Aaron Stanford an amazing actor to work with, and the dynamic between Cassie and the skeptical Aaron (Noah Bean). She also talked about what it’s been like to be a part of Suits, and what a gift it is to work with Rick Hoffman. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this show?
AMANDA SCHULL: I think it was because of Suits that this came about. The network knew my work and was familiar with me, and hopefully liked me enough that they wanted to keep me around. I also owe so much of why I’m in this to Terry [Matalas] and Travis [Fickett] because I did do one episode of Nikita. They told me, after I had been in the room once or twice with them, that they were driving to a session one day and Travis turned to Terry and said, “What about Naomi from ‘Black Badge’?” They looked at each other and said, “Yeah, Naomi!” I don’t think they even knew my name. They had actually written the fight sequence between my character and Nikita. They hadn’t written anything else in that episode, but that fight sequence. So, they were receptive to me when I walked into the room, which obviously made it a much easier process, going forward.
Isn’t the whole audition process just awful?
SCHULL: It’s awful. It’s a weird thing, too. I always tell other actors that work begets work. You never know where your next job is going to lead you, down the road. One single episode that might seem so far removed from what you might end up doing in the future might spark somebody’s memory bank. Just one little line you said or a look you gave might be what they want to pursue with a character. You never know. The longer I work in the business, the more I recognize faces and the more I realize the importance of having a diverse career. You never want to be pigeonholed into something and have people think, “Oh, that’s the guy we call for this particular thing.” You don’t want to burn any bridges, but you also want to make sure you leave your character bridges wide open and you’re never seen as one particular thing, or that’s who you’ll be, unfortunately, for the rest of your career.
When you were made aware of the fact that this show was a re-imagining of 12 Monkeys, did that make you hesitant, at all?
SCHULL: There is something concerning. What’s reassuring with something like this is who’s behind it. It’s the producers of the film that are behind it. They’re not going to make some sort of slap-sticky, thrown together, nonsensical redux. It’s going to be done in a way that honors what they put so much energy into, years prior. After having seen who was attached, which was interesting and compelling, and then reading the script, it’s not a cover band. It’s its own standalone, and it will be for the series. There are definitely nods, and it takes what the film was able to introduce, but it goes down different storylines, rabbit holes, what ifs, and all sorts of things that I think are interesting. When I watched the pilot myself, I turned to my husband and said, “I’d watch that show.” And my husband said, “I’d watch that show, too. I want to know what happens.” I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself the typical sci-fi genre fan. I do have a lot of sci-fi shows that I enjoy, but I wouldn’t call it my favorite genre of all. It’s interesting. Science fiction is one of the smartest genres around because you have to have so much forethought. This is five years in the making for these writers. None of this has just happened and fallen into place. You know there are going to be people who watch the show just to pick it apart.
Cassie is a smart woman with a good career, at least when we first meet her.
SCHULL: How great is it that two male writers wrote such a strong female character because they have respect for her, and for women, in general? It’s really interesting that somebody who is faced with this situation of a man disappearing before her very eyes, which could be written as a woman who crumbles and doesn’t know what to believe in life or where to go from there, but instead acknowledges that. When I read the script, I noticed immediately that she was honest about what happened. She said, “A man who claimed to be a time traveler disappeared before my very eyes,” rather than keeping that a secret because she’s questioning her mental sanity. She never, at any point, questions her sanity. She’s an honest and truthful person. Her plight as a virologist is to seek the truth. This happened. There is no doubt that this happened. There is something that this guy is telling her that needs to be investigated more fully, which is really interesting from the female perspective. Rather than allowing the man to go on the journey, she takes it by the horns because he disappears. Who else is going to save the world, but her? So, she believes it and goes full-throttle with it.
And then, he returns, which essentially proves that it was all true.
SCHULL: Yeah, and there are two years between that period. You will see what she went through during those two years, and her challenges after accepting this mission. She lived a life during those two years, and what it did to her when she was convinced that this was the right choice to make is interesting.
What can you say about the relationship between Cassandra Railly and Aaron Marker (Noah Bean)?
SCHULL: He doesn’t believe her, but he believes in her. He doesn’t believe that that happened, but he believes in her and he knows, at her core, who she is. If someone you trusted, valued and respected were to tell you that something happened that you could not possibly believe happened, you wouldn’t dismiss them entirely because you know that person. That’s his challenge.
What’s it like to work with Aaron Stanford and develop the character dynamic between Cole and Cassie?
SCHULL: Aaron is an amazing actor to work with, and not just watch. That was something that we recognized, pretty early on, even in the casting process. I don’t want to say that they had already decided on me, but they brought only me in and told me that it was pretty much a done deal. But no ink was dry on anything, so you never know. They brought in three different actors to read for Cole, in a chemistry read, and it was evident, early on. And then, the director had us improvise a whole scene. He didn’t want us to say anything that was on the page. And to be able to do that with somebody who gives you enough and isn’t it turning it all to him allows you to give it back. It’s like a tennis match. You don’t want to hit with somebody who has a noodle arm, or somebody who’s going to just wack it at you and you can’t return it. It’s a back and forth. Terry and Travis told me later that when they were watching it in the room, they were texting each other that nobody was going to question the duo. It was the same thing when we got on set. It was really nice to have the support of another actor who will give you everything you need, even when the camera is only on you. That’s not common. He’s as invested as I am. It’s a partnership.
Obviously, there are times when Cole is not going to be there because he comes in and out. Will Cassie have someone, during those times that he’s gone?
SCHULL: Because it’s been two years, in the space since their initial meeting, we’ll see her relationships and what happens to them when she tells. When he splinters and goes back to his time, it’s an unlikely partnership that isn’t a partnership, in a lot of ways. They both individually have their own paths. Aaron is the one person that was Cassie’s partner beforehand, that she tried to lean on, and we’ll see whether he is willing to jump on board. Ramse is Cole’s family, in the future. Cassie needs somebody to confide in, in a lot of instances, but she doesn’t always get the support that she needs for such an extraordinary circumstance.
What’s it been like to be a part of Suits and work with Rick Hoffman?
SCHULL: He is a gift. If you could see some of the stuff that doesn’t make it onto the show, it’s pretty amazing. He and I are friends off-camera, also, and that’s helpful. I was familiar with the show, to the point where I went on set and had to steel myself before saying anyone’s name because I only knew them as their character. There were several moments where I’d go to call him Louis. And I’ve never done that before, but I so believe all of them. From the very first moment that I had with him on set, I believed him and I was familiar with him. It wasn’t like jumping onto a set where you’re not as comfortable. I felt like I already knew him, and that was fortuitous for me. Also, we get along personally, and I really respect him personally, which is helpful for our dynamic, professionally.
When you started on the show, did you know that you’d be sticking around as long as you have?
SCHULL: It was a three-episode contract. I don’t know that they wrote the character for me, but they had me in mind, very early on, so I was really lucky. Aaron Korsh and the other producer/writers were familiar with me because I had been in with them for several other auditions and roles. At one point, they had me in mind when I was in there, early on, and we were discussing the character and where they wanted her to go. Every time I get a script [for the show] in my inbox, it’s like a little Christmas present. It’s so exciting to see what they’ve cooked up.
12 Monkeys premieres on Syfy on January 16th.