In Syfy’s new 12 Monkeys, another pandemic has ravaged the earth and people in the future travel to the past in order to change the course of history. Cole (Aaron Stanford) is the time traveler charged with unraveling the source of the virus and the mystery of the 12 Monkeys. His fist mission is to find Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), a CDC virologist. OHSOGRAY participated in a call with Schull and Stanford, who talked about their experiences on the show and what viewers can look forward to.
12 Monkeys debuts tonight at 9/10pm ET on Syfy.
Do you ever find all the different timelines confusing? How do you manage to keep it straight?
Aaron Stanford: Well, thankfully there’s a large army of people devoted and dedicated to keeping all that information straight, but yes, it can get very confusing at times, particularly when dealing with situations and scenes where there’s multiple versions of yourself running around. So, yes, 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 Schull: 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 you know in different years what you may or may not know and what has or hasn’t happened yet.
What will fans of the movie like about the series?
Aaron Stanford: I’m a huge fan of the original movie and I was excited to get involved in the project for that reason, and you know I think that the – 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. 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 something different and much more expansive.
Amanda Schull: 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 you know 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 it’s own entity. We have this luxury of researching episodes. We don’t – 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.
Do you find the story particularly timely in light of recent concerns about global pandemics?
Aaron Stanford: There’s a lot going on right now for sure, but 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 you know …the influenza outbreak in the early 20th century, 1918 and you know H1N1 and it’s just – the list goes on and on. It’s been a very viable threat for a really long time and now just as much as ever.
If you all had a time travel device when would you like to go?
Aaron Stanford: That’s a tough one. You have one Amanda?
Amanda Schull: I used to 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 Stanford: I mean the difficulty is this, is that all these periods throughout history are fascinating, but the question is, would you really want to go there? […] I mean do you really want to give up hot showers? [G]ive 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.
Amanda Schull: Aaron, you’re so fancy with your answer.
Aaron Stanford: It’s the ultimate answer.
What was it like filming in Toronto and are you done filming now?
Aaron Stanford: We are. Yes, we finished about a month ago.
Aaron Stanford: Yes, it was sort of an absolutely perfect time slot. We were there from I think it was the end of July till the beginning of December, Amanda is that it…
Amanda Schull: Yes, that’s right.
Aaron Stanford: Yes, it was perfect. I’ve been working in Toronto for the last four years on a different TV show called Nikita.
Aaron Stanford: We were there through all the bitterness and the really, really hot summers and the cold winter, so it was nice to have like we just hit that sweet spot where it was perfect, just got like the tail end of the summer and then all the fall with the beautiful foliage and then beginning of the winter and then we got out. Beautiful.
I know that both Demore Barnes and Todd Stashwick have mentioned that they’re going to be on the show. Can you tease anything about their characters?
Aaron Stanford: Yes, I think we’re allowed to tease out. 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.
Amanda, you character is just going to be basically in the present, right?
Amanda Schull: 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.
You have great chemistry, do you enjoy working together?
Aaron Stanford: Well, Amanda couldn’t stand me at first, despite …[Laughs]
Amanda Schull: At first.
Aaron Stanford: …it was a long period of having to win her over…. I think it gradually develops for me also over time – it’s not like a film where you read the scripts and you know what the story is from beginning to end, because you have the whole scripts right in front of you. You know we don’t really know the whole story at the jump. So you’re watching things, the relationship sort of unfold in real time from my perspective anyway, and like you said, 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 and I think that through this you know the crucible of what they have to do is a very, very difficult mission. They form a bond.
Amanda Schull: I would – I could add to that, so – I mean working with Aaron just from a personal level not just you know from character level, he shows at the set very prepared and he does – gives you a 110 percent for every single scene, for every single page. And so, I think that helped with just our on-set chemistry which hopefully translates to the on camera chemistry that 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 was the casting process for these roles?
Aaron Stanford: Well, Amanda you were – was cast first. So, why don’t you take the lead?
Amanda Schull: I don’t even know if that’s an accurate statement though because I don’t – I would say you know 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 Stanford: Yes, I would say. It was a confusing casting process and that’s usually how casting processes are. You know there – they can be sort of a mess. Because you’re looking for something very specific and you’re looking for oftentimes 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 you know that spark. So, yes, the – I can tell you the final round for me was coming in and reading with Amanda and it was – I still remember it was you know 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 you know we make something happen in the room, the – 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 Schull: 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 Stanford: No, she was busy kicking ass on that show, so it’s a primary function.
Amanda Schull: I think that final ass that was kicked was mine, however.
If you could time travel and go back and change one thing, what would it be?
Aaron Stanford: I didn’t prep for that one man.
Aaron Stanford: I would definitely…moment to moment because it’s like butterfly effect you know? It’s a ripple. You know if you change…
Amanda Schull: …one thing, 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 Stanford: 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, but what I – 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 Schull: Yes, but Aaron that would totally change what you would be like going forward.
Aaron Stanford: Yes. It’s true. What if you – she’s right, what if you screw everything up?
Amanda Schull: Yes. There are probably some people whose numbers I would delete a lot faster than I did.
Did you do any research for this role and did you find anything unexpected?
Aaron Stanford: Yes. I mean one of the – well the very first unexpected thing that I came across 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 they – 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 Schull: When we went to go do the pilot Aaron, and I was going for you know this hair and makeup test before we actually shot it and we were only going to be in Detroit for one night, we had – Aaron had a carryon of about six different books relating all to time travel, that 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 Stanford: Almost none of them proved to be helpful because you know our version of time travel is you know is our own. It’s like it’s a fictional version of time travel that’s – that 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, like anything that you did pull from at all?
Aaron Stanford: For me you know it was a really interesting role for Bruce Willis, what he did with it. He’s generally remembered for you know really the you know his action roles, just remember the John McClane, and he really brought this child-like innocence to the role in 12 Monkeys and it was expressed in his experience of our presence of our roles. This was a man coming in you know unimaginably unpleasant, difficult place where all of the pleasures, comforts, and everything, art, it was all take – 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 and 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 Schull: 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 you know? I made the choice to be different from that, how – 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 show – 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 yet any favorite action scenes that you’ve shot?
Aaron Stanford: Yes.
Amanda Schull: Aaron did a lot of fight and action sequences. He’s great at them.
Aaron Stanford: Yes, there’s a lot of action. I’m trying to think, if there was a favorite. I mean, I think any favorite action sequences I had involve another actors we have in the cast, Barbara Sukowa who’s a very, very well-known and celebrated German actress if you don’t know her. 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, she’d never watched – heard a gunfire, she’d never fired a gun, none of that. So, basically any action sequence were she was on the – was around or on the scene 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 Schull: 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.
Aaron Stanford: Which scene was that?
Amanda Schull: It was in that warehouse that night, and it was really slippery. I don’t want to give so much really…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 and so I’m always excited when I have an opportunity to do that.
In the original movie, I think they held the belief that time was somewhat immutable. 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 Stanford: 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. 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.
Did the producers give you any guidance about how you deal with pandemics?
Aaron Stanford: I think – well, they might’ve spoken to you a little bit about that Amanda. I mean, you’re you know you – your character ends up working for the CDC.
Amanda Schull: Right. Well, I – 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. In episode 3, you’ll see a flashback of Dr. Railly dealing with that exact scenario, and so you’ll understand and I was – you’ll understand how she would handle that sort of situation because she becomes immersed in it.
You mentioned that there are different versions of the timeline, does that give you a little bit of a safety net?
Aaron Stanford: There’s an element of that but I think they didn’t – 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 know you want there to be the sense that things matter you know that if you don’t achieve this goal or if you screw this one thing up, it’s going to have consequences. I think 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.
How is it working with Tom Noonan?
Aaron Stanford: Wow, what does – what can one say about that? I mean he absolutely inhabited the character. I mean plays a very, very frightening and imposing character and pretty much the entire time he was on set he had the entire cast and crew terrified of him.
Amanda Schull: That’s so – that’s not true. He’s a softie.
Aaron Stanford: I was terrified. He’s an imposing guy. I mean, yes, every once in a while he drop character, but you know he really – he’s a consummate method actor.
Amanda Schull: Well you know I think I had a unique experience with him because there was – we definitely had a few nights where for whatever reason Tom and I had downtime together while you were working and so, Tom and I spent – there was one Friday that was bled into a Saturday morning that Tom and I sat in our chairs until 7 o’clock in the morning and I just listened to Tom tell old acting war stories and just his life stories, just has me riveted. And then we’d go out and we do 30 seconds of the scene, and then we come back and he go, so where was I? And we pick up exactly where he had left off.
Aaron Stanford: Man, I’m sorry I missed that.
Amanda Schull: I just have such a soft spot for Tom. I adore that man.
Can you 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 Stanford: How – I mean 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 you know they crammed a lot of story into season 1. I mean, in my opinion it’s like three seasons’ worth of story. So, yes, where we go season 2 is really anybody’s guess.
Amanda Schull: I think what’s interesting about the writers just you know tag on with what Aaron just said is that yes, we did cram three seasons of story and I was talking to Terry and Travis about that one day and Terry – Travis I think as we said, they have a motto that they never read anything not you know that if they have a desire or you know an interest in a particular storyline or particular scene or something and they think something could be great, 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. So, I think that 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. And then as an actor, you don’t ever feel like, we did this already you know 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 Stanford: Yes, 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 – they you know eat, sleep and breathe this stuff, they just – it’s all they care about, it’s all they’re into, so it’s nice having somebody like that during the show.
Amanda Schull: Yes. Indeed.
Where would you each like to see your characters go? What direction?
Aaron Stanford: 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 you know as always you know you want to see your character stretched to extremes you know 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 Schull: I agree with Aaron that you know a, I would like for it to be a very long journey and b, that I do – 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 you know one character. So I think we’re spoiled in that regard and if I could say that you know choose anywhere where – for my character to go there, 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.
Could you talk with or talk about working with Kirk Acevedo you know?
Aaron Stanford: Yes. He was great to work with. You know 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 you know you’re you know that’s your lifeline in the scene, you’re reacting to what they’re doing and Kirk was always deeply, deeply invested in the scene, and it was great to be opposite that and feed off of that.