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12 Monkeys Season 3 Interview with Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull

Last Friday (5/12/17), I participated in a 12 Monkeys Season 3 Interview with Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull, the show’s leads. Aaron (James Cole) and Amanda (Cassie Railly) return THIS Friday (5/19/17) for SyFy’s first “linear binge” of an entire season over the course of three consecutive nights. The two actors spent an hour on the phone answering questions, promoting the season, and teasing each other. Here’s an edited transcript of how it all went down.

Q: Can you talk about the changes your characters have made, how they struggle with them, and how they deal with the choices they’ve made?

Aaron: In the show, you see this theme of circles and cycles coming up over and over and over again. One of the things that you continuously see are all the characters being put in this position where they have to make a choice between the greater good or the good of somebody that they hold dear, someone they love, a family member, a wife or a husband. In the case of Cole, he starts off the entire series essentially on a suicide mission, a mission of self-sacrifice. He doesn’t really value his life and he’s all too willing to sacrifice it to save humanity and to give himself a clean slate.

Q: Was there a favorite year or place that you got to visit personally and as your characters?

Aaron: I don’t know, I’m trying to think what my favorite would be. They’re all a ton of fun.

Amanda: I can say that my favorite time period for Aaron Stanford was the 80s and those jeans. (Not a spoiler, picture already available from show creators)

Aaron: My Marty McFly outfit was a pretty big hit on set. So the 80s was pretty fun.

Amanda: We’ve gotten to go back to the 50s a couple of times and it’s really fun and elegant. It’s always nice for Cassie to get to clean up from the apocalypse and the time facility. (went to 50s last season)

Aaron: Just as a side note, I want to say that what is very strange about Amanda is that she seems to fit in any time period except our own. She’s an anachronism, but if you dress her up in the 50s it just somehow looks right, Victorian London looks right, the 80s looks right but just right now she doesn’t belong. It’s very strange.

Amanda: Awkward!

Q: You guys have already brought up the Marty McFly outfit. It seemed like all four of you were referencing something. It looked like Todd (Stashwick) was wearing a Sonny Crockett type outfit but I didn’t get the girls. Who were Emily (Hampshire) and Amanda taking after? (referring to the same picture as above)

Aaron: Emily was going after a Cyndi Lauper kind of vibe.

Amanda: I think it was Cyndi Lauper meets Boy George and then there was a little bit of Dynasty thrown in there at one point.

Aaron: It was just a mishmash of mistakes. (Referring to Amanda) Like the blazer with the giant puffy shoulders and the really high-waisted mom jeans and semi-crimped hair.

Amanda: Okay, well first of all that’s rude. Second of all, I think there were a couple of like 80s Brat Pack movies that were just sort of an amalgamation.

Aaron: That makes sense. You were kind of a Molly Ringwald maybe.

Q: Do you guys think the binge approach is a good thing or what do you think about it?

Aaron: I think it’s a good thing because that’s the way I like to watch TV. This show definitely, definitely lends itself to binge watching. Every single episode ends with a huge cliffhanger and you can’t wait to find out what happens next. There’s so much going on that if you’re able to string some of these episodes together, honestly it’s much easier to follow what’s happening, if you can consume multiple episodes in one sitting. So, I think it very much works for this show in particular. I just think it’s the future. It’s clear that’s how people want to watch, that’s what it’s all moving towards, and I think this is just a step in that direction.

Amanda: Again, I just agree with Aaron, sadly. But beyond that, you don’t have to binge every single episode in that sitting. You can TiVo it, watch a couple, take a break, come back, watch a couple more before in the morning and then watch a couple more at night.
I too tend to watch a lot of my favorite programming more than one episode at a time. I think it’s a little bit antiquated that people sit through weekly episodes now.
It was exciting also for us because it had been a long time in the making. We had a very long hiatus between seasons 2 and 3 and it’s exciting for us to finally get it all out there – the result, the product of our hard work and anticipation and to finally be able to share it with the people who care about it as much as we do.

12 MONKEYS - "Causality" Episode 305-Aaron Stanford as James Cole

12 MONKEYS — “Causality” Episode 305 — Pictured: Aaron Stanford as James Cole — (Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

Q: How long have you guys known who the witness actually is?

Amanda: I believe I knew who the witness was going to be in mid-season 2. Terry’s (Matalas) really great and we have this luxury with our show. Because of the mythology of the show, the storylines aren’t accidents and there is an end game in mind. Maybe some of the connective tissue leading up to the final result needed to be hashed out, but Terry knew how he wanted to end every season, and he has known from the beginning how he wants to end the show.
Because of that, Terry’s able to drop hints in storylines whether it’s individually or collectively to all of us about where our character needs to go which gives us a building idea of how to create the character and how to pace it.
So, I knew that Cassie was going to get pregnant the end of season 2 and I knew that it was going to be the product of two time travelers out of time and that’s why this child can basically exist and that’s why he’s so special. I had that luxury to know that I was going to lead up to that.

Aaron: I found out around the same time she did. We don’t get that much advance notice. At the beginning of season 1 when we were shooting, none of us had any idea where this was going to go. I don’t know how much was already conceived in the minds of the writers but they sort of, you know, gave us pieces of information a bit at a time. It was around mid-season 2 where that idea was given to us of who the witness was actually going to be and the stakes of it, so we did have a decent amount of time to drop that in and think about it.

Q: What has it been like for you as actors to deal with conflict on the show?

Aaron: The onus is on the writers to intensify things constantly. The stakes have to continually be raised. When you start a series out where the fate of the world is in the balance it’s difficult to continue to build off of that but they have managed to do it. In terms of my own character, it has been a roller coaster. He has been all over the map. In the beginning of season 3 he is in a very, very desperate place. He has lost the woman he loves, he has lost his family, he has lost the only resemblance of a real life he’s ever had and he’s a man on a mission.

Amanda: Well, this season she (Cassie) starts in a pretty low place. She has the product of a relationship that is only a dream, really. She doesn’t remember it tangibly because Cole had to make the decision to basically erase that timeline.

Q: If your characters needed to learn a life lesson – what is it and why?

Aaron: I would sit Cole down and tell him to come down off the cross. He’s very guilt prone. He’s very anxious to carry the entire weight of the world on his shoulders. There’s a lot of self-loathing in that character and I think I’d sit him down and just tell him to give himself a little bit of a break.
He’s basically a good guy. He’s trying to save the world and there are a lot of frustrations, but basically he’s a good person who was put in very, very difficult circumstances and he has done the best he can. And yes, I think I’d just tell him to give himself a little bit of a break. Take it.

Amanda: I’d tell Cole that he needs to start making plans because he’s averse to making plans and it really irritates Cassie. Make a plan, babe.

Aaron: He’s spontaneous and that is a trait that should be valued in a committed relationship.

Amanda: That is not spontaneity.

Aaron: He’s a good time.

Amanda: It’s a good time that leads to like death and destruction every single time no plans are made. … For Cassie, it’s hard for me to be able to give her any one piece of advice because her world and her beliefs and her mission has vacillated, morphed and changed dramatically and considerably even from one episode to the next. Just when I think she ought to start looking out for just herself, she does that. Just when I think that she ought to start to looking out a little bit more for humanity, she suddenly does that. I mean, she… I think that she is incredibly human that way where the objective and the alliance to the mission changes from one moment to the next depending on the circumstances and what’s at stake and who’s at stake.
If I were to give her one small bit of advice, I wish that she just had a second but the circumstances of our show don’t allow for it as often. I really just want her to be able to just sit and breathe for a minute or two. Just have a coffee or just take a nap under a tree – just have a second for herself. If I could give her any advice it would be, just take five Cassie.

12 MONKEYS — “Memory of Tomorrow” Episode 213 — Pictured: (l-r) Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly, Aaron Stanford as James Cole — (Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

Q: Do you try to keep up with all of the details and things that have happened or do you just take each episode one at a time or each season one at a time when you’re doing your work?

Aaron: It’s not a choice, you can’t – as nice as it would be – you can’t choose to just not understand what’s happening. The show is an incredibly intricate jigsaw and you have to have an understanding of each individual piece to put it together.

Q: In order to do the acting?

Aaron: Yes, in order to do the acting, in order to make choices, in order to decide where your character is at in their journey, where they’re at in the immediate sense on an emotional level. You have to remember where they’re at in their own cycle in order to have everything make sense ultimately.

Q: Do they do anything to help you guys out with that. Do they have a big board or something?

Aaron: There’s a lot going on. What makes it a little bit easier for us is that, you know, we live this, for 14 to 16 hours a day while we’re shooting it. We’re immersed in it and we’re constantly thinking about it, reading it, discussing it. So it’s always there. I have found it the most difficult after the longer hiatuses where we’ve come back after months away and then you have to find your way back in and that’s tricky. You have to go back and re-watch the episodes, reread some of the scripts, and just get yourself back into that mindset.

Amanda: Yes, that’s true for me also. I am a pretty meticulous note taker so I take notes when I’m reading the script, when I’m doing scenes I jot things down. But Aaron is right, having a long hiatus was a little bit jarring, you know, snapping yourself out of the world because the world is quite immersive and that of the character. But at the same time every single department does such a great job creating the environment once we step into it that it’s easy for a sense memory to kind of come flooding back when we get back into the time facility or into the Emerson Hotel. And you remember the scenes that you did there and the moments you had there and the emotion you felt there. Once we’re back in it, I think for me at least, I’m really in it. And I can remember all these things that I might not have felt from the comfort of my condo in Los Angeles. It’s all right there on the surface again.

12 MONKEYS — “Mother” Episode 301 — Pictured: Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly — (Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

Q: What is it like for you guys as actors to see the kind of evolution of social media, how it plays out, and to be able to be online and see fans reacting to things that you might not have even noticed in a scene and be able to kind of give the immediate feedback?

Aaron: On the one hand, I think one of the things that has changed the most is that social media has made everything such a minefield. It’s like such a game to keep from anything being leaked. Everyone is so paranoid about spoilers being released and you have to be careful with every single word you say or every single picture that you post because people are watching. The particularly devoted fans are going through everything with a fine-toothed comb to figure out every single little detail that they can. That has been interesting –  this sort of atmosphere of secrecy and intrigue that we have to keep all these things very close to the vest.
In terms of immediate response, I do think it’s interesting because coming from a background of theater you do have that immediate response. You know right away if things are going well or not. If it’s a comedy and people laugh, you know you’re doing the right thing. If it’s drama, you can hear a pin drop, people are holding their breath, then you know you’re doing the right thing. But with film and television quite often there is no real way to know and you just hope that what you’re doing is going to land and that people are going to respond to it.
So yes, it is nice every once in a while see a tweet where somebody had a very strong emotional reaction to a scene you were in, was affected by it, or thought it was hysterical or whatever it was. It is nice to have that little affirmation.

Amanda: I agree with Aaron. Begrudgingly, I just seem to agree with everything that he’s saying today. I think also to tag onto what he was saying about the immediacy of theater, I did a lot of stage performance in my former career and there’s a different sort of visceral response you get from having an audience and you just hope that you’re capturing that on film. You can’t be certain that that’s what you’re doing. And we’re in a little bit of a vacuum, also. We can’t change our performance or adapt it depending on whether we’ve hit the figurative mark or not within our audience, so there’s also that.
We have the immediacy of people commenting on it – whether it’s positive or negative – but we don’t have the luxury of being able to adapt our own performance based on even what we see of ourselves, not necessarily what people comment on ourselves. It’s sort of a combination of two worlds colliding when you consider social media and film and television now.

Q: I was wondering if the writers talk to you about some of their inspirations for different characters.I’m thinking more of the Norse characters of the three Norns who are the women who control destiny.

Aaron: I’ll tell you what, if they’re not making allusion to that they should be. I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know if they specifically used that myth. I know that they are influenced by mythology in general. You’ll definitely notice references to Greek mythology.
These guys are big genre and sci-fi fans and most of the best sci-fi is actually based on ancient mythology. A film franchise like Star Wars is known as the Birth of Modern Mythology. All these rules for storytelling were laid out in the poetics and they sort of adhere to these same rules and that’s just what good storytelling is. So, I do not have an answer to that question – whether or not that specific myth comes into play – but I know the writers definitely, definitely lean heavily on ancient mythology.

Amanda: Well, Aaron is right that the writers are very influenced by Greek mythology. If you even consider my character’s name, they changed it from the movie which was Kathryn Railly. They changed Kathryn to Cassandra of the Greek myth. That was a particularly powerful storyline for Cassie in the first season – knowing the fate of the world and knowing what was going to happen and nobody listened to her.
You’re right in that Cassie does have a lot of the strengths and weight, similar to Greek mythology, on her shoulders throughout the entire season. But I would go further to say that it’s the women in the show, the female roles that these men, these male writers, have created that allow the weight to shift from one character to the next.
In particular for these women, allowing them strength that is often reserved for male characters is of particular fascination to me, and flattery as well. It also just really works with the mythology of our personal show but of course is also very strong in Greek mythology as well.

Q: How much more enjoyable is season 3 going to be for you knowing that it’s all released at once?

Aaron: I hadn’t thought about it in that respect. Yes, I think it will make things easier. You know, it just gets out there very quickly and then people can have their online discussions in peace. So yes, I think that will be nice.
In general, I’m looking forward to seeing how the experiment works out and how people respond to it. I personally think they’re going to love it because that’s how I prefer to watch things and I think most of our fan base will probably prefer that as well. You know, everybody is into their own various streaming platforms now.

Amanda: I feel as though I still need to keep some things bottled up for at least a few weeks afterwards because there are other countries that don’t air the binge the same weekend that we do in America. I have been chastised online for mentioning things about an episode even a few days after an episode airs by people in another country who have been waiting until that weekend to see it and didn’t realize that such and such was going to happen or that, you know, so and so was going to make a guest appearance and they get disappointed in me saying something.
So I have found the safest way to discuss our show, especially if I’m live tweeting it, is in a very abstract format which is how I’ll probably continue to tweet about our show for fear of ruining somebody’s experience. We work really hard on the show and I want everybody to appreciate all the work that we put into it.

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