Interview Amanda Schull Talks 12 Monkeys (Exclusive) 3
Photo Credit: Violeta Meyners

Many people contemplate how different their lives would be if they could go back in time and alter history, particularly in the name of the greater good. But even the slightest change in one of their actions, which they may initially perceive to be beneficial, can ultimately change the entire course of mankind, and the residual results may not be all that endearing. That’s certainly the case with the current second season of Syfy’s sci-fi mystery drama, ‘12 Monkeys.’ The action adventure show, which airs on Mondays at 9/8c, thrives on the idea that people want to manipulate time in order to save and protect mankind. But even the greatest efforts can’t save humanity from collapsing on itself.

’12 Monkeys’ follows a team of scientists as they recruit James Cole (Aaron Stanford) to travel from the year 2043 to the present day. He’s tasked with stopping the release of a deadly virus that was released by the enigmatic organization known as “The Army of the Twelve Monkeys.” In Cole’s original timeline, the virus caused the death of almost 94 percent of the world’s population in 2017. When Cole travels back in time to a few years before the outbreak, he kidnaps a virologist, Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), so that they can work together and achieve his task. But as the duo’s actions begin to change events across the several different timelines that they eventually travel to, they realize that their mission is causing bigger consequences than they ever could have envisioned.

Schull generously took the time recently to talk about playing Cassie on ’12 Monkeys’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actress discussed that she was drawn to play the virologist because she not only related to the character’s strong will and determination, but she also admires the scientist’s ability to place the greater good above her own happiness. The performer also praised Stanford’s acting, and noted how she embraces their natural compatibility as co-stars and friends on the set.

The conversation began with Schull explaining what elements about the character, as well as the overall project, drew her to play Cassie in ’12 Monkeys.’ The actress explained that she became involved in the show “the old-fashioned way-I auditioned for it. It wasn’t during traditional pilot season, so it wasn’t as much of a hustle. So the process actually took six weeks, if not longer, which is a long time in television.”

The performer also revealed that “With films, they drag (the audition process) out for quite a long time. But with television, you usually have answers fairly quickly. But with this show, it was a fairly different process, and because of that, I got to see different incarnations of the script. They were revising it throughout the whole audition process.”

The fact that Cassie became stronger in every revision of the script really intrigued Schull. “Then, of course, throughout the first season, she also becomes stronger and stronger. I think I can relate to her, but I can also admire her,” the actress divulged about the sci-fi drama’s lead female character. “It’s kind of a luxury when you can not only relate to characters on some level, but can also identify with and aspire to become. So I have been really lucky with Cassie in that way.”

One of the core relationships that drives the show is the one between Cassie and Cole, who wants to save the human race, and needs her help to do so. Schull then began discussing her working relationship with Stanford over the course of filming the show’s two seasons. “Aaron and I had never worked together before we started shooting ’12 Monkeys,'” the actress noted. “I did an episode of ‘Nikita,’ the show that he was on prior to ’12 Monkeys.’ But none of my scenes on that show were with him, so I have never worked directly with him before.”

Schull added that when she and Stanford immediately developed a “very easy working relationship. I didn’t know him at all, but we’re very compatible when it comes to work,” she revealed. “That’s not always the case with different actors. But it was very easy to get into a groove, and we’ve always had an understanding together.” She also noted that “Over the course of the two seasons, I’ve gotten to know him better. He’s a great friend of mine now, and that has made our working relationship that much stronger. We also socialize together off set, and text each other on a fairly regular basis.” Schull added that she feels lucky that she has become friends with Stanford even when they’re not working. “Since we spend so many hours together on set, that can be very much not the case.”

The performer then began discussing how she doesn’t feel as though Cassie is a completely different person now in the mystery drama’s second season than she was in last year’s initial season. “It gets me a little bit frustrated sometimes when people” insist that the virologist has completely evolved, Schull also admitted.

“We have a lot of interaction with people online, as we do live tweets every Monday night when the show airs. People will often say things like, ‘After eight months of living in this post-apocalyptic world, there’s no way that you would be that hardened.’ I completely disagree,” the actress revealed.

“I think she’s the same person at the core. She’s still sympathetic and empathetic, and she still wants to do good, which is why she has become this hardened person. It’s for the great good that she’s toughened up and adapted,” Schull explained. “She realized what she needs to do to further this mission of saving mankind. There are a few causalities along the way that she’s willing to make that she wasn’t necessarily willing, or understood that she needed, to do during the first season. But I still feel like at her core, she’s still the doctor that she was during Season 1. It’s just that extenuating circumstances have made her a little more callous of a person on the outside.”

Schull then further delved into the importance of interacting with fans on social media. The performer, who has over 34,000 Twitter and Instagram followers, said “It’s really interesting to have this interaction. People get really involved, and it’s exciting to have the back-and-forth with them. It’s not something that you could even do a few years ago. It’s also not something that I have ever personally done with a show before,” the performer revealed. “But it makes people feel as though they have more of an ownership with a show. They feel more involved, and feel like they can go on the journey with us.”

The actress then called ’12 Monkeys’ “very immersive television. It’s not something that you can watch passively. In order to really understand it, you really have to dive in and go on this journey. So having the back-and-forth with the cast members, creators, producers and writers helps people understand this journey.

“Getting people’s immediate response is really exciting. It’s almost like an instant gratification that I only used to get when I was on stage. You don’t usually get that automatic response with television and films,” said Schull, who started dancing at age four, and was named a professional ballerina by the time she turned 20. The performer made her feature film acting debut in the 2000 dance drama, ‘Center Stage,’ after the she studied ballet as a student and soon after joined the company of the prestigious San Francisco Ballet School.

“There’s nothing else like the experience of interacting with the show’s fans,” the actress emphasized again. “One of our creators, Terry Matalas, who’s also our showrunner now, is very collaborative. I think the use of social media during the show’s airing is just an extension of that collaboration.”

Further speaking about the sci-fi show’s immersive storylines, and how she keeps track of the different time lines and stories that are featured on ’12 Monkeys,’ Schull revealed that “I would be a liar if I didn’t say that it is confusing at times. With this season, it was actually more confusing, because we’ve been doing something called block shooting. That means we shoot multiple episodes at the same time. So we would shoot four episodes simultaneously,” the performer explained. “That process messes with your head, especially when you’re shooting a time travel show.”

Since the block shooting was a bit confusing at times, Schull admitted that she takes “very good notes, and I take my notebook to set. I like to have things to refer to when I’m filming. For some other characters, it may not be important to know what’s going on in other timelines. But in playing Cassie, I like to know what’s going on at all times, because I think it can inform the way that I respond,” the actress revealed.

“I also think that Cassie would always be educated about what’s going on. She’d want to know what was happening. She’s a researcher, so she likes to have all of the available information available before diving into a situation,” Schull explained. She then pointed out that the virologist is different from Cole in that way, as “he just dives into things. So I do everything that I possibly can to understand what’s going on in all timelines. I then try to create those layers within my own character, whether they’re obviously there or not. That process makes me feel more prepared when I step onto set.”

But Schull truly embraces developing the different layers for her character in the different plotlines that expand across the different episodes throughout the seasons. She also finds it intriguing as an actress to not have each episode’s conflicts immediately resolved. “Something that has always bothered me, even before I got into acting, was how tidy everything was at the end of each episode,” the performer explained. “At the end of 42 minutes, somehow the murderer was always caught, the victim felt vindicated or the medical mystery was diagnosed. That really bothers me, because nothing’s ever that tidy.”

The actress added that she likes that there’s a mythology to ’12 Monkeys,’ and there are hints that are “always dropped along the way. But the payoff may not be for several episodes down the line. An episode can go a few steps forward in one area, while also taking a few steps back in another department. I think that’s much more realistic.” Schull also added that she thinks “that’s really smart when it comes to science-fiction; it’s important to have reality interwoven with the fictitious elements. I think that really grabs the viewers in a much more visceral way than if it’s just this wild and crazy ride, and then somehow at the end of each episode, we find the witness and stopped everyone in their tracks. Where would you go from there? That wouldn’t be as much as a rabbit hole, which every season of this show is.”

Further speaking of the fact that Cassie and Cole have discovered there isn’t one clear solution in their mission, the actress again emphasized that changing even one event can lead to a completely different outcome. She explained that they find it difficult to remain committed to their task, as there’s no clear ending or chance of resolution. “I don’t think Cassie enjoys taking any of this on. I think she wishes that she didn’t have to take anything on. But the fact that nothing’s really clear-cut, and that they never make a definite, concrete gain, keeps her going forward,” Schull revealed.

“This comes at the expense of who she is and her own happiness. I think this season in particular, Cassie realizes that she can’t afford to have any time for herself, or any happiness,” the actress also emphasized, before noting that her character has also “become a martyr. She realizes that if she doesn’t do this, no one else can or will. So she’s willing to forgo any personal happiness, especially since this mission is so non-stop. This task isn’t something that she sought out; it was something that was burdened upon her.”

While Cassie and Cole are burdened with the task of trying to stop the virus from being released by The Army of the Twelve Monkeys, one of the driving forces behind the drama’s storyline and conflicts is the ever-changing relationship between the two. “I think they probably have the most confusing and complicated relationship that I have ever seen on television,” Schull explained when she began describing the connection between the drama’s two protagonists. “I think at her core, Cassie would like nothing more than to be with Cole. But there isn’t time, and she doesn’t understand how that can be. If she were to accomplish this mission and stop the virus from destroying the world, it would mean that she and Cole would have never had met. If she slows down on that mission and allows herself to be happy with him, it would mean the greater good would be at stake.”

The performer added that she thinks her character wishes that she would have met Cole under different circumstances, but that’s literally not possible. “They’re in the same timeline because of this horrible fact. I think it’s confusing, but no one understands each other better than Cassie and Cole. They don’t have anybody else in the world that sees each other the way that they do,” Schull pointed out. “So this is a beautiful tragedy.”

With ’12 Monkeys’ being an adventure-driven sci-fi drama with a time travel element, the actress then discussed how the physicality and emotional arc of the character influence her portrayal of Cassie. “I love getting to do the action and the emotional storylines, and play a character who’s so multi-faceted. That’s a gift that I only saw a hint of when I first got the job. Cassie has evolved in the most unbelievable way since then,” Schull noted. “I could have never foreseen the way that the writers and Terry have developed her.”

Schull has also embraced being able “to go into these different time periods, and getting to explore them, particularly in the way the set decorators decorate these worlds, as they’re so great. They’re so realistic and expansive, and further develop this mystery that we all stepped into. The scripts are so beautifully written, and then when you step on set, it all comes together in this complete puzzle that’s really interesting and exciting to be a part of.”

With ’12 Monkeys’ is currently airing its second season on a cable network like Syfy, Schull feels that the cast and crew are offered more creative freedom in the type of content that they can show. “I think that if we were on another network, we probably wouldn’t be allowed to have this freedom, and I think we’re really lucky for that fact,” the actress divulged. “That doesn’t mean that we get unbelievable with the storyline; it means that we’re able to really grab onto something that’s more immersive. It’s not so hard-core science-fiction that someone who isn’t familiar with the genre or the Syfy network couldn’t jump in and immediately believe it. There are elements of every single character that are relatable, understandable and interesting,” the performer also noted.

Besides appearing in the second season of ’12 Monkeys,’ Schull is also currently recurring in a major story arc on the third season of TNT’s crime drama, ‘Murder In The First.’ “I’m filming some episodes for the show, on which I’m playing an Assistant Attorney General. I don’t know how fans of the show are going to receive my character, so we’ll see!”

Interview Amanda Schull Talks 12 Monkeys (Exclusive) 2
Photo Credit: Steve Wilkie for Syfy

Written by: Karen Benardello

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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