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Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull Talk 12 Monkeys [INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Alicia Gbur/Syfy
Photo Credit: Alicia Gbur/Syfy

[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]

Syfy’s latest scripted (YAY!) series, 12 Monkeys, launches this Friday, and we had the chance to join a press call last week with series stars Aaron Stanford (Nikita) and Amanda Schull (Suits). In the first part of our interview, the wide-ranging conversation covered how the show diverges from the film (and short film), keeping track of present vs. future, the timeliness of the plot, and that all-important ingredient–chemistry.

Enough time has passed since the 1995 film of 12 Monkeys that a TV series can dive into the same territory without stepping on the source material. Stanford loved the original–and the short film that spawned it. “I’m a huge fan of the original movie and I was excited to get involved in the project for that reason,” he says. “What I like about it is it’s a chance to expand and explore the universe of 12 Monkeys on a much larger scale…and turn it into a much more epic story.”

“[The film] was based on a short film called “La Jete” by a filmmaker named Chris Marker in 1962. And 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 we’ve done [it, too. The feature film] is the inspiration and…source material and we took that and we turned it into…something different and much more expansive.”

Schull adds that you can come to the series regardless of whether you’re familiar with the movie. “[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…we expanded [the film and] our characters…and the storylines are different from the film,” she says. “It’s got the same sort of original kernel but its own entity. We have this luxury of researching episodes…we’re not constrained by time. [And] we have a lot of different characters that are introduced–with guest stars and storylines that I think will be interesting for people who love the movie and people who aren’t familiar with the movie.”

Stepping into a role created by Bruce Willis was helpful to Stanford because it lent itself to how he approached the character. “It was a really interesting role for [him], what he did with it. [He’s] generally remembered for…his action roles [like] 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 present,” he says. “This was a man coming [from an] unimaginably unpleasant, difficult place where all of the…pleasures, comforts, and everything, art, it was all 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.”

Schull’s character differs from the Dr. Railly portrayed in the film, so she didn’t really have to hew to Madeleine Stowe‘s performance. “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–and we are different characters [with] different careers and a [different] life trajectory,” she explains. “But, going forward in the series, I did watch the film…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.”

The show follows the film’s dynamic of flipping back and forth between the present (now 2015) and the future (2043). Stanford and Schull credit the filmmakers with helping them keep track of what happens when. “Thankfully, there’s a large army of people devoted and dedicated to keeping all that information straight,” says Stanford. “It can get very confusing at times, particularly when dealing with situations and scenes where there’s multiple versions of yourself running around.”

Schull goes old school to help her keep track. “[I am] a very meticulous note taker, so I usually have my notebook on set [about] 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,” she admits. “Not only for Aaron’s reasons, where there might be multiple versions of yourself, but also…in different years what you may or may not know and what has or hasn’t happened yet.

The series is timely for the current pandemic/epidemic fears raised by Ebola, but Stanford points out that these are not new issues. “I think this subject has been ripe for exploration for a very, very long time. [Right] now everyone’s mind is on…Ebola, so that’s what you’re thinking about,” he points out. “[But] this has been going on for a very, very long time [since] the plague in the Middle Ages, and…the influenza outbreak in the early 20th century, 1918, and H1N1–the list goes on and on…it’s been a very viable threat for a really long time, now just as much as ever.”

Chemistry is never a given, but Stanford and Schull click onscreen, and both say that arose from a place of mutual hard work, and the bond that their characters develop. “Amanda couldn’t stand me at first, and it was a long period of having to win her over. That’s what has bled over into our characters,” jokes Stanford. “I think…it gradually develops [over] time. [It’s] not like a film where you read the script, and you know what the story is from beginning to end, because you have the whole script right in front of you…we don’t really know the whole story at the jump.”

“[You’re] watching things, the relationship sort of unfolds in real-time, from my perspective anyway, and…they’re thrown together by fate. They don’t really have much choice in the matter and they’re very, very different people, they’re absolute opposites, but they’re thrown together and I think that through this, [the] crucible of what they have to do is a very, very difficult mission. They form a bond.”

“[Aaron] shows up at the set very prepared and he gives you 110 percent for every single scene, for every single page,” explains Schull. “I think that helped with our on-set chemistry, which hopefully translates to the on-camera chemistry. [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 [are] both invested completely [in] each character.”

12 Monkeys premieres Friday at 9/8c on Syfy. Check back next week for the second part of our interview.

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