Exclusive Interview: Amanda Schull on 12 Monkeys

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“12 Monkeys” is coming to TV this January in a Syfy channel series. The cast stopped by the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills to preview the show before returning to production. I saw the pilot, which stars Aaron Stanford as time traveler James Cole, and Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra Railly.

Amanda Schull looks quite different from Madeleine Stowe. Superficially, Schull is blonde and they’ve changed the character’s first name from Kathryn to Cassandra. In the pilot, Cole disappears before Cassandra’s eyes in 2013, only to reappear as promised on New Year’s Eve 2014. I got to speak with Schull about her take on Dr. Railly and the new directions in which the Syfy series will take “12 Monkeys.”

ComingSoon.net: When you auditioned for “12 Monkeys” or it was offered, did they tell you it was “12 Monkeys” or was it even more secretive than that?
Amanda Schull:
No, it was straightforward from the very beginning. The script was “12 Monkeys” so there was definitely no guise that it was under anything else. But, full disclosure, I did not re-watch the film until after we had shot the pilot.

CS: That’s a valid choice. Did it give you any concern that they were remaking the movie?
Schull:
Well, the film came out in 1995, so at least the film wasn’t made last year. We’re not delving into something that is that fresh. It’s also the same producers as the film, so it didn’t give me so much pause as it was excitement. We’re going to be doing it as much justice as I think can be done because we have all the right players involved to do it justice.

CS: Are you the type of actor, when you find out you’re going to be playing a doctor, you’d like to do seven years of medical school as research?
Schull:
[Laughs] I do try to do as much research as possible. I think some people like flying by the seat of their pants and some people like being a little more prepared, and I’m of the latter.

CS: So how much can you do for not only a doctor, but a doctor dealing with these extraordinary circumstances?
Schull:
Right, well the extraordinary circumstances aren’t something you can necessarily manufacture and get involved in, so I can only do as much research as I can find myself. With the exception of hopping on a plane and going to some war torn, plague riddled area, I did not do that.

CS: Once she makes the leap trusts Cole and follows him, do a lot of people in Railly’s life abandon her?
Schull:
I think it’s not just that she makes the leap to trust Cole. It’s that nobody else experienced her situation and knows what she’s talking about, so nobody believes what she has now invested and is dedicating her life to do. I think it’s sort of like if somebody were to tell you, “No, I really did see that UFO. I guarantee you.” And it’s somebody who you trust who’s an intelligent, strong person, you want to believe them but at a certain point, you weren’t there. You didn’t experience what that person experienced and you can’t go along for the ride with the same intensity.

CS: The end of the pilot already gives us a big twist on the movie’s characters. Where does episode two pick up?
Schull:
Five minutes later. Five minutes later our time though, which is what Cassandra considers to be the present. That’s not necessarily Cole’s present. So it’s five minutes later from her perspective and who knows how long for them and what’s happened and transpired in the future?

CS: Is moving forward completely uncharted territory, or are there still elements from the movie that could appear on the show?
Schull:
Oh, hopefully so many episodes to come, there are definitely nods to the film, but because it’s a series, we have so many opportunities to take moments and expand on them and go down rabbit holes and what ifs and certain scenarios. So the difference between having the luxury of all the time and having a finite amount of time with the film I think gives us this wonderful opportunity to investigate a little more fully some of the ideas that were mentioned and touched on in the film.

CS: The show takes place between time periods, but is the present day the base?
Schull:
No. Her reality is 2015, is the present, so that’s her reality. Cole’s primary focus is the future, 2043. So there are two separate worlds but also Cole is able to travel back and forth between those two worlds.

CS: We find out he’s gone back to 1987 at one point. Are we going to see Railly in 1987?
Schull:
I’m not sure yet. I don’t know. We definitely are going to see what Cassie went through in the two years between when she first met Cole [and now], but as far as 1987, I’m not positive about that.

CS: It would have to be a little girl.
Schull:
Yeah, I don’t know if they’d be able to use me for that. We could use some scotch tape, but I don’t know how much we could actually do.

CS: Between 2013 and New Year’s Eve 2014, we’ll see what she went through?
Schull:
Yeah, we’ll see some of what went into her committing herself to this journey and also just what it means for her personally, professionally, relationship-wise and what she’s going to do to save the world basically from this virus, this plague.

CS: Are you a science fiction fan in general?
Schull: I am not a full force quote-me-on-everything science fiction fan, but I do love especially the time travel element. I think it’s fascinating. I did love the movie when it came out so I think it’s a genre I’ve been attracted to, but I haven’t pledged allegiance to quite yet. This has made me a believer, just being able to see and doing homework on different science fiction, I’ve come to appreciate it even more. It’s a smart genre. It’s a very smart genre.

CS: Which homework did you do?
Schull:
I watched a little bit more of female science-fiction. In particular Jodie Foster, and I re-watched Terminator which I didn’t appreciate as much when I was younger. That was interesting, also to see her character and how she developed.

CS: You remember her from Terminator 2 already pumped up.
Schull:
Yeah, exactly. You’re right. I didn’t remember her as well from when she was a little bit meeker and hadn’t taken on her strength yet.

CS: Terminator 1 is amazing and the whole story is in there. Everything she does in 2 is something she suggested or alluded to in 1.
Schull:
It’s a smart genre. It’s interesting, especially with time travel, so many elements of science fiction need to be thought out and forethought rather than just going on this tumbly journey down a path. It’s something that the writers, the creators and even the actors need to all be on board with and understand which I think is really exciting, an interesting element of it. You don’t just open a script and something out of left field has happened. There’s often a little nod to it somewhere along the lines and there’s an ah-ha moment for the audience as well.

CS: For Jodie Foster, did you watch Contact?
Schull:
I didn’t rewatch Contact. I should! I did re-watch Silence of the Lambs, but that’s not science-fiction.

CS: Given all the potential paradoxes suggested in the pilot, what questions did you have for the producers going forward?
Schull:
I had so many questions about what’s going forward. Also from my perspective it’s what’s going forward for her as a person. I think in order for me to convincingly sell the audience on her journey, you need to hear about her as a person and what her plight was, which is a very different thing from the paradoxes. The paradoxes are not necessarily something I concern myself with as much just because I trust the writers wholeheartedly. I know that this was their baby. This is five years in the making for them and they’re going to do her justice and do the story justice, but I was interested in what she went through from 2013 until 2015, and what makes her who she is and why she would be willing to go on that journey with Cole.

CS: Did you ever see La Jetee, the short film?
Schull:
I’ve never seen La Jetee. I’m excited to see it. Thank you for reminding me again, every time I hear someone say that.

CS: Have you ever been a part of something with such a built in following already?
Schull:
Not something as big as “12 Monkeys.” I’ve done some television that has a following from a book ["Pretty Little Liars"] and I did a film based on a book of the same name, “Mao’s Last Dancer.” It was based on an autobiography. I think “12 Monkeys,” every time I mention it to people, their eyes light -up. It has a big cult following which is exciting.

You can watch the first trailer below and don’t miss our interview with Aaron Stanford here.


(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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