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Amanda Schull, '12 Monkeys' break the mold of series television

by jmaloni
Thu, Mar 12th 2015 05:55 pm
`12 Monkeys`: Amanda Schull as Cassie. (Syfy photo by Alicia Gbur)
"12 Monkeys": Amanda Schull as Cassie. (Syfy photo by Alicia Gbur)

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

On Twitter: @joshuamaloni

This modern-day era of television has been praised for its originality. Yet even the most critically acclaimed series have some element of predictability.

That can be a problem for some shows, because the easier it is to guess what will happen in an episode, the harder it becomes to find the motivation to watch each week.

One show that's easy to watch is Syfy's "12 Monkeys." The original series bounces back and forth between decades with reckless abandonment - rewriting the storyline over and over again in the process. Such plot twists make it impossible to predict what will happen next, thereby making the show hard to miss.

"I feel like every episode is different," actress Amanda Schull said in a phone interview Friday. "Every episode - while there's the underlying story - every single episode has a different tone, a different take on the situation, and a different focus.

"The characters are so interesting and diverse. And that was something that I found really fascinating when I first the read the script is that, obviously it went through several incarnations - as scripts do when you go from the beginning phase of a pilot to fruition - but, even from the very first script that I read, the characters were very well thought-out and unique from each other. Which is really interesting.

"Sometimes when you read a script, it seems like every single character was written by the same person, and they just sort of have a different name attached to them. This was very much not the case. They all have their own voice; they all have their own journey."

If "12 Monkeys' " unpredictability makes it deserving of our attention, Schull's star-making turn makes the show deserving of our praise.

"12 Monkeys": Pictured, from left, are stars Aaron Stanford as James Cole and Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra Railly. (Syfy photo by Alicia Gbur)  

"12 Monkeys": Pictured, from left, are stars Aaron Stanford as James Cole and Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra Railly. (Syfy photo by Alicia Gbur)

In the pilot episode, Schull offered an Emmy-worthy performance as Dr. Cassandra Railly, a world-class virologist whose life is forever transformed when Cole (Aaron Stanford), a frantic time traveler from 2043, kidnaps her. He is determined to stop a virus that will kill most of the world's population, and he needs her help.

Though Cassie initially finds Cole's story utterly preposterous, she changes her mind when he disappears in front of her - and then reappears in the exact same condition (shot and banged up) two years later. He tells Cassie it was her future warning that sent him back in time to stop the infection from taking shape. Convinced, she agrees to help him find and stop those responsible.

Together, Cassie and Cole travel the world - and put their lives on the line - to prevent a catastrophic outbreak. With each mission, they grow closer.

"I love their dynamic," Schull said. "It'll change over the next couple of episodes and through to the end of the season. Their relationship gets very ... it just goes to different places.

"And I really appreciate the dynamic between the two of them, because it is that way. It's not set. It's not that they met and they instantly fell in love. They met under the most bizarre of circumstances. And they're not in love, but they have this weird connection between the two of them that nobody understands - at least between them. They don't get what's going on with them either, they just know that they're drawn to each other, and they need each other - almost desperately - at sort of the highest of stakes.

"The world is on the brink of this catastrophe, and they're sort of clinging to one another - because only they know that. And only they understand that.

"I can't even imagine being in that situation, where you rely on somebody and yet resent them in a strange way, as well, because they're the bearer of this news."

Schull has shined in subsequent episodes and, in the process, garnered acclaim from numerous publications.

"It's sort of a double-edged sword to hear those things, because you think, you know, 'Oh, well, my hard work is starting to be recognized.' But at the same time, this is a profession where there are easily 100 people willing, able and totally capable of stepping into my shoes at any given time," she said. "This is not an opportunity for me to kind of rest on my laurels and pat myself on the back. ... Not at all.

"I just feel like I have this incredible opportunity - I have a job that I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined as a child. If I had told myself ... you're going to get to play make-believe, and you're going to love every second of it, I wouldn't have believed it.

"I just also think that it's an opportunity to push myself even further, having this wonderful production that I get to be a part of."

Schull starred in 2000's "Center Stage" as Jody, a ballet dancer struggling to make her mark with the American Ballet Academy. Though the film was low-budget, it became something of a cult classic - and earned Schull a corps of fans.

She appeared in Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" and guest-starred on "Psych" and "Grimm" before recurring on "Pretty Little Liars" and "Suits."

"12 Monkeys" has brought Schull long-overdue acclaim and put her work firmly on display for audiences, producers and directors.

"Casting was just sort of the right time and the right place for me," she said. "The material I just really connect with. I love the writing. I love the people I get to work with. It's silly to even call it work. And I think it's just a matter of having an opportunity to step into a roll that I didn't know I was looking for all this time."

"12 Monkeys": Amanda Schull as Cassie. (Syfy photo by Ben Mark Holzberg) 

"12 Monkeys": Amanda Schull as Cassie. (Syfy photo by Ben Mark Holzberg)

Speaking of Cassie, Schull said, "My character was particularly fascinating to me, because she's such a strong, capable woman in such a bizarre circumstance. And she has faults. And she has this wonderful journey to go on over the course of the first season. And I loved it. I just was so impressed by this woman that had been developed by two men."

"12 Monkeys' " surprising format was rewarded this week with a second-season pickup.

Jeff Wachtel, president and chief content officer for Syfy's parent company, NBCUniversal, said, " '12 Monkeys' is a show that has exceeded expectations at every stage. It's had a great first season creatively, and is building a dedicated audience. We can't wait to see where - and when - (showrunners) Terry (Matalas) and Travis (Fickett) will take us next."

The second half of "12 Monkey's" first season continues Fridays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

Visit this website for more "Behind the Screens" interviews, and follow Joshua Maloni on Twitter @joshuamaloni.

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