While it's unclear if Cassie will save the world, Amanda Schull sure has made it a better place for future sci-fi series
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Few television shows - sci-fi or otherwise - pose as many questions as "12 Monkeys," what with its time travel to avoid the apocalypse, this will affect that, primaries vs. the witness, red forest, will they or won't they storyline.
While I enjoy pondering those questions, I don't like the biggest query surrounding "12 Monkeys" right now: Will there be a season three?
And so I offer my own question: How does a terrifically written, masterfully executed show - with three dynamic, network-defying actors - fly under the radar?
Aaron Stanford (James Cole), Kirk Acevedo (José Ramse) and Amanda Schull (Dr. Cassandra Railly) are giving Emmy-worthy performances on a station that famously (and happily) makes its living off syndicated blockbusters, original "B movies" such as "Sharknado" and "Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid," and monster-mash series like "Wynonna Earp" and "Bitten."
America, it's time to start tuning in to "12 Monkeys."
Schull, in particular, is superb as Cassie, a woman who was kidnapped; watched a man disappear into thin air only to find him (and patch him up) years later; told the world would end; was held at gunpoint - as time splintered; thought for a moment the world might not end and then told (again) the future is a fraught wasteland.
And that was just the pilot.
As we've entered season two, Cassie has been shot, bounced nearly 30 years into the future, flipped back 100 years into the past, and partnered, of late, with Todd Stashwick's homicidal, egomaniacal and just plain icky Deacon. She's presently displeased with her potential love interest (Cole), while her actual boyfriend (Noah Bean's Aaron Marker) was horrifically offed at the end of season one.
While some actors might've said, "You want me to do what?" or worse, when receiving scripts, Schull has not only taken each story twist and turn in stride, she's excelled at each emotional turn.
Schull made her screen debut in the 2000 cult classic ballet film "Center Stage." "12 Monkeys" debuted in 2015. This raises another important question: Why was it 15 years in between lead roles? It's unfathomable how television showrunners waited so long to cast Schull as a series regular.
This, of course, leads me to think this whole time travel thing would be an ideal tool to go back and nudge viewers toward "12 Monkeys" and educate execs. about Schull. (Seriously, folks, you're missing out.)
But I digress.
Schull recently spoke with BTS about "12 Monkeys' " fans, its delightfully complex plot, and her take on Cassie and Cole.
"12 Monkeys": Episode "Emergence"; pictured is Amanda Schull as a frustrated Dr. Cassandra Railly. (Syfy photo by Steve Wilkie)
BTS: You're quite active on Twitter. What do you like about chatting with your fans? What do you enjoy about that part of your job?
Amanda Schull: It is a new thing to do, and I think it's really interesting to get the sort of immediate feedback - the back and forth. There's something different about it from doing stage productions, where you get an immediate back and forth.
But it's not anything you can really change about it. It's already in the can, so to speak, and we finished production several months ago. So, I'm not going to apply anything that anybody says, or offer any tidbits that we can change in coming episodes.
But it is really neat to - I rewatch the episode with people. And it's really interesting to hear perspectives on things and to sort of go through the experience and the ride with them, because "12 Monkeys" is sort of an epic journey that you kind of have to dive into. And it's fun having company during that process.
BTS: I had to rewatch the first season again, which I never have to do, because I wanted to remember all the twists and turns. What do you like about being part of a show that's such a roller-coaster ride? Is it fun? Is it challenging?
Amanda Schull: Well, it is exactly that. It's a rollercoaster ride. And it is just what you said: fun and challenging. I really enjoy ... those elements of it. It is a challenge every single script. Every single episode I find myself being incredibly challenged. And it's really rewarding to have that as your day-to-day job. And not just ho-hum, go in, episodic, you know, you see some sort of a concern; you eliminate the concern in 42 minutes and you're on to the next. That's not something that our show does.
Nothing - very rarely is something very neatly tied up with a bow at the end of our show. And that makes it a lot of fun as an actor is to have not a linear process, but to have this arc that goes over 13 episodes - and feel like we're all kind of in it together - and that we all have these various demons with our characters.
Nobody is perfect. Everyone is flawed. And so we all approach these very complex threats in our own unique ways. And see them from our own unique perspective. And that's not something that you get very often as a series regular.
When you're a guest star, often you come in and you have this very dramatic thing happen, and maybe the police at the precinct interview you and then you get to be very emotional and feel these heart-wrenching things. But it's not common for all series regulars to have these challenges and these mountains to tackle every single week.
BTS: Along those same lines, you're on a network that is famous for "Sharknado." I'm not talking out of turn saying Syfy has made a name for itself by having campy stuff with interesting special effects and guest stars. The thing that I really like about "12 Monkeys" is that your show is actually really good - your show is legitimately quality. And so, I'm wondering, is there conversation or direction with regard to making this series better than others?
Amanda Schull: (Laughs) Thank you very much. I feel like our show is legitimately good, too. And, you're right. Syfy is known for some kitschy, campy, fun stuff. Of course, years ago, Syfy made a very concerted shift and decision to sort of rebrand. And we were picked up right exactly as that was happening.
It's original content that is - it's interesting. And it's thought-provoking. And it would be really good television on any network - cable or otherwise. It is very good TV. I would be a fan of this show if I weren't on it.
I think that it's also safe to say that 90 percent of that all leads back to our show creator and showrunner, Terry Matalas. He has a very high bar in every single element of anything that he does. And I'm very lucky that somehow he saw something in me and I sort of slipped through the cracks and I got on this wonderful show. Because nothing gets by him. He is very focused and very instrumental in every single element of the show. And he has these incredible ideas with this imagination of his.
And, like I said, everything just sort of goes back to him. This is his baby, and this was his creation, and we're very lucky that he has this very strong vision, because we can turn to him when we're confused about things - which definitely happens. And he's also very open to collaboration, which, by now, we sort of have earned, because we understand this imagination and this ride that he envisioned.
"12 Monkeys": Episode "One Hundred Years"; pictured, from left, is Amanda Schull as Cassie and Aaron Stanford as Cole. (Syfy photo by Ken Woroner)
BTS: It's interesting to hear you say you fell through the cracks. I want to go back to that in a moment. But first, how did you get into acting? What appealed to you about being an actor?
Amanda Schull: I was a dancer first. I did some theater when I was younger. And I always liked being on stage - I always liked performing. And I think part of it is that I like being other people. I like trying other people's skin on. That sounds really creepy!
I like being other characters. I can't ever imagine sort of sitting still and sitting behind a computer every single day. That's just not an option for me.
I love - when I was a dancer, I used to just love taking on these different roles - these character roles - and going out there and being somebody else for the amount of time that I was on stage. When I was in San Francisco Ballet, I always got the more acting roles.
And when I moved down here to Los Angeles, the idea that I would get to portray other people for a living was just too much for me to be able to pass up and not give a shot. ... It's really - that's what sort of drew me to it. And I've been very lucky to have some wonderful opportunities along the road.
BTS: I've seen "Center Stage" 10 times.
Amanda Schull: (Laughs)
BTS: I saw you on "Bones"; I saw you on "Grimm." I've seen you in other projects, and I couldn't understand why you weren't a series regular on something until "12 Monkeys." ... (Getting back to "slipping through the cracks.") You are really good on this show. I really like your work. How would you say you've evolved as an actor since you started out?
Amanda Schull: I love getting to do what I do. ... I think that "12 Monkeys" has afforded me the opportunity to have a 13-plus-episode - it's now 26 (episodes) - to be the same person, which is not a luxury when you're a guest star. Often it's just one episode - you just get that one shot. If you are a recurring, then you get these limited opportunities to just sort of dip into a world.
With "12 Monkeys," it's the same person and her evolution - because of the nature of the show - isn't just this one person that we meet in the beginning of the season - isn't the same person at the end. She goes on an arc, a lot like a guest star would, but she goes on this journey that's fantastical.
I mean, I've gotten to sort of explore and be challenged with my capabilities with this character. And like I said before, every single episode I get pushed, and I get challenged. And every single episode that I read, I think, "Why do they think I'm capable of doing this?" I'm flattered and I'm daunted and I love it.
And this season was no different. I got this stuff and I just thought, "Thank you." I've never been a series regular until this moment, and it makes sense that, for whatever reason, it all led up to this. Because I feel such a strong connection to her - to this show - and to these people that I work with. Somebody, somewhere, was looking out for me when I didn't get those other parts, because it was all leading to Cassie.
"12 Monkeys": Episode "Year of the Monkey"; pictured, from left, is Aaron Stanford as Cole and Amanda Schull as Cassie. (Syfy photo by Steve Wilkie)
BTS: The season premiere ended with such a cool, unexpected scene: Cassie and Cole drawing guns on each other. Obviously, this is a very different Cassie in season two. I'm wondering what your take is on her evolution. She's meaner; she's stronger; she's more determined. What do you think about the Cassie we see right now?
Amanda Schull: Well, I'm just going to start out first by saying she didn't go in with her gun drawn on Cole. She had her gun drawn on Jennifer Goines. And the Twittersphere ... apparently people - there are a few people who feel very strongly opposed to this new, hardened Cassie. And can't understand why she's upset with Cole.
She went in there and saved Cole's life by shooting the bad guys. And then was going to eliminate Jennifer Goines as a threat ... who was holding a vial ... of the virus ... set to destroy the world.And Cole pulled his gun on Cassie, to defend Jennifer's Goines' life.
So, I just want to clarify that specifically. When Cassie first saw Cole, she was relieved and happy and there was a flood of emotions that she didn't get to fully process before he pulled his gun on her. And, I think that moment then dictated her frustration with him going forward for the next several episodes.
It's something that a lot of people don't seem to understand, but Cole - and it was something that was said last (episode) from Ramse to Cassie - Cole's loyal to a fault. And who knows whether he would've actually shot Cassie to defend his new friend? But she now realizes that they're not the partnership that they used to be, because he's willing to pull a gun on her.
And this hardened Cassie is somebody who's lived in a world that is literally kill or be killed. And while she was only there (in 2043-44) for eight months, she's very adaptive. And she learned that her life is never going to be the same. She's never going to have this comfortable existence that she had when we very first met her, being a celebrated virologist, and was with the man who loved her, and a very comfortable job.
She now knows too much and she's never going to be happy again. And that's this person in season two. If she's not going to save the world, nobody else is. And it's a heady thing. And it's a challenging thing. And it's not a happy thing.
BTS: To your point, the audience is rooting for Cassie and Cole, obviously, to succeed in saving the world. But the audience is also concerned about the present status of this relationship.
Amanda Schull: They live in a very complicated situation. They have - you know, on Facebook there are relationship statuses. And there is nothing that would fully encompass what their relationship status is; I mean, it's beyond "It's complicated." There are so many reasons why these people should not be together. Least of which is the fact that they don't even exist in the same timeline in a linear process. They're also both alive because of the other person. So, there's so many confusing things, along with the human element, as to why these people are drawn together, and why they should not be together.
Also, from Cassie's perspective, she doesn't think that she deserves happiness. She doesn't think there's time for happiness, and for a relationship. Because there's a threat that's so much bigger than anything else that a human could possibly imagine. Why should she take any time at all to enjoy life? There's no time for that.
I don't want to say that people will be disappointed. But I don't know that people will be satisfied ... the way that they want to be.
The only way we'll find out ... is to watch.
"12 Monkeys" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Syfy. Learn more about the series at http://www.syfy.com/12monkeys.