Interview: 12 Monkeys’ Amanda Schull on Cassie’s Growth and Her Fantastic Female Co-Stars

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When Syfy’s adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys was announced I shared a familiar fatigue with a lot of fandom. Everything old is new again. But thankfully, 12 Monkeys immediately exceeded expectations and went on to create a unique and dynamic sci-fi story. I recently had the chance to speak with its star, Amanda Schull, on pop culture, Cassie’s growth, and the other fantastic women on the show.

The show was created for Syfy by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett and the cast is led by Schull and Aaron Stanford. Premiering in January of 2015, the show is currently wrapping up its second season, and waiting for word on a Season 3 pickup.

[Editor’s Note: This interview has been split and rearranged slightly to avoid finale spoilers. The second half will be published following that event. If you’re behind on the series you can find information on how to catch full episodes here.]

Pantozzi: I’ve noticed this season there’s been a lot of pop culture references. What kind of TV influenced you when you were growing up?

Schull: What kind of TV did I watch when I was growing up? I guess it depends on what age we’re talking about. By the time I got to high school and I could actually choose, you know I had sort of a mind of my own I… it’s funny I watched a lot of legal and procedural type things. I loved NYPD Blue, and Ally McBeal, and probably shows that I would aspire to be on nowadays. It’s funny.

Pantozzi: What was your favorite movie as a teenager and is it still your favorite today?

Schull: As a teenager…well the movie I’ve watched more than any other movie in my life is Dirty Dancing. But that wasn’t when I was a teenager, that was younger. I’m can’t think of anything as a teenager that was favorite, I’m blanking right now, but Dirty Dancing resonated with me quite a bit.

Pantozzi: I definitely watched that one too, when I was probably much to young to be watching it but did anyway.

Schull: [laughing]

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Pantozzi: Can you talk a bit about Cassie’s character development this season? I always found her to be very interesting but just in the first few episodes this season so much has happened to her.

Schull: Yeah. Yeah, she’s undergone…every single person I think this season has undergone a really wonderful and beautiful transformation. To use the vernacular of the show, a metamorphosis. And I think no one more so than Cassie. That being said, I think she’s still very much the Cassie that people came to know from Season 1. I think she’s still is very much that person at heart, she just can’t wear that on her sleeve anymore. She can’t expose who she is in the new existence for a myriad of reasons. And it’s been really interesting to portray that, to try to have that person, that sort of the kernel of who that original person was that I built over 13-episodes, did all of that homework, and then try to layer on top of that and allow little glimpses coming forward. It was really interesting to play with that this whole second season.

Pantozzi: The show is all about peoples’ motivations, their choices and the consequences of those choices that are not just for themselves but for others. What choices or consequences have you found most interesting both for your character, or if not for your character, for other characters that has affected the overall arch of the show?

Schull: I think what’s really interesting for me, and then kind of unsettling hearing some of the backlash and response regarding the choice, but the choice for Cassie to not allow herself happiness. The choice for her to kind of disallow any pleasure in her life. I don’t think she’s laughed once the entire season, let alone smiled. She would never call herself a martyr but from my perspective she’s just become this vehicle for the mission. She’s trying desperately to kind of hollow herself out and I thought that that was really obvious on set with the material. And at first it was interesting, then it’s frustrating, then it’s hurtful, and then it’s all these other things when you hear people not understanding that. When we have this wonderful opportunity to have dialogue with people and to hear peoples’ perspectives nowadays when it comes to social media reactions but there’s this double-edged sword when it comes to that as well. And finally my husband said to me last night, “Well, what would Cassie’s response be to people saying that?” And the fact is she probably wouldn’t care. She’d probably hear them out and get on with it.

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Schull (continued): And so many I have to just kind of let my work speak for itself and not take things so personally. I feel such a personal attachment to who she is and her pain and how much she’s trying to numb it and block that out. And that was something that, the consequences of her not allowing her to be herself, or to have this life and just look straight ahead and not look back and not even come up for air at all, just all systems go, it’s been a really challenging thing for her and side note, consequently for me. I think another person on this show whose choices and consequences that just dazzle me and just put me in awe every single episode are of course [Emily Hampshire’s] but it’s almost like her choices aren’t her own at times. She has such an interesting character to play with and nobody better than she, who could do this incredible role, with this incredible writing, it’s unlike any other character that’s ever been created on television. She does at times make choices but she’s a puppet with this puppeteer sort of pulling her strings, you know this strange idea of the Primary kind of guiding her through life and her choices aren’t always her own but then she has to live with the ramifications. It’s very bizarre.

Pantozzi: The characters on this show, specifically the women obviously, for someone who writes about the kind of roles that are given to women in Hollywood, I sometimes am shocked after I watch episodes of 12 Monkeys that I only ever have positive things to say about it in that regard.

Schull: [laughing]

Pantozzi: Which is nice for me for a change, to not have to be critical but it’s still surprising because that’s not the norm. Why do you think these female characters stand out the way they do?

Schull: I think it boils down to the original writing and creation of these people that extend all the way back to the pilot. And then going from there, Terry is so smart with how he crafts each character, especially the women. I mean these roles were created by men and I don’t even think there’s a weak person on this show, especially not the women though. The women are kind of, I saw an article a long time ago referring to the women as the Generals of the show or something to that effect [Editor’s Note: looks like it was io9.com] and I just thought, “Yeah!” I mean, they’re almost the gatekeepers and the men are the soldiers going out and following the orders at the top, which is Jones. Everything sort of has to focus through her and be allowed through her to some regard but I think it’s also the people that they cast and the choices that each actress makes with the words they’re given. Terry is very intuitive when it comes to reading people. I’ve seen him read a person’s characteristics and qualities so spot on, so quickly, myself included, that it’s really amazing that he’s able to take that information and put pen to paper and do with it sort of what he internalizes. He was given the choice of a number of different actresses, some of whom had much bigger names than all of us on this show, I know he personally selected [us] for specific reasons because of whatever it was that he saw.

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Pantozzi: I think, and we were talking about how there’s men who write these fantastic female characters and we don’t want to limit anyones creations and say only men can write men and women can write women, but I was looking and I think 12 Monkeys has only had male directors as well…

Schull: We had two female directors. One in the first season [Rebecca Kirsch] and one in the second season [Mairzee Almas].

Pantozzi: Oh ok. Do you feel that there’s a difference on set when there’s a women directing versus a man?

Schull: Regarding what, exactly?

Pantozzi: The tone, or just the feeling they themselves bring to set because I feel that men take a lot of the directing jobs in TV so it’s not as often that a woman gets to direct.

Schull: Right. I don’t think I did notice a difference to be honest. I had very different experiences with both directors the first and second season. Mairzee directed episode 2×05 this season which was “Bodies of Water” which was the episode where it was basically the Jennifer and Cassie episode which was sort of fortuitous, I don’t think it was planned to have a female director for that. So that was really interesting. And she had a very, I know that there were definitely days that we were running behind and I don’t know if that was because she was a woman or if that’s her nature but she had a gentle tone and she didn’t get angry, she wasn’t harsh. I don’t know whether a man would have been so it’s not fair to say either way. It was unique to have that particular episode have a female director. That being said, everyone as far as crew and cast goes tends to respect whoever we have at the helm. It hasn’t been a case where women get treated differently or poorly or whatever it may be. It’s a very respectful group of people that work on this show.

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Pantozzi: Orphan Black just announced their next season would be their last and a lot of the time we don’t get that sort of preemptive closure for shows because of whatever is going on behind the scenes. How important do you feel it is for a show to be able to know where they’re going, have the clear end-game in mind and be able to finish the story as they wanted it to be told.

Schull: I think for a show like 12 Monkeys it’s imperative. I think also for Orphan Black it will be imperative. There’s so much mythology with 12 Monkeys and the same goes with Orphan Black that having loose ends at the end of however many seasons. And then it seems like oftentimes when they realized things aren’t going to be picked up they kind of do just a sloppy tying up and some storylines fall by the wayside and it’s almost disrespectful, not just to the viewers, but to the people who have spent all this time creating characters and working on this show. It belittles everything if you don’t follow through with it and I think with Terry, he has always said that he knows how the show is going to finish. And I think for him, it’ll be really disheartening if we’re not able to have that…everything kind of settle into the story being told and finished up. And I completely understand, this is his baby, but from my perspective as Cassie if I was just suddenly told “Well that’s it, that’s the end of it” I would assert there’s so much more for her and it would make me so sad. There’s so much more that my character needs to uncover and explore and live through for me to feel content.


Thank you so much to Amanda Schull for taking time to speak with TheNerdyBird.com. You can look forward to the second half of this interview, including more talk about the amazing women on the show, fandom, and love interests, after the 12 Monkeys Season 2 finale airs on Syfy on July 18th.

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One Response to “Interview: 12 Monkeys’ Amanda Schull on Cassie’s Growth and Her Fantastic Female Co-Stars”

  1. […] the season is over but you can find them all on Blastr here. I would love it if folks gave my interview with 12 Monkeys’ Amanda Schull a read and a share (if you haven’t […]