I was lucky enough to interview Amanda Schull (who plays Cassandra Railly) regarding her role on SyFy’s 12 Monkeys, and the amazing second season. If you haven’t caught up through episode three, just know there will be some minor spoilers! With that note, onto the interview!
WNA: Just starting out, this show blows my mind every episode. It’s amazing how time seems to break every episode, and yet it keeps finding new plot twists and turns.
Schull: I can honestly say I love my job. I can’t believe the storylines that Terry and the other writers came up with this season. Every single episode I got to read was sensational and exciting… to get to bring them to fruition and to get to see what they did with them in post left me speechless. I was so impressed with this season.
WNA: To start out with, I feel things have changed so dramatically this season for Cassie– she’s in such a different place than she was last time we saw her. What’s it been like playing this side of her? One of my favorite lines so far has been, “not every caterpillar becomes a butterfly,” and I genuinely love that she’s really taken responsibility for her actions. What has it been like taking that on as Cassie?
Schull: I love that line too, and that will come back up later on in the season as well–that is a very important tidbit that you picked up on. I think that with Cassie, she’s been in 2044 due to Cole’s action, but she is where she mentally because of her own actions. She wouldn’t even be in that situation, even have that relationship with Cole, if she hadn’t jumped in from the very first meeting with him. She was intrigued and she went forward with it, and Cassie kept pursuing this mission and that’s her own decision.
I think there’s also something to be said about how Cassie is resentful that Cole would even suggest that he’s the reason she’s anything. From a feminist standpoint, that’s a pretty bold thing to say to somebody, and it can be offensive. I am who I am because of my actions, because of my decisions. You’re not the boss of me, you know, and I think that was something that I felt at least–stop trying to take credit for the person that I’ve become–whether it’s credit in a negative sense or in a positive sense. It’s jarring for somebody to say that.
WNA: Yeah, I think one of the things I love so much about the show is that there are three incredibly strong female characters on this show, and all are self-realized on their own. They don’t need men to define them. What’s it like playing such a strong female character? It’s becoming more common on television, but I still feel it’s rare enough that it still needs to be talked about.
Schull: I don’t think any women on the show take it for granted. We’re all very aware of how lucky we are to get to play these strong female characters and I think it’s also a sign of the times that people are tired of seeing damsels in distress; that’s not realistic anymore. And what’s impressive to me, and something Barbara [Sukowa, who plays Katarina Jones] has said on numerous occasions, is young men created these roles– so these women are reflective of what they want to see as well. It’s much more interesting to see a powerful, self-realized woman and I think that’s a very strong through-line on the show. Women are just as strong, if not stronger and more capable than the men, and are able to take matters into their own hands and to create their own destiny.
WNA: One of the things we’ve also seen Cassie struggling with is her constant confrontation of the strange and irrational, especially in the most recent episode. Despite having time traveled now, she still seems very tied to the rational and being a scientist. How is she going to deal with that, now that we seem to be delving more and more into more strange and sci-fi aspects?
Schull: I think from her very first meeting of Cole, from the first pilot episode, she’s had to try to grasp the irrational in a way that defy her 30+ years, and it’s not until Cassie sees something with her own eyes is she able to understand it. She’s a scientist, and she deals in facts. She doesn’t deal in the strange, and that is something he is trying to present to her. She already has issues with Jennifer to begin with, and the fact that Cole would find something special about this person and try to justify even allowing her to even exist on the face of the earth anymore infuriates Cassie. So the fact that Jennifer could be linked to the existence of the world and why we continue to live and breathe, and the world continues to spin in time and space as we know it… how Jennifer could be at the core of that? It is not an acceptable explanation for Cassie at this point, until she can see it herself.
WNA: Coming back to Cole and Cassie’s relationship, they seem to be at diametrically opposed points at this point in time, even though Cole obviously really wants to bring Cassie back into the fold. He’s become softer and more like Cassie was in the first season, and in episode two, Cassie blamed Jennifer and Ramsey for that. But really, it was Cassie who started him down that path. It’s very interesting to watch them kind of spiral in different directions. Are we going to see them come back into each other at some point?
Schull: At this point Cole is more interested in trying to unite them. Cassie’s very strong headed and very strong minded. She now sees the world that Cole was living in, and realizes that being a nice guy with these people does not work, and if she wants to survive– if she wants the world to survive– she needs to be physical. It also means she needs to adapt in a hardened way and there’s no time, I mean literally no time, to be Mr. Nice Guy. So she is thinking, “what are we doing here, let’s hurry up and get to the end game,” you know, and I think that’s something she’s realized, and that’s something she wants Cole to get back to realizing.
Allowing people to live, yes, its very nice, very brotherly, but it’s going to turn around and bite you in the ass. I think Cassie just wants Cole to get back on track, and until she sees actual proof that his method is going to work, she’s going to stick to her plan. He dives in without a plan, she needs a plan.
WNA: I was curious, I know you were a dancer for a long time–did you have some training to get ready for the fight scenes this season?
Schull: I did. They gave me some fighting and weapons training before we started this season, and when we had the stunt department on set, or when they were in the building, I would make very strong pleas for them to be nearby so I could train between scenes; they had these hot pink boxing gloves for me, so I could go off and work some stuff. You’ll see Cassie use a bit of that in episode seven.
In some senses it came naturally from being a dancer, but in another sense it was very counter-intuitive, you know. I can learn the choreography fairly capably and easily, but actually making impact, actually hitting something, is not something that I’m used to. With ballet, especially, I was taught to be very light, and be on the balls of my feet. With fighting you have to grind into the floor and have a weight to yourself so you’re not toppled over, so that was something I needed to be reminded of on a fairly regular basis. I had a tendency to glide through my punch which is not realistic and would not land. It would probably work against me and would not come across on screen, so I had to be aware of it, always.
WNA: So, shooting the scenes in 1944, what was it like? Doing a period piece episode is drastically different than anything the show has done up until now. While we did go back to 1987 for a few minutes, it wasn’t for very long.
Schull: I sound like such a goob when I praise the creators, and Terry, because–this is such a gift. It’s a show within a show. We get to go undercover and one of my favorite shows when I was young was Alias because she got to be something different every week. This is not just that, but we get to be someone different in a different time period. She has to disappear into these scenarios seamlessly to be able to survive and to be able to save the world. They did such a great job with the set direction and the costuming–even changing the lingo, and us having to adapt a little to know these worlds. It was so much fun. I know the bones of the character, and we all know who our characters are, but then we get to take them on a journey separate from the one that we normally get to do from week to week. So it was a show within a show, which is not something that you get to do very often, if ever, on a job, but it’s a real pleasure.
WNA: Just as a curiosity, when you shoot an episode, are you shooting on a per episode basis, or are you shooting in a more linear way? Obviously things are much more movie-like due to the nature of the show, with time travel throwing people all over the place.
Schull: Neither. For location, budgetary, and travel purposes, we block shot the first four episodes. So that means that we were shooting out of sync all over the shop. We were doing scenes in July from episode two, then we bounced back to the beginning of one because we got a location– and then we didn’t shoot some of the 1940’s stuff until mid-late October because that’s when went to Budapest. That was also when some of episode one was shot–the scenes on the bridge. We were all over the place, doing scenes from three different episodes in a day, sometimes.
WNA: Just to close out, we obviously are starting to learn more about what the red forest means now, with the anomalies popping up in 2044. With what Cassie has seen in her visions, is that going to play into things in the future, and into things for her, personally?
Schull: Oh yes it will. We’re going to see a lot of that, and I can’t really tell you any more other than that. But we’re going to see more of the red forest, and more of what that means.
Tune into the next episode of 12 Monkeys, every Monday at 9/8c on SyFy!