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Motherboy MMXLIII: The SyFy Interviews, 12 Monkeys

Wednesday, 17 May 2017 17:28 Jennifer Devore
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What are we going to do tonight, Brain?

Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!

A simple yet brilliant storytelling device. Core, classical elements of drama. Man versus man. Evil archetype endeavours to take over the world; perky protag thwarts said-takeover. From Harry Potter to Shakespeare to Star Wars to every episode of Scooby-Doo, some bastard is trying to make it reign evil and it's up to a few benevolent souls - always with great hair - to save mankind. Pretty standard fare. Purge the pernicious pests so we all can get back to normal life and our frisée salads and Shiraz at Nordstron Café. Yet ... what to do when that evil genius is your own kid? Ah, well. Therein lies the rub.

Marge Simpson knows the harrows of a difficult child. Rosemary had severe misgivings about her Baby. You know Hitler's Mütti must have questioned her First Five interactions with the twee, finger-painting, mustachioed Adolf. Even as recently as FOX's recently-cancelled Sleepy Hollow, Katrina Van Tassel shouldered the emotional weight of an apocalyptic offspring: Henry Parrish, wingman to Moloch. So follows the pathos-laced saga of Dr. Cassandra Railly and her precocious tyke, a.k.a. The Witness: prophet of the Apocalypse and demon wrangler of the Four Horsemen. Awww, but he looks so peaceful when he sleeps.

SyFy's 12 Monkeys is back swinging on the top branch for another season and it's a well-heeled, time-travel itinerary through multiple era, including a grimy yet velveteen Medieval period, a lusty, luxe Baroque spell, post-War Paris' theatre scene - where Emily Hampshire's bonkers Jennifer Goines is a gorgeous study in nut-job perfection - and even the, relatively, boring 1980s.

S3e1, titled "Mother", sets Mama Cass on a new quest, crossing the boundaries of time, space and sartorial permutations to confront her demon seed: as a full-grown man and, in a clearly more complex, philosophical and moral haze, to contemplate the actual, iffy occasion of his birth.

12 Monkeys, "Mother" S3e1 Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassie Railly Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

The Bad Seed is nothing new. Greek, Roman and Norse mythologies are replete with the mother-as-vessel-for-evil device. Greek myth gave us Echidna: the Mother of all Monsters. To that end, time-travel is also an ancient idea. Norse saga tell of the Three Norns: three women who alone control destiny, via time travel. However, the Norse view of time follows not a direct, linear course, but a cyclical one.

Present returns to the past, past is altered; present is now altered, having absorbed the altered past ... and so on. Similar to the Germanic languages, there is no future tense, per se; there is only the contingent possibility of a future. As with the Norsemen, Cassie's future is contingent upon what happened, or will happen, in the past ... or, the present ... or, ... wait. It is a constant Butterfly Effect, in effect. (Note the various butterfly imagery throughout the series, notably butterfly jewelry.)

"To call past and future to the rescue of the present," thus spake the experimental physicists of Chris Marker's post-WWIII, dystopian, French film La Jetée (1962), the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's mindf#&% film starring a magnificently twisted Brad Pitt, 12 Monkeys (1995).  Gilliam's Brad Pitt vehicle is, in turn, the basis for the legend's latest iteration, SyFy's 12 Monkeys (2015).

In the current Monkey tale, James Cole (Aaron Stanford) travels to our present, from his future date of 2043. It is then The Army of the Twelve Monkeys releases (released? will release? will have released? will have had released?) a plague that wipes out most of humanity. In our present, he meets Dr. Cassie Railly, a virologist whom he believes can eradicate this future minesweep. However, it seems the Monkey Corps and its diabolical leader, The Witness (Mommy's Little Numnum), have more vile deeds to carry out and it's up to our Dystopian Duo, Cassie and Cole, to travel hither and thither, through time and space, to thwart those evil, evil monkeys so we can all get back to our refreshing, summer salads and wine.

No matter the outcome, you've got time to bring out your dead. 12 Monkeys S4 has already been greenlit (will be greenlighted? will have had been greenlitten?), a rare security before the previous season even airs. To boot, S3 proffers the illustrious Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, The Addams Family, Taxi) - eternally Uncle Fester to some of us - in a guest-starring role as Zalmon Shaw, sociopathic and sadistic Dir. of Recruitment and Membership for The Monkey Club. (Membership is free, but initiation is pure hell.)

The end of the world could eventually come. So, mark your calendar, kids, and find yourself a nice, purple track suit on eBay. Friday May 19, 2017, the quest for world domination resumes on SyFy. 12 Monkeys S3 airs in one epic, weekend "binge-a-thon": all ten S3 episodes from Friday 5/19 - Sunday 5/21, airing 8p.m. - 11p.m. ET/PT each night. In case mankind is wiped out by a plague, it's a good thing you get to watch the whole season this weekend.

In the meanwhile, for your reading pleasure, I chatted with Aaron Stanford (James Cole) and Amanda Schull (Dr. Cassie) about their roles, the writers' inspirations and Jennifer Goines' 99 Luftballons.

12 Monkeys, "Masks" S3e8 Aaron Stanford as Jame Cole, Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly

Photo by: Dusan Martincek/Syfy


Interview with Aaron Stanford (James Cole) and amanda Schull (Dr. Cassandra Railly)

Monkey Interview Date: May 12, 2017 9:00 am PST

Please note: Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity, only where JennyPop! questions are concerned. Talent answers are transcribed here in full. 

JennyPop!: Good morning! So I have a question and your answer might be largely based on your relationship with your writers because it’s more of a writer-oriented question.


But I noticed as a viewer, I see a lot of parallels between your storylines and classical mythology, primarily Norse and Greek. I was wondering if the writers talk to you about some of their inspirations for different characters. I’m thinking of the Norse characters, the Three Norns. They are three women who control destiny and I sort of see them in Cassie, Jennifer, and Magdalena. Basically, they follow not a linear timeline of mankind but a cyclical one, where they go from  present to past, change the past, and then re-enter a new present, which absorbed the changed past. It kind of just goes in cycles like that. And your storyline kind of speaks to me in that way.


Aaron Stanford: I’ll tell you what, if they’re not making allusion to that they should be. I don’t have the answer to that. I don’t know if they specifically used that myth. I know that they are influenced by mythology in general. You’ll definitely notice references to Greek mythology.

These guys are big genre and sci fi fans and most of the best sci fi is actually based on ancient mythology. A film franchise like Star Wars is known as the Birth of Modern Mythology. All these rules for storytelling were laid out in the poetics and they sort of adhere to these same rules and that’s just what good storytelling is. So I do not have an answer to that question – whether or not that specific myth comes into play – but I know the writers definitely, definitely lean heavily on ancient mythology.

JennyPop!: Interesting because I wondered, and especially Amanda, as like the visual storytellers for the writers, do you kind of feel the, I don’t know, sort of the heft of legend to portray…. Like your character reminds me of Greek mythology's Echidna, who is the mother of all monsters. Your character makes me think of Echidna so I wonder, as a female lead in the series, and there are so many female characters of mythology that put the world on its axis – do you feel any of that in your character?

Amanda Schull: Absolutely. Well Aaron is right that the writers are very influenced by Greek mythology. If you even consider my character’s name, they changed it from the movie which was Kathryn Railly, or Reynolds, I believe. I can’t remember her last name, but they changed Kathryn to Cassandra of the Greek myth. And that was a particularly powerful storyline for Cassie in the first season –knowing the fate of the world and knowing what was going to happen and nobody listened to her.

And you’re right in that Cassie does have a lot of the strengths and weight, similar to Greek mythology, on her shoulders throughout the entire season. But I would go further to say that it’s the women in the show, the female roles that these men, these male writers, have created that allow the weight to shift from one character to the next.

But in particular for these women, allowing them strength that is often reserved for male characters is of particular fascination to me, and flattery as well. And it also just really works with the mythology of our personal show but of course is also very strong in Greek mythology as well.


JennyPop!: Clearly. I like to observe the subtext within the show and I see a lot more under the water, so to say, than when I first started watching. So I am enjoying it and, Season 3 episode 2, Jennifer’s character’s performance is just spectacular! I absolutely love - j'adore! Her "99 Luftballons" is fantastic – so, a fantastic show.

Amanda Schull: We’ll pass that along to her!

JennyPop!: Great, thank you very much. Have a wonderful afternoon, thank you.

Amanda Schull: Thank you, you too.

Aaron Stanford: Thanks.

JennyPop!: Bye-bye!


12 Monkeys, "Guardians" S3e2 Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines Photo by Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

"Jennifer ... she's lost in time. Way back. Locked away somewhere inside that primary, pinball machine brain of hers is the answer to everything." - 12 Monkeys


Production (Because credits are important, especially if you're listed. Stay for the credits, kids.)

Written by Terry Matalas, Travis Fickett, Janet Peoples and David Webb Peoples

Directed by David Grossman

Produced by Atlas Entertainment

Distributed by SyFy, NBCUniversal and Netflix


Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassie Railly

Aaron Stanford as James Cole

Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines

Kirk Acevedo as José Ramse

Barbara Sukowa as Katarina Jones

Todd Stashwick as Deacon

- Acclaimed guest stars joining S3 include Emmy winner Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Hannah Waddington ("Game of Thrones") and James Callis ("Battlestar Galactica").


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