Time is running out for the human race in 12 Monkeys, the new sci-fi mystery drama based on the 1995 Terry Gilliam film of the same name.
In the television series, which premieres tonight on Syfy, Earth has been transformed into an apocalyptic wasteland after a plague wipes out most of the population. To save the future, James Cole, played by Aaron Stanford, travels from the year 2043 back to 2015 to alter history by stopping the enigmatic organization called the Army of the 12 Monkeys from releasing the virus that dooms mankind.
Stanford, best known for his roles in Nikita, the original X-Men trilogy and the Hills Have Eyes remake, recently spoke with SPINOFF ONLINE about reimagining 12 Monkeys for a new audience, Cole’s agenda, the grueling work schedule and surprising viewers.
Spinoff: After four seasons of Nikita, what made 12 Monkeys the right show to commit to being a series regular again?
Aaron Stanford: First of all, it’s a total departure from the last role I played, which was Birkhoff on Nikita. That was one of the things that attracted me to the part. This was the chance to play somebody who couldn’t be more different than this other character I lived with for four years.
Viewers are automatically going to compare Bruce Willis’ version of Cole to yours. How did you go about putting your own stamp on the character?
It wasn’t difficult. I approached it the same way I approached any other role: I did my work. I didn’t over-concern myself with making specific choices that would either harken back to his performance or to show I was as different from that character as I could be. I didn’t look at it like that. I looked at the material as it came, as each script was written. I just made choices, and most of those choices had very little to do with what had come before.
In the beginning, Cole gets off to a rocky start with Cassandra (Amanda Schull). How does their relationship progress and evolve over the season?
They are both polar opposites and from wildly different places. Cole grew up in the apocalypse. Cassandra has a very comfortable life in present-day America; she leads a privileged existence. They are very different types of people, so obviously when they first meet, it’s not exactly a match made in heaven. Over time, and as they go through various difficulties together, it becomes a crucible for their relationship.
Can you paint a picture of how messed up the future is?
It’s the apocalypse, so it’s pretty grim. There’s a plague – a pandemic – that has wiped out 7 billion people. The world is in chaos. All the trappings of present-day society are in ruins. There’s no electricity, unless you can rig up a generator of some kind. You don’t have running water. There’s no form of government. There’s no protection for anybody. People are living at the mercy of whatever stragglers are left alive. It’s a pretty bad place.
Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire) could hold the key to salvation. What does Cole make of her?
I don’t think he knows quite what to make of her. She’s clearly off, but there’s more to the Jennifer Goines character than just crazy. There’s something else happening there, behind all the antics and her Tasmanian devil, bouncing-off-the-wall behavior. As the episodes go on, you see more and more of her character revealed.
Cole targets Leland Frost (Zeljko Ivanek) in the pilot. When things don’t change as he anticipated, does Cole ever begin to doubt his mission?
Yeah, that happens a lot. There are a lot of frustrations and things that derail the mission. There are plenty of times over the course of the season, where not only Cole, but everybody involved in the experiment wonder whether or not what they are trying to achieve can actually be done.
At the same time, how far is Cole willing to go to stop the plague and set things right?
He’s willing to do whatever it takes. He’s not playing by normal rules. He’s not hamstrung or held up by any sort of conventional morality. As far as he’s concerned, the end justifies the means. The ends are so great with saving the human race that almost anything is fair play. Almost anything is in bounds of what he can do.
Are there consequences for Cole jumping back and forth between time periods?
I don’t want to get into it too much. That’s something that is explored and revealed bit by bit. You will see it’s something that cannot just be done willy-nilly. There is a cost.
You are No. 1 on the call sheet, and in most of the scenes. Some filming took place outside of North America. How exhausting has this series been to shoot?
We work long hours, everybody does. The crew is there between five and six days a week, working 16-hour days. Everybody works really hard. Everybody is tired. The good thing is that when you’re involved in something that you feel good about, it keeps you on your feet and motivated. It helps mitigate the long hours.
The original 12 Monkeys amassed a huge cult following, so people might believe they know where this series is heading. Tease us a little. What might surprise them?
They can expect things to change very quickly. Basically, the pilot episode is the one that sticks closest to the film. I’d say immediately after that, it takes off in multiple new directions. What people are going to enjoy, and one of the reasons I was excited to get involved in the first place, is that when you are turning something like this into a series – you are taking a film as source material to spin off to a much larger story- you have the ability to tell a much more epic story if it’s spread over 13 episodes. There’s a lot that happens that is brand new.
12 Monkeys premieres tonight at 9 ET/PT on Syfy.
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