12 Monkeys Q&A: Aaron Stanford on Playing Cole, Splintering to 1987 & More

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Ready,12 Monkeys Fanatics? Tonight marks the big 1987 episode we've all been waiting for!

Mr. Cole himself, Aaron Stanford, gave me the lowdown on how he became involved with 12 Monkeys, why he considers the time travel stuff "user friendly," the brilliance of Barbara Sukowa, why live-tweeting is important and a lot more.

I hope you enjoy our exclusive interview with the time traveling hero of Syfy's 12 Monkeys.

Aaron Stanford stars as James Cole - 12 Monkeys

TV Fanatic: First off, congratulations on Season 2!

Aaron Stanford: Thanks a lot, I'm very excited about it. It's been a great ride. I had a really good time shooting it and I've been having a great time watching all the episodes along with the rest of the audience. I didn't see a lick of it the entire time we were shooting it. I didn't watch dailies. I didn't watch rough cuts. I didn't see anything, so I've been experiencing the story and the episodes along with everybody else.

TVF: You worked with show creators/writers Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett on Nikita. I believe Terry said they had you in mind for Cole very early on. Is that how the offer came about?

AS: Maybe that's how it started for them. The story from my perspective, is that we were working together on a show and I really loved their writing and they really loved to write for me. We worked really well together and they wrote a lot of episodes that were heavy with my character. And I heard from them, just in conversation, that they were developing a TV adaptation of 12 Monkeys. I had been a big fan of 12 Monkeys growing up.

I'm a big sci-fi fan just in general. So, I just sort of wanted to follow along and track the progress just from the perspective of a fan. Because I wanted to see it, you know? So I kept harassing them for details of where it was at and what was going to happen with it. And then yeah, they approached me about coming in for Cole. Which was, honestly, the last thing on my mind. I mean, I was hoping to maybe be lucky enough to be part of it in some way. But I didn't expect to be considered for that role, because it was Bruce Willis in the original movie and I'm clearly a very very different type.

But I spoke to them and they said that they had a very different take on the Cole character. That's the way they've gone with most of the casting choices. That's why they cast Emily Hampshire in the Brad Pitt role. That's why they cast Amanda Schull in the Madeleine Stowe role. They're all very very different choices and I think it was all part of a plan to make this show its own, and to make it stand out from the original.

TVF: When you got the part, did you know your Cole would be much more focused and less manic than the Bruce Willis version? Or was that all in the script?

AS: It's on the page for sure, and he does have his manic moments but I think it would be next to impossible to sustain that kind of manic behavior over the course of a multi season TV show. With 12 Monkeys the movie, it was a sort of short period of time and you're able to go full tilt for that entire journey. For TV, I think it requires a different energy and a different approach because you're potentially going to be living with this character for who knows how long right? It could be up to five years.

TVF: Now that would be awesome!

AS: Yeah it would be great, I'd love it too. [Laughs] But yeah it can't all be at that one extreme intense level, you have to sort of throttle back sometimes.

TVF: Terry and Travis have the time travel thing down. When I spoke to Amanda, she told me she wrote down her own timelines each episode to keep track of things. Did you have a trick like that to avoid getting confused?

AS: Oh yeah? No, I didn't. I don't know, I was pretty able to keep track of it. And any time that there was something that didn't quite compute, there was always a writer there on set. Terry and Travis were either there themselves or the individual episode writer was there. The script supervisor's there, whose job it is to keep track of all those sorts of things and keep a timeline. So no, it wasn't necessary for me. I think they've made it pretty user friendly. There's always like one or two things that are going to confuse people, but for the most part I think it's pretty easy to follow.  

TVF: The Chechnya air strike is a little confusing, until you realize the next episode that he splintered out of there. It makes sense later, they've covered all their bases.

AS: Yeah, and honestly, that's the way to do it. It's fun when you have to catch up a little bit. I think in general, the best kind of storytelling is when you're a little bit a head of your audience and you just trust that they're going to be smart enough to catch up. Because then there's a bigger payoff. If you're just spoon feeding everything it's too easy, you don't get that sudden moment of reveal. Like, oh that's what was going on. That's what happened in that moment.

TVF: Last episode, 12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 10, Ramse splintered back to 1987. When the season was first loosely pitched, was that a moment you were looking forward to? I mean, the fans have been waiting for it since Leland mention '87 in the Pilot.

AS: I was looking forward to finding out what happened in 1987. But I didn't know about the scene that you're referring to until probably about a week before we shot it. They don't release a lot of the information to the actors that far ahead of time. One of the reasons for that is they often don't know the information that far ahead of time. Or they have several versions of it in their head and they might go in any direction, and make the decision very close to the time of shooting as to which very they're going to go with. So, yeah I didn't know about it, but when I read it I was pretty excited for sure.  

TVF: Any cool behind the scenes stories from that Toyko set? The fight stuff is pretty intense.

AS: The fight stuff was strenuous, but the fight stuff is always fun. I enjoy it, it's like a dance. You take a couple of hits here and there, but it was a great time and I think it turned out to be great.

TVF: Cole has so many different relationships on the show. With Cassie, Ramse, Jones, Max, Aaron... was there a particular scene/moment that stands out as a personal favorite?

AS: Yeah I mean, anything I did with Barbara Sukowa was like a master class in acting.

TVF: She is so awesome.

AS: She's incredible! [Laughs] So, I just kind of watched and learned; she was amazing. It's not so much individual scenes that stick out in my mind, as relationships that are developed over time. That's one of the ones that I love. You know, you see them and they start in this very adversarial, sort of like, shaky truce that they have that they're going to work together. And then, over time it gradually becomes much more personal and they become comrades. I enjoy watching those things develop.

TVF: You've worked with a few Nikita co-stars on the show. Is there another co-star or actor you'd love to work with next season?

AS: Oh for sure, any of them, man. I worked with those people for four years straight, and I made a lot of friends. I enjoyed working with everybody, and its been great to get a chance to work with Noah Bean on this. Amanda Schull was actually in an episode of Nikita as well. Xander [Berkeley] was great, I didn't get to have any scenes with him, but it was great to have all of them along and I love all the familiar faces and friends on set.

TVF: Season 2 begins shooting around August, right? Do you think you'll be doing any tweeting from the set?

AS: Yeah, I think we did plenty of tweeting on Season 1 too. I mean, it's tough because you have to get permission for whatever you tweet. Everyone's so worried about spoilers, so you don't want to tweet a picture of yourself with no hand. Ah that's a big gave away man [Laughs], so you have to be careful. The tweeting seems to be part of the whole thing now and it's encouraged by the network and studio. I think it's definitely going to be here for a while.

TVF: It's a lot of fun, man, and I love the monkeys you post on Friday nights. [Laughs]

AS: [Laughs] There's an inexhaustible number of monkey photos online. So, I think I'll be able to keep going with that for quite some time. Yeah, it's been fun and it's great to get the fans' feedback.

TVF: Your notifications must be insane, though. How do you deal with that?

AS: Oh there's just no way to keep up with it. Every once and a while you'll pick one up at random and respond to it and reach out. Obviously, there's no way to get to everybody. I worry a little bit, live-tweeting every single episode. While I'm watching it, I'm thinking to myself, people should be watching this not watching Twitter. [Laughs]  I've kind of begun to limit myself to tweeting during the commercials at this point.

We definitely want to encourage people to watch it live and that's one way that we can do it. It's tough to get the message out to people that if you love the show, and you want the show to continue, you want to support the show, you have to do everything you can to watch it live. Those are the numbers that they really care about. They care the most about the live numbers. If people do make a point of tuning in, and supporting and following the show along with you, it absolutely makes a difference in the long run. And it give it a much greater chance of further seasons.

TVF: Well, thanks so much Aaron. It was a pleasure chatting with you. We plan to continue supporting the show throughout the Season 2 shoot, building up the community and fan base.

AS: Great man! Much appreciated, we really appreciate the support. Thanks a lot.  

Follow our TV Fanatic 12 Monkeys Twitter account and live-tweet along with us tonight. After the show, come back to the site for our episode review.

12 Monkeys Season 1 Episode 11 airs tonight, March 27 at 9/8c on Syfy

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12 Monkeys Quotes

About four years from now, most of the human race is gonna be wiped out by a plague; a virus. All we know is that it's because of a man named Leland Frost. I have to find him.

Cole

What if you could take it back? All of it? A reset switch? You'd hit it right? You'd have to.

Cole