12 Monkeys cast and showrunner talk 'epic' new season, time travel, and the eventual end game

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Apr 14, 2016, 10:15 AM EDT

The second season of Syfy’s critically acclaimed time travel drama 12 Monkeys premieres Monday night, so we caught up with the cast and crew for a primer on what comes next.

The new season picks up after the multiple cliffhangers from last season (click here for a refresher), as the makeshift team is thrust into a new mission with even higher stakes (yes, they’re actually bigger than stopping the virus that wipes our humanity). We picked the brains of showrunner Terry Matalas, Aaron Stanford (Cole), Amanda Schull (Cassie) and Emily Hampshire (Jennifer). From the timey-wimey stuff, to the character moments in-between, we unpack it all.

Oh, and it turns out Matalas apparently has a 17-season plan for the show to keep rolling (That's a joke. We think).

12 Monkeys premieres Monday night on Syfy (Corporate owner of Blastr- Ed).

You managed to build a layered, compelling story in the first season, which also featured quite a lot of world-building. Now that you’ve laid that creative groundwork, can you talk about what’s it like to really get to play in this sandbox you’ve built for Season 2?

Terry Matalas: It’s a lot more fun. In a lot of ways, it’s almost like Season 1 is the prequel to Season 2. Things really starts to get going, and we’re moving through time in ways we weren’t able to in Season 1. We’re able to mix and match characters and really try new things. The stakes are higher, and it’s a lot more fun. The show really finds itself in Season 2.

In the early parts of Season 2, Cassie really seems to start taking point in regards to the mission that drives the narrative of the show. In a way, she feels more like the Season 1-era Cole than the character of Cole does now. Can you talk about that change in Cassie, and how her time stranded in the future has affected her?

Amanda Schull: I think it was a slow burn to build this person, but you’re right. Her time in 2044 is what solidifies that very dramatic shift. She had only ever heard of this life that Cole was grappling with, then when she’s forced to live in it, herself, she realizes that intelligence doesn’t necessarily accomplish goals in every scenario, and it won’t help you survive every scenario. She really becomes a product of that world.


"He’s an assassin sent to the past on a suicide mission."

Cole spent the off-season stranded in 2016 on the run, and that time certainly seems to have affected him. We see the culmination of that change at the end of Episode 1, when Cole decides to not shoot first and actually ask some questions. How has this character evolved since Season 1, and how will we continue to see him evolve throughout Season 2?

Aaron Stanford: That was his journey over the entirety of Season 1. He begins as this callous, hardened child of the apocalypse who doesn’t value life very much. He’s an assassin sent to the past on a suicide mission. In his experiences in our time, he meets Cassandra Railey, and through her, gains an entirely new perspective and a new morality. He actually begins to value life. He learns to love. The big turning point for him is, at the end of Season 1, he makes the choice to save a life, Ramse’s, instead of taking another life. And he finds that is the one thing he’s done that has really made any difference. So, he’s come around to a whole new way of thinking, and that’s where you find him at the beginning of Season 2.


The  character of Jennifer Goines has always been a wild card, but it looks like we might finally get some answers about her “abilities” in Season 2 — along with just how much she truly impacts the story. Can you talk a bit about playing a character who is such a mystery? How much do you, as an actress, actually know about where this character is going?

Emily Hampshire: At the beginning, I had no idea where Jennifer would go. I thought she was going to be in a mental hospital the whole time. I had no idea the journey that she would take. Every episode is like a new Jennifer, and I love that. fell like it’s like the Orphan Black of parts, but I don’t have to do accents. But, what I love in Season 2, I think we’ve come to discover what I always had an inkling about, which is that Jennifer was not, to me, ever crazy. She just always knew the truth about things. Whether people believed her was a different story, of course. But, I think with Jennifer, you just keep peeling back layers and getting to the real thing.

Time travel was always twisty in Season 1, but Season 2 cranks it up to another level. Can you talk about the challenges of keeping it all straight, making sure it doesn’t get so twisty viewers have trouble following along? Not to mention the fact that more characters than ever are now traveling through time. It must be a tough tightrope to walk, especially when your show is literally framed around time travel?

Terry Matalas: It’s all about good storytelling. If you’re confusing viewers, you’re not telling the story well. It is a thinking show, and not the kind of show you can do your laundry while watching. There is that conceit, but you have to, when constructing it, it’s about making emotional sense of your characters. Are the stakes reflecting on the drama of the character’s choices? Then the time-twisty puzzles are the cherries on top. There’s the ability to do any number of kinds of stories, and that’s what’s so great.

Following that thread, this season looks to include some much bigger time travel jumps, with the opening arc taking the action all the way back to the 1940s. What are some of the things you’re looking to explore by putting these characters in these different eras, way outside the relative comfort zone of the 2040s and 2016?

Terry Matalas: Taking a scavenger from the post-apocalypse and dropping him into the 1940s is a great opportunity. Just too good to pass up. Having all our characters, even Railey who in the present day, to be back there with her knowledge of World War II. It’s just really what excites us about all the other time periods, the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, to drop your characters into those worlds of nostalgia, and sepia-drenched scenes. It’s really fun.”\

What’s it like as an actor to get to play around in these different eras, with the show almost pulling off mini-period pieces at times? 

Aaron Stanford: It’s a ton of fun. From someone like myself, who is a huge fan of science-fiction and time travel, this is what I was waiting for. I was really excited they’d make full use of the time machine this year. It’s a great time. And, Amanda looks fantastic in a dress from the 1940s [laughs].


"the time-twisty puzzles are the cherries on top." 

It seems like we’ll get to see a whole lot more of future-Jennifer this season. How does her role, seeing everything she’s seen by that point from her unique perspective, impact the story?

Emily Hampshire: It’s everything. It’s huge, especially to know what her character has grown to know now, and the fact that she becomes someone so different from who she is now. You know, inherently, there is this epic journey of how crazy young Jennifer becomes this, still quote-unquote crazy, wise woman, with this army of post-apocalyptic, badass warrior women. She’s doing something right. I think that’s an exciting thing we’re going to come to find out in Season 2.

I get to play Old Jennifer  a lot this season, which at first I didn’t think i’d love having four hours in make-up, but I realized what a gift it was. Every woman should do this. Because, A.) When I took off the make-up, I felt like I looked so great. And being in the make-up, seeing yourself age like this, i got this confidence. I didn’t care what the hell people thought about me. Something came over me. I got this quiet confidence that I can’t wait to have as an older person.


The relationship between Cole and Cassie was the crux of Season 1, but it looks to be strained quite a bit in Season 2. Can you talk about how that dynamic changes and evolves this year? 

Amanda Schull: It is much more strained, and there are several reasons for this strain. The choices made at the end of the season puts them at obvious physical differences and mental differences. They both made decisions that greatly impact the other, that they felt were really right. When we pick up in Season 2, we see them having to live with those decisions. You also realize, by Episode 2, when that conversation (between Cole and Cassie) took place, you felt Cassie was so relieved to see him. There was confusion, but comfort and familiarity. Being back in the presence of this person she had this very confusing compatibility with, it all gets turned on its head in a matter of seconds.

With the mythology getting a whole lot deeper in Season 2, how many years ahead have you planned the series out? Do you have an endgame in mind already? 

Terry Matalas: I think we can do it in about 17 seasons. That’s a joke [laughs]. Yes, we do have a full map of what the series is. It is multiple seasons, and you definitely wouldn’t be satisfied at the end of Season 2, or Season 3. It’s a multiple season thing and we do know how it will end.

Can you talk about how you use the Emerson Hotel (a recurring location in Season 2) as a framing device, of sorts, for those time jumps?

Terry Matalas: We thought it'd be really fun to see one of these great, big hotels you see in any older city, like New York or Boston. A hotel that, in its day, was precarious in the center of town, and now is falling apart. It’s a bit more dilapidated and low rent now. To really show the passage of time, to show the changes that happen to not only people but locations. It’s a big metaphor, and how fun it would be, if that was their headquarters. Suite 607, where they’d always go to, in this room filled with relics and pieces from other adventures. It’s also an opportunity to hide a bunch of easter eggs. Like, in the second episode, Cole finds a Tab Cola can, and we pay that off in another episode. It’s just part of the fun of time travel.”

If you had just one word to describe Season 2, what would it be?

Everyone: Epic.


12 Monkeys Season 2 premieres April 18 at 9/8c on Syfy