Best known as the breakout star in the hit film CENTER STAGE, multi-talented actor and dancer Amanda Schull managed to get into viewers’ hearts, leaving every fan wanting more of her for years to follow and can now be seen as the LEAD in Syfy’s new series, “12 Monkeys” as Dr. Cassandra Railly.
Inspired by the 1995 film starring Bruce Wills, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe, “12 Monkeys” follows the journey of a time traveler (Aaron Stanford) from the post-apocalyptic future who appears in present day on a mission to locate and eradicate the source of a deadly plague that will eventually decimate the human race with the help of Schull’s character, Dr. Railly. The series to premiered on January 16th on Syfy.
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii where she started dancing at age four, Amanda was named a professional ballerina and landed her first feature film by age 20. Amanda starred in her motion picture debut as “Jody Sawyer” in Sony Picture’s CENTER STAGE, which is an intimate look into life as a student at the American Ballet Academy. The year of Amanda’s life prior to getting cast in CENTER STAGE parallels the story of the film as Amanda came from the prestigious San Francisco Ballet School, where she studied ballet as a student and soon after joined the company.
After watching CENTER STAGE, many would assume that Amanda was a natural born dancer. It is true that she flourished into a regimented dancer with time, but at first Amanda hated dance classes and struggled with the discipline of the art. However, by her mid teens, Amanda proved to be on the path to becoming a serious dancer, traveling to compete at The International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, known as “the Olympics of Ballet.” Prior to the IBC, Amanda had not experienced the caliber of such performances and remembers that although she was skilled, the talent of the “amazing dancers performing such demanding pieces acted as a wake-up call.”
As Amanda excelled, she fell more and more in love with the art of ballet. When it came time to apply to colleges, dance played a large part in her decision. Although she wasn’t certain she wanted to dance professionally, she knew she wanted to continue dancing so she applied to various dance schools including the world’s most prestigious performing arts conservatory, Julliard School, where she was not only admitted, but was offered a scholarship to attend. However, Amanda was drawn to Indiana University which has a program known to provide the best in traditional and contemporary international ballet. The program nurtured her unique potential and instilled in her the highest standards of ballet. The summer after her sophomore year, she attended San Francisco Ballet’s summer program. The summer program led to a scholarship to stay and study in San Francisco rather than returning to Indiana, eventually landing her a position within the company.
It was after a year in the San Francisco Ballet School that Amanda landed the lead role in CENTER STAGE. The role called for not only an accomplished actress, but also a technically skilled ballet dancer. Amanda possessed this combination and was discovered after a nationwide search. She commanded every scene and had audiences falling in love with her on screen, alongside supporting roles played Zoë Saldana and Peter Gallagher.
After filming CENTER STAGE, Amanda reprised her place at the San Francisco Ballet where she danced as a member of the company in ensemble and leading roles. To her fans’ delight, Amanda returned to acting, recurring and guest starring in various hit television shows including “Two And A Half Men”, “The Mentalist” “Psyche”, “Grimm”, “One Tree Hill”, and “Pretty Little Liars”. Most recently, Amanda played recurring character, Katrina Bennett, on USA’s fan favorite show, “Suits”.
In addition to her small screen work, Amanda was the female lead in MAO’S LAST DANCER based on the autobiographical story of Li Cunxin, who grew up in rural China going through a remarkable journey of luck and destiny ending up a world-renowned ballet dancer. Called “the standout” in the film by critic Carmine Pascuzzi, Amanda plays the female leading role of “Liz,” Li’s wife whom he met while dancing at the Houston Ballet School. Amanda also had a memorable scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in J. EDGAR directed by Clint Eastwood
Although Amanda is retired from professional dance, she continues to feel a strong connection and love for the art. “Dance, and in particular ballet, is such an interesting dichotomy of discipline and abandonment when done well. The backbone is the technique, but the ability to be free in your body and move freely is as beautiful as it is cathartic.” The feeling of being on stage at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco while performing with a live orchestra and a packed house was a euphoric experience that she will never forget.
Describe yourself in 3 words!
Disciplined, hard working, kooky.
How did you get involved in acting?
I have always loved performing. I used to make my parents sit through hours of one-girl shows in our living room. I did a lot of musical theater growing up, and then decided to focus on dance as I got older.
When I was finishing my last year with The San Francisco Ballet School, a casting director saw me in rehearsal and asked me to audition for the lead role in a Columbia Pictures film called Center Stage. I got the part, and after we finished shooting I joined The San Francisco Ballet as a company member. After 7 seasons with the company I moved down to Los Angeles to focus primarily on my acting career.
Tell us about your character Dr. Cassandra Railly?
Dr. Railly is an accomplished virologist. She is quite intelligent, and at first has a hard time reconciling Cole’s story and legitimacy. As soon as she does believe that Cole is telling the truth and the world is in danger of an impending plague, she knows that she must do everything humanly possibly to prevent it from happening.
How did you got involved in this project?
I got the pilot script from my representation, and immediately fell in love with it. The audition process took about 6 weeks, which is a bit longer than most. Having the time with the script and the character allowed me to work through a couple of different versions of the script, and to develop Cassandra more completely.
Do you find anything in common with your character and yourself?
I think we are both determined. We obviously have very different paths in life, but I think that we both go after what we want and don’t allow anyone or anything to get in our way.
Where we can watch it in Canada and online?
It airs on Showcase in Canada on Fridays at 10p ET/PT – http://www.showcase.ca/12monkeys
Apart of “12 Monkeys” are you working on any other projects?
We wrapped shooting just before the holidays. I am only just now coming out of the 12 Monkeys/holiday haze!
Which has been your favorite character that you have performed? And why?
Every character that I have performed has been special to me. I love being able to step into the skin of another person and create a complete life, some of which may only live in my imagination, and might only be hinted at through my presentation on screen.
That being said, Dr. Cassandra Railly has been a pretty wonderful person to create and develop throughout the course of the season. She is constantly evolving and adapting according to the circumstances around her.
How do you prepare for the role of a character?
I spend a lot of time researching and take a lot of notes about what is written about the person, said by other characters, and of course what the person herself says and does. From that point I can fill in blanks going back through the course of the person’s life that have caused the woman to become who she is by the time the audience meets her.
What have you learned from your other actors?
The other actors on 12 Monkeys are fantastic. I have learned so much from them; it is hard to pinpoint just a few things.
I would say that I have learned to implicitly trust everyone who works on 12 Monkeys. I feel safe around them, and willing to try different ideas and takes on scenes. I also have learned how valuable it is to give and receive 100% from those sharing the scene with you.
What is some advice that you would give to someone aspiring to become and actor?
Acting is not easy. I think a lot of people have the misconception that being an actor is just reading lines from a page – it is so much more than that.
I would tell anyone aspiring to become an actor that it requires the same amount of focus and dedication that any profession involves. Get in an acting class, exercise that muscle, and work on your profession even when you don’t have an upcoming role. And most importantly; accept constructive criticism with an open-mind, and don’t let the hurtful criticism weigh you down.
Who is your favorite actress?
I could watch Meryl Streep all day long and not get tired. I think she seamlessly disappears into each and every character she creates, which is such an amazing feat.
If you could choose, what three actors would you really want to work with?
Jason Bateman, Maggie Smith, and of course Meryl Streep.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Creating and developing art in some capacity.
If you were not an actress what else you will be doing?
Hmmm, there are so many other careers I would be interested in doing, but probably only on a short-term basis. My heart is truly only in the arts, but if I had the opportunity to dabble in other professions but be able to return to acting perhaps I would be a lawyer, or a journalist, maybe a horticulturist, or a literary editor or a pastry chef? The list could go on and on…
What do you think of Social Media in the Entertainment business?
I think that Social Media has allowed for a more present and engaging relationship between audiences and artists. This is often a wonderful channel for discussion, but unfortunately can at times be used as an open forum for anonymous judgment.
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Photo credit: Annie McEwain