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12 Monkeys, 101 - Aaron Stanford
12 Monkeys, 101 "Pilot" - James Cole (Aaron Stanford) ©2014 Syfy, photo by Alicia Gbur

Based on the blockbuster movie of the same name, 12 Monkeys, tells the story of Cole (Aaron Stanford, X-Men 2, X-Men 3, Nikita), a time-traveler from a devastated future who is sent back from 2043 to present day to locate and eliminate a deadly plague that will eventually annihilate the human race.

The TV series premieres on the Syfy Channel on January 16th. I spoke with Aaron Stanford at the TV Critics tour about his new show.

Did you watch the movie?

12 Monkeys, 101 - Aaron Stanford
12 Monkeys, 101 “Pilot” – James Cole (Aaron Stanford) ©2014 Syfy, photo by Alicia Gbur

I did. I immediately went out and rented the movie, watched it several times.

I also bought the Chris Marker La Jetee short film which it’s based on. I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, but it’s amazing, you should see it. It’s a 23 minute short film, groundbreaking and beautiful.

So I watched both of them because I felt like if I’m going to be continuing on with the story I should know what came before so I’m able to respect it and come from a place of wisdom.

You’re saying that you are continuing on with it, so it’s not ending where the movie ends?

12 Monkeys, 101 - Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull and Noah Bean
12 Monkeys, 101 “Pilot” – James Cole (Aaron Stanford), Railly (Amanda Schull) and Aaron (Noah Bean) ©2014 Syfy, photo by Alicia Gbur

It has to [continue] because it’s a television show and it has to go on for however long it goes on for. The greatest part about TV, and why I’m such a TV junkie and I binge watch so many things, is I love the idea that you get to invest in these characters.

You get to know them over a period of weeks, months and years. I still love film, it’s a beautiful thing, but the connection and the attachment you have to characters in these series that you love is like nothing else.

Are you a criminal like Bruce Willis was in the movie?

12 Monkeys, 102 - Kirk Acevedo and Aaron Stanford
12 Monkeys, 102 “Mentally Divergent” – Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) and James Cole (Aaron Stanford) ©2014 Syfy, photo by Ben Mark Holzberg

The character of James Cole is definitely an outlaw of sorts. He was a prisoner. He was picked up by what was left of civilization, by the people who’d gone underground.

So that part of the story is essentially the same.

If the actors don’t believe the action, the viewer won’t either. Is there any other thriller that you’ve seen that the performances have been very believable in a very unbelievable setting?

I think easily one of my favorite films of all time is Blade Runner, and I think you have very fantastical situations and setup that’s grounded by the characters themselves.

Also it’s a futuristic world [with] a retro detective vibe to it.

I feel like as long as the situations are real, the emotions are real and the relationships are real you’re able to invest no matter how out there the scenarios are

12 Monkeys, 103 - Aaron Stanford
12 Monkeys, 103 “Cassandra Complex” – James Cole (Aaron Stanford) ©2014 Syfy, photo by Ben Mark Holzberg

In this time travel film you’re going backwards. Was it easy to get into the mindset of going into a time where cheeseburgers are even a surprise to you?

That’s one of the most fun parts of it. Everything in the pilot stems from that scene in the film where Bruce Willis hears music on the radio for the first time in we don’t know how long.

That’s one of the most interesting aspects of the character, you’re able to rediscover the world that we live in through somebody’s eyes who has never experienced that.

He’s from a world where you don’t have music, you don’t have the food that we have, you don’t have the comforts that we have and that was very interesting.

Isn’t being an actor like being a time traveler? You’ve done shows set in the past and future?

12 Monkeys, 101 - Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull
12 Monkeys, 101 “Pilot” – James Cole (Aaron Stanford) and Railly (Amanda Schull) ©2014 Syfy, photo by Alicia Gbur

Yeah, I think it absolutely can be. One of the main reasons that anyone becomes an actor is because they want to have adventures that you could never actually have in real life.

To be able to experience what life would be like in the Game of Thrones universe, and what life would be like on another planet. That’s the fun part of it.

After the panel Aaron was asked if he ever thought that he might like to time travel? Click here to listen to his fascinating answer as to what he would like to go back in history to see.