Amanda Schull is mainly recognized for her recurring and noteworthy television stints on shows like One Tree Hill, Pretty Little Liars and Suits. She’s also credited as the sweet Jody Sawyer in the 2000 film Center Stage, which showcases her stunning dance abilities. Most recently, the Hawaiian born performer has landed a starring role on the brand new Syfy series 12 Monkeys. She took a break from filming to chat with NYCastings about her role in the action packed series, the importance of having an acting coach and working with Clint Eastwood.
RP: When did you first know you wanted to be an actress? Did you have an inspiration?
AS: I don’t know whether I had a specific inspiration as much as I was inspired by performing. I have always loved to entertain – I put on quite a few performances in our family room for my parents. I think most performers would tell you that it is a true gift to be able to be a part of a performance no matter the medium, and no matter how small the role, if it has an impact on even just one person.
RP: What do you think was your “big break”?
AS: I guess you could say my big break happened when I was cast as Jody Sawyer in a film called Center Stage.
I was a student in The San Francisco Ballet School, and a casting director poked her head in to one of our rehearsals. She was looking for a dancer who was able to act. She had gone across the country to other ballet companies to audition dancers, and I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.
I was given the script for the film, I read it that night, and the following day between rehearsals she put me on tape for the role.
RP: What has been your most valuable training as an actress? Did you ever take acting classes or see an acting coach?
AS: I try to be in an acting class as consistently as I can. I also work with a coach on a lot of my roles before I shoot, and sometimes even do phone or Skype sessions when I am shooting out of town. That being said, I think I learn the most from watching my fellow actors on set. It is all fine and good to work on scenes and characters by yourself and even in a class, but nothing can prepare you for what it will be like to perform that scene with your scene partner or partners in front of a whole crew, with input from the director and possibly the producers, with several other distractions and obstacles.
RP: How did you get your first agent?
AS: I got my first (and only) agent in a very untraditional way. When I was going through the audition process for Center Stage I needed an agent to write up my contract before I could go forward with the screen test. The casting director for the film, Lisa Beach, introduced me to my agent David Rose with Innovative Artists, and it couldn’t possibly be a better match. I am truly fortunate to have David in my life.
RP: Who, that you’ve worked with, do you believe has helped you grow as performer and why?
AS: I think that I learn from everyone I work with – both through positive and negative experiences. Someone I have been working with a bit over the last few years is Rick Hoffman. I am constantly impressed by what he brings to work each day. He is fearless in his choices, and always willing to try new ideas and perspectives on the scene. He is also one of the most supportive and present scene partners I have had the privilege to work with.
RP: You shared a pretty memorable scene with Leonardo DiCaprio in J. EDGAR (directed by Clint Eastwood). What was it like working with those two icons?
AS: It was amazing. Mr. Eastwood has a very calm, yet commanding presence. He doesn’t over direct, which I found really interesting for a man of his talent and caliber. I think that he has faith in the actors he casts, and everyone seemed to understand and appreciate that about him.
RP: You’ve played some pretty, I’ll say, “unstable” characters in the past (like on One Tree Hill and Pretty Little Liars). You’re so good at it! How do you find you’re able to get into that emotional state?
AS: Well, thank you. I think it is so much more fun to play someone a little unhinged than to play the character that seemingly has everything together. I think that everyone has the potential for a little crazy – whether it’s because of a jilted love, pursuit of a career, or protecting a secret. I just try to figure out the thing that drives my character to do what a rational person might think is irrational and push it to another level.
RP: Do you think being a dancer helps you develop a character’s physicality? How so?
AS: Absolutely. People move in different ways depending on their life experience as well as their physical manifestation of certain emotions. Someone who has just been given devastating news will carry himself or herself very differently from a person who has just been on the best date in her lifetime. In addition, people who are used to a specific lifestyle move a certain way. For instance, a yogi moves very differently from a prizefighter.
RP: Congratulations on 12 Monkeys! Can you tell me a bit about your role and your experience working on that show thus far?
AS: Thank you! I play the role of Dr. Cassandra Railly. She is a respected virologist who is tasked with the mission of stopping a deadly disease from destroying most of the world’s population.
We just finished our first season of shooting, and it was incredible. The creators and writers of the show have the most-clever imaginations of anyone I have ever known. Each script I read impressed and surprised me. I can say in all honesty, that I have never had a role that is as challenging and as rewarding as Dr. Railly.
RP: The film has a huge cult following. Did you look to Madeleine Stowe’s performance at all when developing your character? Or did you stay away from that?
AS: I did not re-watch the film before we shot the pilot. Although my character is based on Madeleine’s, it is very different. I was also very aware of the fact that I didn’t want to attempt to mimic her fantastic performance. I wanted to try to develop a different person based on who the writers had created, and the specific experiences that take place in our script/scripts, not on what took place in the film.
I have since watched the film a few more times. It is so good!
RP: In a nutshell, what would you say is your process from start to finish when you receive a new script for an episode?
AS: Because I am already familiar with who Dr. Railly is, I have a pretty good understanding of how she would react in certain situations. That being said, my character undergoes a very distinct evolution over the course of the first season, which is something I wanted to make sure I was always aware of.
My process from start to finish begins with me reading a script at least a couple of times. We also usually do a table read with the full cast, and if the producers, directors, creators or actors have any questions or notes that is the time they are voiced.
After reading, I break each scene down individually. I analyze my characters actions, the actions of those around her, what has just taken place and what is about to take place. This involves quite a few pages of notes in a notebook I take with me to set every day.
RP: What has been your most challenging scene on 12 Monkeys so far and how did you overcome it?
AS: The writer/creators really pushed the characters to extremes, which thrilled me as well as resulted in me having a challenging scene in nearly every episode of the show. I overcame my initial concern with something like that by just preparing my usual way because that is what works best for me. On the day of the scene I will usually take a little extra time to focus myself so that when I am on set I have done everything I need to do to give my best performance possible.
RP: I like to end on an inspiring note: What is your most valuable piece of advice for aspiring performers?
AS: Don’t give up! Work hard, apply the constructive evaluations and allow the negative to roll off your back. Easier said than done, I know. I have had more rejection than I have had acceptance, but from each experience I learn. It is important not to allow hurtful criticism to wilt us. I have heard that Stella Adler said “e;actors must have the soul of a rose and the hide of a rhinoceros.”e;
12 Monkeys airs Fridays at 9/8c on Syfy. Be sure to tune in!