Published: Friday, 06 July 2018 | Written by SciFi Vision
Tonight marked the end of the Syfy's 12 Monkeys, when the network aired the two-part series finale entitled, "The Beginning." In the episode fans found out if Team Splinter was able to save time, and subsequently the world.
Todd Stashwick, who plays Deacon, recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about his character and his work on the series throughout the four seasons.
***Spoilers for 4.10/4.11 (series finale)***
SCIFI VISION: When the show first started, did you know that Deacon would become such an important character and be part of the storyline through all four seasons?
TODD STASHWICK: It was very, very organic. When I came on, I was hired for essentially four episodes for season one as a guest star. I did like 30 seconds of two episodes and then two full episodes, because I always ended up being like the end of the episode sting, like guess who’s back, but I was hired just as a guest star for four episodes.
But before or when I was back to shoot those last two episodes, twelve and thirteen of season one, Terry [Matalas] had approached me and said he had a lot of ideas and plans for Deacon for season two, and that was when they decided to take the character from season one and make him a series regular. It also was the same time they had made Jones (Barbara Sukowa) and Jennifer (Emily Hampshire) series regulars, because both of those characters were guest stars in season one.
So, I think what he saw in the character and with what I was doing with it, he saw it as a flavor and an opportunity, because there is so much heavy in the show, and Deacon, like Jennifer, brought a nice off-kilter sense of humor to the show. He could be a bit of a Greek Chorus commenting on the stakes, sometimes undermining them to relieve tension, and at the same time, a fascinating character who was a survivor and an opportunist thrown in the middle of this very altruistic save the world mission. He was a character that could offer a different perspective and opportunities to grow the show, because season one is very much on the shoulders of Cole and Railly.
And I think what Terry realized, was if the show is going to have longevity, if you are filling out a four season show, you need to build out the ensemble so that there is more story to tell.
And look, if you’re going to save the world, let’s get to know some of the people and care about the people that you’re trying to save, so it’s not an arbitrary save the masses idea. It’s, you know, “I care about that guy, and I care about that woman, and I care about her and him.” And so, in order for us to feel the weight of what’s at stake, we needed to have a group of people who we loved.
Deacon has garnered a pretty big fan base. Can you talk about that and Deacon becoming popular among the fans and on social media?
I think the fans have been fantastic in the way they received Deacon. And I think Deacon gets to say what he [thinks]. Like when I say “canary in the coal mine.”
There’re moments when he will outright call out what’s happening in the moment in a humorous way, and I think that’s when people really started loving him. Like there’s even that line that he has in season two, “Why would you walk towards the weird music?” And I think there’re moments of him that started to endear people to him, because of his sense of humor, and look [he was] cool. He was the sort of Han Solo, the swaggering rogue scoundrel.
I think they liked the fact that he had a change of heart. People like to connect with characters who evolve, and I think that his arc is profound from where he started to where he ended. It’s a profound change in this man.
I also think they did such a great job of crafting him amidst all his bluster and violence; they crafted him as deeply sympathetic. You felt for the way he was abused as a child; you felt for his feelings for Railly, even though ultimately the audience wants Cole and Cassie to be a couple. I think they enjoyed that little bit of a love triangle. They enjoyed it if for no other reason than it reinforced their need for Cole and Cassie to be together, because there was a bit of a rival there.
Then also how wonderful Cassie reacted to him. She wasn’t just an object of affection; she would put him in his place. She could talk to him in ways that no one else could. She tamed him in many ways, and he sort of said something to that effect, even though he was using it to manipulate Olivia. He said, “Look I got soft, and I blame her.” But I don’t think he really blamed her. I think he appreciated the fact that she reconnected him to his humanity, that he had to kill after the loss of his brother in order to be a survivor. And she showed him that there’s more than just surviving; there’s living, even though she ultimately rejected him with her cold as ice, [laughs] “It was just one night.” But I think she was doing that for him as much as she was doing it for herself, because you saw the immediate regret on her face for saying it.
But I think the fans just enjoyed him. I mean, he’s a delicious character. He’s so conflicting - I’m not saying he’s conflicted; I’m saying he’s conflicting. He looks at Jennifer after shooting a bunch of people and says, “I’m not good.” At the same time, he’s doing all these horrible things for ultimately a good reason. He says to Jones, “Yes, I kill people, but in hopes that all of this resets, and we’ve killed nobody.” Like the stakes are so high, he’s willing to do what needs to be done, however unsavory it is, like when he’s going after Athan as a boy and willing to kill a child, thinking he’s stopping the witness in season three. He’s willing to do all these unsavory things in hopes of resetting time and getting back to a place of normalcy.
I know obviously you filmed season four quite a while ago, but when you got the scripts for the season, did you know where Deacon was headed in the end, in the sense that, did Terry confirm to you that he was still on their side throughout the season when he was pretending to help Olivia (Alisen Down)?
When they picked up season three, they also picked up season four, so Terry and the writers knew they could play a long game. They could feed stuff in season three that they were going to pay off in season four, and also then going back through all of the seasons and going, “We know this has a finite ending, so let’s make it a really well-crafted jewel.”
So yes, I did know going into season four the arc of what was going to happen with Deacon.
Not that you haven’t before, but it seems to me, especially this season, that you had even more emotional scenes. I know you’ve definitely made me tear up a few times! [laughs] Can you talk about playing those emotional scenes compared to humorous ones, and how do you kind of get into that head space?
The humor is really on the page, as well as the emotion. They’ve crafted really great scripts. And I’ll tell you, the big emotional scene of him at his death, that was effortless in a way, because, what he was saying, it was my point of interest; it was my last day of shooting on the whole show.
We were in Prague, and my execution was literally my last moment with the cast as a working actor with them. I wrapped right after that.
And so, me looking at Barbara and Amanda and Aaron and Emily, and saying, “I would do it all again, for them, this I know,” in so many ways, I was talking about my experience with them as an actor [laughs] as much as I was talking about the character’s moment.
That was probably also the hardest thing to do - I’m getting choked up thinking about it - because I was saying goodbye to the family that I was gifted with by being cast on the show, as well as the character saying goodbye to those other characters.
So, that was a rough scene, but it was also effortless in terms of having the emotions and getting out of the way of things that I was feeling anyway.
When an actor has to convey an emotion, they must live in the thought of that moment, and then the emotion follows with the thought.
So, take for instance the whole scene with my father [in season three]. I have to be kind of shutting myself off and thinking only about those moments in order to get the performance that hopefully satisfies the script or the story.
I tend to I think the big difference when I have to do scenes like that, is I tend to get really quiet, and I tend to live on my iPod and shut out any extraneous noise from the camera crew and just the bustle of a living set. I will have to kind of just go into a quiet place, just so I can stay in the realm of the thoughts that Deacon would be thinking in the moment, as opposed to the more humorous scenes when we’re already joking around on set. For those moments, when they yell “action,” we just kind of shoulder right into the banter of it all, because we’re already doing it.
So, I guess it’s the same - it’s like we’re living in a kind of state of mind either way. So, if I’m living in an introspective sad state of mind, I sort of have to be sad and introspective. It’s not like I can go from [one extreme to the other] I mean, I don’t have the skill. Other people do, but I don’t have the skill of being able to be joking around at catering, and then go and do a heavy emotional scene. I sort of have to ramp into it a little bit. And it’s not that I’m trying to be rude to anybody on set, it’s just, you know, if I don’t stick the landing, then the moment reads false. Like this is the job I have to do right now, as much as the electrician and the lighting guys and makeup and hair; they all have to do their jobs. My job right now is to portray this emotion authentically, so I sort of have to live in that emotion authentically, and sometimes that requires cutting myself off from that kind of bouncy social banter that lives between cast mates on set.
Going back to Deacon’s death, when you did that scene, obviously a lot of it was digital. Did they just film the whole scene and add the digital after, or did they use a dummy for part of it or anything like that?
Basically, the sword falls, and then my head is removed, and my body slumps forward. We did it in two parts. They would do it without the blade, and then my body would just sort of fall forward. And then they would bring in a guy who was dressed exactly like me with a green screen mask over his head so they could just easily take his head off, and then with a little digital trickery they spliced the two moments together to make it as authentic as possible. It was pretty brutal.
Definitely. It was a difficult scene to watch.
Now, for the finale, when they brought Deacon back it was the original Deacon from before.
Yeah, it was 2043 Deacon. It was season one Deacon.
Did you go back to any of the old footage or anything like that, to get back into that version of him? Or was it easy to just slip back into it?
Well, it’s fun, because all versions of Deacon are alive inside my head. Our show often has to jump around into different time versions of everybody. They took a little of the gray out of my beard; they tousled my hair a little differently. Then I put the old bomber jacket on, and I put the scarf back on. And you know what really helped? - And I was thrilled that they chose to include her, but Romina (D’Ugo) as Max. Just being back on set with her in the West Seven camp immediately took me back to season one.
And for the performance style, Deacon season one is far more guarded, glib, and swaggery than Deacon season four. Deacon season four had learned to trust these people and didn’t feel the need to be the head of the spear anymore. Deacon season one was like he was the king of the castle, so there was much more arrogance and ego and narcissism and disbelief, until Old Jennifer rocked his world with knowing all this information. And when she pulls the knife out and shows the hocus-pocus of it all, well then he’s a believer. And it was all on the page too.
So, it was easy to do those scenes, because I’ve already lived that Deacon, so reading the way he spoke, the way he looked at Cole and Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), he had a different relationship with them in season one than he did in season four.
It was a blast. It was a real treat to go full circle and go back to playing a version of the character that I had played three years ago. That was really fun, and hopefully the audience will see the rhythms are different in how he speaks to people. I went back to season one rhythms of how he talked to Cole and how he talked to Ramse, in terms of performance.
It was great to see him learn about everything again, and there were some funny scenes between you and Emily.
You know, it’s not often you get a hell of a death scene and then a hell of an entrance.
How do you think the show has changed you as a person or as an actor over these last years? Or has it? Maybe it hasn’t.
It always had really strong writing, and I think when the show owned itself was when Terry chose to have it - and rightfully so, because you need to expand the story over four seasons - When the show stopping being just about the virus and started being about the larger conspiracy of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys and the Witness, that’s when possibility really opened up. And that’s when they made room for characters like Hannah (Brooke Williams) and myself, to build out the mythology more.
Plus, I feel that through the years they really, really leaned into the strengths of each one of the actors, because they learned how to use the tools of each individual actor to the best of their ability. Like my marquee thing in television is often “he’s the bad guy,” but I’ve also done so much comedy, and I’ve done a lot of emotional stuff, like Criminal Intent, Grey’s Anatomy, and whatnot, that they went “You know what? We’re going to use every tool in Stashwick’s toolbox” and pushed me to the furthest place that I’ve ever had to go as an actor.
And I can say that’s true with every one of our main characters. What they did with Alisen and Brooke and Aaron and Amanda and Emily and Barbara, and Kirk. They really gave everybody so much, so many meals, and they trusted us implicitly. That only comes with time, and it only comes with working with people over the course of years and writing to them.
So, I think that’s what changed over the course of the seasons is really understanding what the performers can do and really opening up the mythology.
This season you got to go to some new time periods and wear a variety of different costumes. What was your favorite, not just this season but overall?
I didn’t really get to explore much of the old west, because the character sort of shows up at the end and splinters out fast.
I really enjoyed doing the 1940s episode, the Nazi episode. I liked the way that episode went from essentially Valkyrie into Raiders of the Lost Ark and ended kind of Grindhouse; I really dug that. And the medieval period, the locations were just spectacular.
As a nerd boy, being able to stand in that old, abandoned church with all the vines and the torches and the medieval machine, the D&D boy in me was in heaven. Then Nicodemus’ workshop, the sort of Leonardo da Vinci workshop, was such a great set. I really enjoyed that so much.
So I would say just as a human being, being in Prague and working on the medieval stuff was really fun. I geeked out a lot on that one.
Did you go on location to a lot of places or was it just Prague?
Through the years I believe they went to Budapest; there was a bridge scene that they shot in Budapest. And there’re some other locations that they subbed, and I think they went to Columbia for a couple of shots for season one.
But we went to Prague twice, once for season three and once for season four. So Prague substituted - there was a big train scene that took place in the 30s I think, 30s or 40s, and all of the masquerade ball in Victorian England, that was all Prague. So, most of our quote unquote exotic locations were exteriors in Prague. All of the stuff with the French countryside castle for the German occupation episode, that was all Prague. All the medieval stuff was Prague.
All the temporal facility stuff was Toronto. And oddly, we didn’t go to Montana or anything, that was all Canadian countryside, and then I believe they would put CGI mountains in the background [laughs] to fill out that vista.
Titan was a bunch of different places. There’s this place in Sarnia, which was an old chemical plant, and then there’s a place called the Hearn in Toronto; that’s those big long red lit hallways of Titan. That was all there. The exterior of the temporal facility was the Hearn, like the chimney and all of that. That’s all Toronto.
And then anything that seemed crazy, like a medieval castle or an old English town, that was all Prague.
To hear more from Todd Stashwick, be sure to check out our podcast from last night (see below), where he talks more about 12 Monkeys, such as what he took with him from the series after the show wrapped, and other roles, such as his work on Kim Possible and co-writing the upcoming Suicide Squad sequel.