The world was altered forever the moment that James Cole jumped through time from 2043 to the past in order to save the human race on 12 Monkeys. He’s sent back to kill Leland Frost/Goines, but the mission doesn’t go according to the plan when Goines’ death doesn’t erase the apocalyptic future.

Last week, I spoke with Aaron Stanford (Cole) about Cole’s motivation for the mission, relationship with Cassandra, the challenges of time travel, and much more. Read on for edited excerpts from our conversation.

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Cole believed he was on a one-time trip and was ready to sacrifice himself. Is there more to the story than just wanting to save the human race?

Yes, that factors into the story. He’s motivated by an opportunity that he’s given and that opportunity is to wipe the slate clean. It’s something I think a lot of people can relate to. This guy has the opportunity to wipe out any past mistakes and regrets that he might have and he has a lot of them. That’s the deal basically. He agrees to go and do this for these people. He agrees to go and kill this one person and in return they relieve him of all these regrets that he has.

In the first episode, there’s a moment where viewers can see that maybe killing Goines is probably not the right move since Goines saw Cole back in 1987. Was it his focus on the mission that causes him to miss the bigger picture when he kills Goines?

I think Cole’s not so much a bigger picture kind of guy. He operates on a more basic level, a gut level, and he follows his instincts a lot. Coming from where he comes from, a future apocalypse, he’s on very intimate terms with violence. It’s a daily reality for him and killing is nothing new. I think in that moment, he sticks to the mission. That’s all he knows. He was sent here to kill this man and that’s what he’s going to do.

What’s the evolution of Cole’s relationship with Cassandra? Is it more mission based or personal?

I definitely think it’s a personal connection. He’s never seen anyone like her before coming from where he comes from and she changes him fundamentally. You see that as the season progresses. They spend more and more time together. They are very different people who come from wildly different places and realities. 

Cole’s experience of Cassandra and her world changes him and he begins to in a way thaw out. All these things he’s grown callus to and in the world that he comes from, he’s suddenly exposed to these new things he’s never seen or felt before so it softens him. She in turn is exposed to this whole new world of horror that she didn’t know existed so she becomes a little more hardened by that.

How much does Cole and those he’s working with in the future know about the plague. Is it only Goines’ name or do they know anything more than that?

They have very little to go on. They have the recordings that Cassandra made, they have that name and the rest is researched out of bits and pieces and scraps that they were able to find from various sites. There’s no electricity. There’s no internet any more. They have to piece together these clues from the remnants of the long dead civilization. That’s what makes their mission so challenging. They know very little going into it and the picture expands the more trips he takes into the past.

When Cole goes back to the past, it’s a more comfortable life. If he could stay, would he stay? Or is he more dedicated to the mission than enjoying the comforts of the past?

I don’t know. I think he’s absolutely overwhelmed by what he experiences in our present. All the things that we take for granted are things that he’s never experienced or had in his life. He’s never had comfort. He’s never had convenience. He’s never had music. He’s never had enough to eat. Coming back to our time sends him into a bit of a spin. I think he would love to exist in that time without the complications.

Speaking of the complications, will there come a point where he physically as an entity of skin and bones will have physical problems with the time travel?

They touch upon that in the story and you see as time goes on the time travel most definitely has a physical effect on him. I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s an important part of the story. Yes, that does happen.

What’s one of your favorite jumps that Cole makes?

He makes a jump to North Korea which is a lot of fun. Hopefully, we won’t get hacked over it. [Laughs]

When I’ve talked to you before about Nikita, one of the things you mentioned was that Birkhoff was always stuck behind a computer and rarely got into the action. Is this a nice relief that you not only get to get out–

Now I’m complaining about too much action. [Laughs] I can’t really win. Yeah, it’s great. It’s a very physical part and pretty much every day I had a fight or a torture sequence or a chase. There was no shortage of action.

On the 12 Monkeys television show and the movie

The show was made by people who love the movie and are huge fans of the film. Everyone did everything they possibly could to be respectful to the film and also we tried to make it its own thing. The film is the inspiration for the show and is the source material, but we very much intended to set out and make the show its own and I hope people enjoy it.

Did you watch the movie when it came out? And have you watched it recently?

I had watched it multiple times. I was a big fan of it. I’ve seen the movie a lot and when I was cast, I did make a point of watching it again just to refresh myself and remind myself of what the world was and what the tone was and see how much we were going to lift from the movie and how much we were going to change.

In the first episode, Cole’s concerned with the time-space continuum and worried about not disrupting it. Is that something something that continues to be a theme throughout the series?

Disrupting, yeah, for sure. Any time it’s a time travel story and you’re screwing with timelines it’s going to lead to complications. It definitely does on this show.

12 Monkeys airs Fridays at 9pm ET on Syfy.

(Image courtesy of Syfy.)

Carla Day

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Contributing Editor and Writer for Collider, BuddyTV, TV Fanatic, CliqueClack, and other publications. TV criticism, reviews, interviews with actors and producers, and other related content. Founder of TV Diehard.