*Feature originally ran 5/22/17
Todd Stashwick has made a career out of playing interesting characters. Or, perhaps it’s that he has made characters more interesting by the choices he has made in playing them throughout his career. Either way, the Chicago native has been entertaining us for decades, perfectly walking the line between drama and comedy and turning out memorable roles in series like “The Riches,” “Heroes,” and “Gotham.” For the last three years, Stashwick has been playing Deacon, AKA “The Scav King,” on the post-apocalyptic time travel drama “12 Monkeys.” The series returned to Syfy this past weekend with the network opting to take a more binge-centric approach in releasing all 10 episodes of the season between Friday and Sunday.
We recently sat down with Stashwick to discuss making choices in a world ruled by time travel, getting to play a sociopathic Hans Solo, and what goes through the mind of a shapeshifter pretending to be Bela Legosi pretending to be Dracula.
TrunkSpace: Something needs to be said before we jump into the interview. You would have made a damn fine Negan on “The Walking Dead!”
Stashwick: You’re very kind to say. I think Jeffrey Dean Morgan is crushing it. By the time that they were casting the show, I was already The Scav King, so I already kind of had a post-apocalyptic badass role. And I’m thrilled with the arc that Deacon gets to follow over the seasons of the show. It’s been fascinating. Look, I’m a huge “The Walking Dead” fan and I’m flattered that people see me in that world because it’s certainly a great, ripe world to play in, but I’m very, very happy with my Scav King.
TrunkSpace: You mention Deacon’s arc. Time travel can be a tricky thing in storytelling, but at the same time, it sort of allows for an “anything is possible” approach. Has the direction that the writers have taken Deacon in surprised even you over the course of your time on the series?
Stashwick: They never cease to surprise and amaze me with how they spin these plates and it’s no less surprising with what they do with Deacon. They know what to do with this guy, we have amazing conversations about it, and I’m always thrilled and excited with every script they send me.
TrunkSpace: When you were starting out and discovering Deacon, did you have to be careful about the choices you were making knowing things could go anywhere?
Stashwick: You know, careful is never the way to approach an acting role, especially a role like Deacon. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about taking risks. It’s about being bold and surprising yourself. When I came on in season 1, he was very much an antagonist. I won’t say that he was a villain because obviously there were bigger fish to fry with The Messengers and The Witness and everything in season 1, but he was certainly an antagonist. But the way that Terry (Matalas) and the writers saw an energy with this guy and what I was bringing to the role, they wanted to explore deeper within the mythology of the show and with the dynamic of the team. In the shooting of the last episode of season 1 when I was up there, Terry said that he had a lot of ideas for Deacon in season 2 and that’s when they made me a series regular and started transitioning him out of straight up antagonist to sociopathic ally.
And then, once you have this character who is opportunistic and who is hard on the outside but soft on the inside, it gives a lot of opportunity mixing and matching his energy and his point of view with the different characters on the show. When he’s with Jones, because we are older characters, we have a different understanding of the apocalypse than when he is with Railly. When he’s with Cole, he certainly kind of sees his brother in him. And with Jennifer I think he sees a kindred. They both are outsiders and they both have survived in this harsh environment in unique and creative ways. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: That’s a great way of describing him… sociopathic ally, but at the same time, like you said, soft on the inside.
Stashwick: Well, he is a human being and that’s what I think is interesting about the character. Often when you get these antagonist roles, it’s easy to head right towards kind of smirking and villainous, but it’s more interesting to reveal his motivation… to reveal the pain that pushes these people. In many ways, Deacon saw himself as a hero and a leader because he kept 200 people alive in this wasteland.
TrunkSpace: Well, because at the end of the day, often times people who are acting in a certain way are still doing so because THEY think it’s the right approach to take.
Stashwick: Absolutely. And he also has the ability to say and see things that other people might not. He can be the canary in the coal mine. I love at the end of season 2 when we’re stuck on Titan and he’s talking to Jennifer and he’s like, “There’s a reason that they wanted us here. Let’s not stick around and find out!” He’s not blinded by the mission. He’s just trying to keep himself alive and the people… I don’t think he has this huge altruistic “let’s save the world” view. I think he has the “let’s all not die” view, and if he can save the world, well, if it stops the virus from happening in the past, then maybe all of the people that he loves won’t die. He sees the big picture but he lives very much within the confines of his own needs and reality and it’s the people that he cares about and what’s important to them. And what becomes important to him. I don’t think initially he has this “we need to stop the plague” thing. I think he grows to care for Railly and he obviously has a kindred with Cole and Jennifer. And so he’s like, “Let’s us not die!”
TrunkSpace: So in terms of how this season feels for you as far as the roll out is concerned… how different is it knowing that it will all be released over the course of the weekend? Does it shorten the high for you?
Stashwick: You know, it’s a different kind of high. It’s a little bit more like your birthday as opposed to Christmas. (Laughter) Because Christmas kind of lasts all month long and people are talking about it and gathering about it, singing about it and having parties throughout the month of December all leading up to the big climax. This is like, you might have a crazy birthday weekend. So it’s a lot more intense and it’s a lot all at once and you just sort of surround yourself with people that mean the most to you and everybody raises their glass. I think this roll out is… I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it in two binge worthy chunks. I saw the first half of season 3, all five episodes, in one sitting. And then last weekend we watched the last five episodes. I’ve got to tell you, it plays like a roller coaster feature film. It really moves and moves and moves. It has movement and energy and it propels itself. I think the ability to binge it… and you don’t have to binge it. People can just DVR it and nibble on it a little bit at a time if they want. (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: What’s really cool as well is that the way that Syfy is rolling this season out, it could change the way that other networks approach releasing their shows. It could be a game changer.
Stashwick: Yeah. And it’s interesting because something has to be on the air. Rather than us being every Monday night at 9:00 or every Friday night at 9:00, the fact that we’re giving it to you through a weekend is a little more Netflixy. I think the fan engagement is going to be different because they’re not going to be speculating between episodes. There will be a lot more frenzy, as if it’s like a bender. (Laughter) I think the hardcore fans are going to actually lock in and go on the ride for the three days. And… Terry and the writers have outdone themselves. We are so lucky to get to say these words and play these parts. And the team… from the crew to the special effects to the score… everybody is bringing their A game and I am so fortunate to work with this cast of people. I said to Terry, “I will feel bad for the show that I have to do after ‘12 Monkeys’ because it’s been such an amazing experience.” (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: We also read that you’re a lifelong fanboy, so just being able to play in this science fiction/genre sandbox must be an exciting thing for you?
Stashwick: Oh you have no idea! Growing up, wanting to be Hans Solo and then Terry pitching Deacon in season 2 as a sociopathic Hans Solo… I’m like, “It’s like you read my dream journal!” The thing about Deacon is that they really gave me all of the notes to play. They gave me the vulnerability. They gave me the badass-ness. They gave me the heroic. They gave me the sarcastic. They gave me the laconic. The wounded. I get to do it all and that’s a rare and wonderful thing… in a genre that I consume veraciously. And I get to work with people that I’ve admired through the years from Battlestar and Christopher Lloyd is on our show. It’s just been such a bucket list of joy for me on so many levels. Like I said, it will be a hard thing to finish, but I’m glad that we get to finish it on our terms.
TrunkSpace: If you were given a blank check to develop any property what would fanboy Todd put on the slate?
Stashwick: Wow. Interesting. You know, I have ideas, pilots and things, that I have written that I would love to see developed, but if I was going to adapt I would love to adapt two different projects. I would love to adapt Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” into a TV series. I would love to play the Russell Crow role in that. I would like to do an adaptation of “The Cell” and play the Vince Vaughan role. I think there’s something really interesting about the mythology of “The Cell.” And, I would love to… I have a really cool…
You know, I’m not going to tell you that idea. (Laughter) I’m going to keep this last one for myself because I think there’s something interesting and fun about it.
I also have original ideas for series. I wrote a web-comic called “Devil Inside” about the devil quitting hell and going on the run in the Nevada desert. And so I would love to adapt that into a series.
TrunkSpace: There’s one show that has an amazing fandom and you touched down on it in a major way years ago, playing the ultimate fan character. That show is “Supernatural.” That character is Dracula. Well, sort of.
Stashwick: Super rewarding and fascinating to have to deconstruct something another actor did and one that is so beloved and intimidated trying to get to the heart of Legosi’s theatricality meeting with his pathos. And then to have that character flip and see the scared man/shapeshifter that was choosing this image… there was a lot of meat on that bone. There was a lot of blood in that neck.
TrunkSpace: There were just so many layers to him that it feels like there was so much more to learn when all was said and done.
Stashwick: Well, where’s the fun in playing something one-dimensional? And that’s also a testament to the writers. They wrote those speeches where he was talking about his abusive father or talking about just wanting to feel important and majestic. Elegant.
As an actor, you get a few of these really good ones. I came from a comedy background but then I also had a theater background, so when I was in college I was doing some Molière and Shakespeare and all of that. And then I was a Second City sketch comedy guy. And then the fact that I’m six foot two with dark circles around my eyes and this weird voice that comes out of my head… it gave me access to really left-of-center roles that I could, no pun intended, sink my teeth into.