The Inverse Interview

Aaron Stanford’s Incredible Sci-Fi Journey

The X2 and 12 Monkeys veteran reflects on why he plays such heavy characters in science fiction.

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Aaron Stanford
Storm Santos
The Inverse Interview

When Marvel fans go to see Deadpool & Wolverine this summer, old-school X-Men fans will be delighted to see the return of Aaron Standford as the infamous mutant known as Pyro. But the X2 actor’s career is more varied and unique than his Marvel role suggests. In fact, Stanford has traveled the multiverse of various sci-fi franchises and has emerged as something of a journeyman throughout it all.

“I have wound up in a lot of genre,” Stanford tells Inverse. “And that certainly is something that I really tend to enjoy. Genre stuff, and science fiction, is a type of storytelling that I'm drawn to as an audience member. Maybe you end up gravitating toward the type of storytelling that you like to see.”

This is the paradox of Aaron Stanford. Did he get lucky landing the projects that he did, or was he destined to find this material? As Stanford gears up for a big summer, Inverse caught up with the celebrated actor to discuss his sci-fi journey thus far.

Cole (Aaron Stanford) causes several paradoxes in 12 Monkeys.

SyFy

From 2015 to 2018, across four time-bending seasons on the SyFy Channel, Stanford played James Cole, the hero of 12 Monkeys (dubbed “Time Jesus” by Todd Stashwick’s Deacon), with a mixture of danger and vulnerability. Although 12 Monkeys begins in a dystopic future in which a plague has wiped out most of the population, Stanford attributes the show’s loyal following to the fact that, ultimately, it’s a very optimistic arc. And that feature, he credits to showrunner Terry Matalas.

“That’s Terry,” Stanford says. “Terry will be the first one to tell you that he’s a softie. So you do delve into the depths, but ultimately it is a story of hope and redemption and love.”

“I’d love to give my spin on ‘Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.’”

And, although Stanford made the role his own, technically, the character of James Cole was originated by Bruce Willis in the famous 1995 movie.

“He’s a classic, but his performance in 12 Monkeys [the movie], is easily one of the best, most understated performances that he’s ever given,” Stanford says. “And it’s so different from so many of the things that he has done. I’m honored to be able to follow in his footsteps in the role.”

Could Stanford take on another Bruce Willis role? “Oh, sure, I’d love to give my spin on ‘Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.’ Walking on broken glass with a couple of submachine guns. Why not?”

Sneed (Aaron Stanford) has all the space drugs in Star Trek: Picard.

Paramount+

Stanford has kept close ties with is his 12 Monkeys collaborators and when Matalas accepted a Saturn Award earlier this year, Stanford and his 12 Monkeys co-star Amanda Schull were on hand to present it. And this August, Stanford, Schull, Matalas, and their fellow Monkeys will crash the Las Vegas Star Trek convention with a reunion on stage, including Emily Hampshire, Kirk Acevedo, and Stashwick. The Star Trek connection to 12 Monkeys is clear enough: While Hampshire and Shcull haven’t been in Star Trek (yet), Stanford joined Stashwick and Acevedo in a guest role in Picard Season 3, playing Ferengi drug lord named Sneed.

“Terry called me up and he was like, ‘Read this scene,’” Stanford says. “It was supposed to be like Drexl from True Romance. It was a blast. And I got paid the ultimate compliment by Armin Shimerman, who originated the Ferengi [in The Next Generation] and played Quark [in Deep Space Nine]. He complimented me in Picard! That was one of the most flattering things that’s ever happened to me.”

Sadly, because Sneed is decapitated by Worf (Michael Dorn), Stanford never got to be on set with Patrick Stewart and have an X2 reunion. But he says he’s ready to work with Matalas again at any time, either in Star Trek or the new Marvel series Vision, on which Matalas is the showrunner. “We talk all the time. I always love to work with him.”

“My characters do tend to have a dose of pathos in them.”

He was 26 when he debuted his take on the fire-wielding mutant known as Pyro in X2. Today, he’s 47, and he says he’s just as in touch with Pyro’s darkness as ever before.

“My characters do tend to have a dose of pathos in them, and maybe that’s just because I have a healthy dose in myself,” Stanford reflects. “Back on X2, Pyro was some deep-dive character work. X2 was the first comic-book movie of its kind that really wanted to be something different. I think it sort of set the bar for what came after.”

Deadpool & Wolverine hits theaters on July 26.

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