Viewers of 12 Monkeys are in for a treat as a new antagonist joins the cast this week: Deacon, the head of the scavenger gang known as West VII, whom viewers may have spotted at the very end of last week’s episode. Todd Stashwick is the swarthy actor behind this sadistic but strangely moral character, who takes “survival of the fittest” very seriously. We had the opportunity to ask Todd a little bit about his character just before his appearance in episode four, “Atari.”
NOTE: Although we consider this interview more of a teaser than a spoiler, be forewarned that some small details, including Cole’s past with the West VII gang, are mentioned from the forthcoming episode yet to air.
Den of Geek: So how long has Deacon has been in charge of the West VII?
Todd Stashwick: Since the fall of the plague, obviously things got really bad before people started figuring out what needed to happen. And to amass 200 people, it’s going to take a little time, so I think his ascension was a slow, methodical one. He’s not hurting, which is one of the reasons why he’s seeking a more fortified location for his people because his numbers are growing.
Max (played by Romina D’Ugo) apparently had a thing with Cole in the past, but Deacon doesn’t seem particularly jealous. Who does Deacon feel devoted to besides himself?
Well, Deacon’s devoted to the cause, and I think he finds kindred in Cole. He sees that Cole is also one who is willing to do the hard things that this lifestyle asks for. As far as a romantic connection between Cole and Max, I think Deacon is all for it because it just strengthens Cole’s tie to the West VII; it gives him more reason to stay. So he’s certainly willing to allow Max to nurture that relationship between the two of them. But as far as Deacon goes and any romantic ties, I think we haven’t had a chance to explore his past much within the show, but there’s some pain in the past that he’s masked which probably leads to his quiet fury in the present.
Ramse refers to the West VII as a cult. Do Deacon’s followers feel devotion or fear towards you, their leader?
You know what, we had a lot of conversations about this. I think Deacon is very, very charismatic. I mean there’s two ways to amass an army, obviously: through charisma or brute force. But he was just one guy with a gun and a decent head on his shoulders, and he has a ridiculous power of persuasion. He does have a cult of personality; I think there’s something deeply likable and fun about this guy, which is also what makes him dangerous. Much of the way that I approach the character is that he does not want to walk the earth as a despotic ruler. He walks the earth as a very charming, relaxed man. I think with an army of 200 people willing to pull the trigger for you, you don’t have to wave that sword around. I’m not saying he doesn’t use fear, but he certainly uses coercion and he certainly uses mind games, but to him they’re all just more tools in his arsenal of survival and trying to keep people alive essentially. He’s willing to do things that other people aren’t, which is part of success, and it’s also part of his menace.
So he’s got a bit of a moral code, it’s just not the same as everyone else’s?
I think he does! I don’t think there’s no line that he’s not willing to cross. I don’t think he’s a madman or a sociopath. I think he’s just really cagey and crafty and tough as nails. There are moments in some scenes with Cole where he lets his guard down a little and you see a little bit of the fear and a bit of the pain, which is what makes him a bit more complex than just “big bad man with gun.”
If Deacon knew the mission Cole was on, do you think he would see the big picture or want to keep the power he has in the post-apocalyptic world?
Here’s the thing – his age. He was around before the fall. Deacon was certainly old enough to know what life was like before, which is why he seeks amenities, which is why he seeks family because of perhaps the pain of what he lost. And so he may be on board with trying to fix the future, but he’d probably want to fix it in his way. I don’t think he has that, like, “If we go back to the way things were, I’m powerless.” I don’t think he’s enjoyed watching humanity get decimated. He’s not a madman; he’s not a despot. I think he’s a bit tweaked and a bit twisted, but that’s because the situation calls for it.
I actually like that you’re coming to the defense of your character – it gives your acting more credibility.
Well I often am playing the villains, and so, as has been said by many other actors, “Villains don’t see themselves as villains.” I see Deacon much more as an antagonist than a villain.
You got your start with the comedy troupe, Second City. Does working in improv and comedy ever inform your dramatic roles, such as Deacon?
I think it’s inseparable. I mean, I only look out of these eyes, and so how I process a role is only going to come out of the collective experiences that I’ve had and my own rhythms and my own inclinations, and I came at the world from a comedy background. My sights were set on Saturday Night Live back in ’95. That’s where I was hell-bent for leather, and I can’t help but find the humor in these situations. I can’t help but want to put a spin on moment that might not otherwise be humorous. The creators of this show have given me a whole lot of latitude to play and to improvise within the confines of their brilliant writing. I think that’s why someone like me gets hired for certain parts. It’s because they know that I’m going to do that with the roles.
To see more of what Deacon and the West VII have in store for Cole and company, tune into this week’s episode of 12 Monkeys. For the first time, the show shifts from navigating the mysteries surrounding the deadly plague of 2017 to exploring the dangers of the post-apocalyptic world of 2043. Will Deacon and his band of scavengers gain access to the underground time travel facility and its vast resources? Or will Cole and Ramse fend them off with help from their reluctant comrades-in-arms who guard the lab?
Thanks go to Todd Stashwick for taking the time to speak with us. Todd is currently working as a co-writer for the upcoming Star Wars video game from Visceral, along with Amy Hennig.