The Upside of Amanda Schull


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The First Thing That Comes To Mind When Amanda Schull Enters The Dressing Room Is “Lightness”—Not In terms of weight, but of luminescence. As she arrives, Schull—sans makeup and hair product and in a plain black dress—simply glows. She has the poise, carriage and sweet determination of a Disney princess. Her easy laugh and radiant smile bolsters her decisive, yet open manner, and we find ourselves in the presence of a focused young woman enjoying the long stretch of an exciting journey.

The ultimate transformation from unvarnished to ravishing beauty is not so much startling as it is delightful (and of course, predictable with such a lovely canvas to work with). And so, she is flanked by her trusted glam team. Paul works on what will be one of her many hairstyles that day, while Elle, the makeup artist, applies a facial mask reminiscent of a hockey goalie. Despite the Hannibal Lecteresque appearance, Schull’s on her way to becoming a smoldering siren. The interview starts.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Schull is one of three children, the baby by 16 years in a longtime kama‘aina family. Her mother, Susan, an ardent ballet lover and the current president of Ballet Hawaii, is the inspiration for the young Schull taking up the art. At first, she wasn’t very enamored of her lessons and the grueling practices.

“I told my mother I wanted to quit, and she said if I did, I’d have to take double piano lessons,” Schull explains. “Retelling the story later, my mom claims she said ‘tennis lessons,’ which I would have gone for, but by then, it didn’t matter. I was already beginning to love ballet.”

In truth, she was excelling at dance: an early indicator of her tenacity to do well in all aspects of her life. Her appreciation of the work required to “get it right” is evident. “Given the choice, I’d rather watch a rehearsal than a performance, to view the dancers in unpolished form, and then see the transition as they work through it to final,” she professes.

Schull attended Punahou School and, after graduation, went to Indiana University at age 17, enrolling in its renowned ballet program. Her move to San Francisco Ballet School two years later soon led her to a starring role in the feature film, “Center Stage,” her first real acting gig, as well as an ongoing position with San Francisco Ballet company. She later appeared in other feature films, such as Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” and the historical romance “Mao’s Last Dancer.” It was during the filming of this movie in Australia that she met her husband, George Wilson.

She finds the art of ballet as liberating as much as it is disciplined. “Ballet is now a form of relaxation for me,” Schull shares. “I go to the studio three or four times a week.” (Another way to relax is by walking Rubert, the cockapoo, 4 miles a day.) Her favorite ballet? “Giselle, both to dance and to watch. I will always cry at the end.” She is also intrigued by the contemporary ballet, Lambarena, Bach to Africa, which mixes Gabonese traditional music with the compositions of Bach, and was choreographed by the internationally sought-after Val Caniparoli, another San Francisco Ballet alum. This ballet’s exotic rhythms give Schull the chance to exercise some hula moves, a childhood dance for which she has precious time these days.

After “Center Stage,” Schull shifted from ballet to acting, with recurring and guest starring roles in TV shows including “Two and a Half Men,” “The Mentalist,” “Psyche,” “Grimm,” “One Tree Hill,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “Suits.” Currently, she has the lead role of Dr. Cassandra Railly in the Syfy series, “12 Monkeys,” a noir thriller based on the 1995 movie. (The TV show’s cast was featured on a panel at the recent Comic-Con in San Diego.) Gearing up for its second run, Schull fills the gap between seasons with starring roles in two upcoming movies, “I Am Wrath” with John Travolta, and “Devil’s Gate,” a thriller set in North Dakota, while taping her recurring role of Katrina Bennett for an episode of “Suits.” She also spent several days “playing dress-up” at the Monte Carlo TV Festival. “It was wonderful: so many events in a short amount of time. Karen [her stylist] had her work cut out for her, creating a variety of looks for me from all the dresses she brought with us,” Schull gushes.

When considering a role, the actress looks for interesting, strong characters to play, which belies yet underscores her cool, golden beauty. “I like the wicked, fun roles,” she confesses. “It’s much more interesting for me and for the audience. I prefer lead rather than guest star roles—you know, the woman whose husband has been murdered or the distraught sister, where the only acting required is to be able to cry well. When you’re the lead, you get the chance to be strong, to show depth, to solve problems … to be a hero or even a little evil.” Schull explains her process for humanizing a character: “When I’m comfortable with the script, as I am with ‘12 Monkeys,’ I create a timeline for this character, and imagine her family, her history, her childhood: both important and even mundane events that have formed who she is at the time the audience needs her. So all those experiences are underneath what the character is saying or doing, to make her resonate.”

With such a demanding schedule, Schull tries hard to return to her beloved Hawai‘i at least twice a year. “I miss so many things about living here—Hawai‘i itself, and the food. There’s something so comforting about the people,” Schull says. “It’s a statewide, hometown feel: the aloha spirit, the instant familiarity, being treated like a welcomed guest; it’s an energy that you just don’t find anywhere else.” And her favorite Hawaiian indulgences? She declares, “Poi … and haupia.”

Offering a bit of advice for aspiring actors, Schull says, “Criticism is just as valuable as a compliment. Develop some thick skin; learn from the rejections. It’s OK to get upset, but move on quickly—and stay determined.”

Will this lead her to working with Meryl Streep? “Who wouldn’t want to work with her?” she says. “And I think Maggie Smith would be so much fun to work with, too.” Leading man? “Jason Bateman hands down; he’s smart, droll, quirky.”

Mask off, hair done, makeup flawless and glow enhanced, Schull’s transition to elegance is complete. By now it’s obvious that Schull barely has scratched the surface of where she wants to go with her acting career. For this child of Hawai‘i, she has a long runway ahead of her, dotted with wicked, evil and heroic roles, and a willingness to do the work to master them.

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