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12 Things We Learned About 12 Monkeys Season 3 From a Visit to the Set

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For two seasons now, fans of Syfy’s 12 Monkeys have watched as James Cole (Aaron Stanford), Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), and the rest of Team Splinter have traveled the past, present, and future trying to thwart The Army of the 12 Monkeys, a nefarious cult that wants to destroy time and create the Red Forest—a place where neither time, nor death, exist. Unfortunately, their prophet called The Witness—who they believe will be the one to bring their world-ending aspirations to fruition—is actually Railly and Cole’s son. Now that the identity of The Witness has been revealed, season three is a very personal race against fate to try to save the world.

We visited the Toronto set of 12 Monkeys in April to chat with the cast and showrunner Terry Matalas about season three, which will air on Syfy over the course of three nights in a binge-weekend event beginning Friday, May 19 at 8/7c. Here’s what we found out.

WARNING: This piece contains mild spoilers for 12 Monkeys season three. If you’d prefer to go in spoiler-free, bookmark this piece and revisit it on May 22.

1. EACH NIGHT IS LIKE A SELF-CONTAINED MOVIE.

Aaron Stanford as James Cole.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Matalas says the writers didn’t find out about the binge weekend until they were late into writing season three, so it didn’t change anything about how they told the story. “The thing that I pushed for was that episodes one through four would be on night one, because it was like kind of one big movie with the right ending,” he says, “and that the second night would be five through seven because they’re like a whole movie. Each night is like a season’s worth of stories. I hope it’s something that’s successful and they do it again, because this show in particular, even though it’s very, very episodic and each one is a different thing, the threads are all united and I think if they’re fresh in your brain, the more satisfying it will be.”

According to Stanford, the binge weekend didn’t change anything on set, but he is excited to have the season shown this way. “I think the show lends itself to that format,” Stanford says. “Particularly with a serialized show like this, where every episode ends with an incredibly high-stakes cliffhanger and you just can’t wait to find out what happens, well, now you don’t have to wait anymore. You can watch the next one and make an evening out of it.”

2. EPISODE ONE IS MATALAS’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT.

Episode One of season three is Matalas’s directorial debut. “It’s scary because it’s a whole new language to learn,” he says. “You know more than you think you do and so much less than you want to. But I loved it.” Matalas enjoyed directing so much that he’s directing episode two of season four as well as the series finale. (You can also spot him making an unforgettable cameo in one episode this season.)

3. AMANDA SCHULL TAKES REALLY DETAILED NOTES.

Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Matalas has often said that he and the writers didn’t use a whiteboard or any other method to track where and when the show’s characters have been—they could mostly keep it in their heads. But thanks to the introduction of a unique new form of time travel, they did have to start tracking things more closely at the end of season three.

“It’s fun, but it’s challenging to say the least,” Matalas says. “You have to know what came before it and what came after it and what’s going to be happening two years from now. That’s the maddening part. It makes you long to write a nice doctor [or] lawyer show.”

The actors all have their own strategies for keeping it straight. For Hampshire, it’s more important to know where her character is emotionally, rather than time-wise, before she shoots a scene. “In the first episode, when I'm in 1921, the fact that I just splintered there by accident was the thing that was important to me more so than what time I was in. Then the time became important,” she says. “The emotional arcs are so perfectly narrative and come full circle—that’s what I connect with.” Ditto for Stanford, who notes that the show shoots multiple episodes at once, “so you can’t just read one episode and keep that all in your mind at once; you have to juggle multiple episodes at once. But what’s nice is that Terry has written the show so that no matter what’s happening in terms of time travel, emotionally, it tends to be linear. It’s easy enough to track the emotional journey and the overall arc of your character because that all makes very, very clear sense. So that’s what I focus on for the most part.”

For Barbara Sukowa and Schull, though, it’s all about putting pen to paper. “I write a timeline for my character,” Sukowa, who plays temporal scientist Dr. Jones, says. “I write down what I’m doing in every scene.”

“I take a lot of notes,” Schull says. “Maybe it's a product of me taking so many notes, but I have a pretty good memory for episodes, and some of the other actors will ask me questions about things, so I have this sense of responsibility that I have to be the one to remember some of the details. But it is a challenge; we shoot really quickly and we shoot multiple episodes simultaneously, and things can get a little bit garbled. So I take as many notes as I possibly can, on the script, on a notebook—whatever I can.” According to Matalas, Schull has “kept us honest a couple times. It’ll be like, ‘Well don’t forget I said this!’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, right, OK,’ and we’ll alter a line or two. Yeah, she takes a crazy amount of notes.”

4. ONE SCENE HAD MATALAS WORRIED HE’D END UP IN “DIRECTOR JAIL.”

Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines in 12 Monkeys.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

One of night one’s best scenes is a musical sequence that takes place inside Jennifer Goines’s head. (We won’t spoil what she sings, but: It’s in German. And you can watch it here, if you want.) Matalas describes the sequence as a Katy Perry video, and the result is Hampshire’s favorite scene of season three. “Terry told me that really early on I was going to do that, and I learned the whole song,” she says. “I did some crazy dance moves. The best thing to come of that is the party trick I have now for karaoke.” Her German, Sukowa says, is “very good!”

The moment is sandwiched between two very intense scenes, and it’s just the breather the viewer needs—a wonderful, laugh-out-loud moment. And it’s true: Hampshire’s moves are great. “This show can get real, real dark,” she says, “but whenever it’s Jennifer, it’s processed through her logic and her brain, and that’s exactly how Jennifer would process it.”

When they watched the sequence in the editing bay later, when most of the season had been shot, “My editor was really happy,” Matalas recalls. “But I was so tired. I was like, ‘We’ve jumped the shark, we need to cut this out.’ He said, ‘It’s great—just test it.’” Matalas spent his Christmas break showing the sequence to people, who loved it as much as his editors had. The one big question is how viewers will react to the sequence: “Either we’ve earned this and I’m going to be able to pull this off, or I’m going to director jail forever,” Matalas jokes. “We’ll see if I’m cuffed by the end of May 19.”

5. NATURE VERSUS NURTURE IS A BIG THEME.

Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly in 12 Monkeys.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

By season three’s opening, Railly—who discovered at the end of season two that she’s the mother of The Witness—has spent her entire pregnancy imprisoned by the Army of the 12 Monkeys. “This pregnancy is a very challenging thing for her, because she's not really sure what she's carrying,” Schull says. “She doesn't know if it's nature—that she's giving birth to the devil because this is just what's meant to be—or if it's nurture, that [the Army is] going to create this hideous, horrible person.”

Railly has, at this point, spent two seasons in pursuit of The Witness with the goal of killing him to stop the plague that ends the world, but it becomes a lot more complicated when she realizes The Witness is her son. “I think her arc for this season is really trying to figure out what she’s capable of changing on the huge grand scheme of the fate of the world,” Schull says. “What she can do about it—if she can do anything about it.”

Schull wore a silicone baby bump in her costume that was so realistic it even had a belly button. “When I would touch it, I could actually feel the silicone rubbing my own stomach,” she says. “I found myself sitting down and holding the belly. It was like, ‘Get a hold of yourself, you’re not actually pregnant!’ But I did feel this ownership of it, and you can understand how, even if you've been told that you’re going to give birth to something that is completely beyond your control, how you would hold out an iota of hope that you can change things.”

6. ONE OF HAMPSHIRE’S COSTUMES WAS INSPIRED BY THE KID.

Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines in 12 Monkeys.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

After accidentally splintering directly into the trenches of World War I, Jennifer lives in Paris into the 1920s, where she eventually becomes an actress. Before she gets there, though, she's basically living on the streets. “I knew I was going to be in the ‘20s, and I did my Pinterest research, which I love to do,” she says. Her search brought up photos of the titular character in Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921), and bam: She knew exactly what Jennifer should look like, pre-acting gig. “The picture of The Kid is exactly my costume, which is what I wanted—the little hat and everything," she says. "The costume also reminded me a bit of Éponine [from Les Misérables]. Sometimes I feel like Jennifer really is Éponine—she’s always the one that isn’t Cosette.” Goines becomes a more integral part of the action this season, and Hampshire kills it, providing hijinks, heart, and heartbreak in equal measure.

7. SCHULL HAS SOME MAJOR FIGHT SEQUENCES.

Demore Barnes as Whitley and Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

Fans of 12 Monkeys know that it’s not just the dudes on the show who get to kick ass. Schull has her fair share of fight sequences throughout this season—and she does as many of the stunts herself as she can. “I have this ridiculous chip on my shoulder, having been a dancer, that I feel like I really ought to be able to do everything myself—but there are some things I very clearly cannot,” she says. “Jen Murray, my stunt person, is totally comfortable getting thrown into a cabinet and onto the ground or getting hit by a car. I, on the other hand, am not. Nor would it look great on film, so she does it. But there are times—like the fight in night one—where I did everything I possibly could. At the end, there's a person on the ground that I'm supposed to jump over, and take out somebody else afterwards. The angle that they ended up using, I'm not sure if it’s Jen or if it's me. Because I have a feeling she probably caught a little bit more air than I did doing it, so I don't know. But she’s really giving and gives me great corrections and advice, and we get an opportunity to do as much as we can.”

8. STANFORD’S ‘80S OUTFIT MADE SCHULL LAUGH UNTIL SHE CRIED.

The cast of 12 Monkeys.
SyFy

One episode of night two takes place in 1989—which, of course, means era-appropriate outfits. Hampshire alone had five looks (“they're so amazing, and on paper they're the craziest,” Schull says), but Stanford’s Marty McFly-inspired getup got the biggest reaction on set—“particularly the 1980s mom jeans that I was wearing,” he says.

“I actually collapsed to the floor when I saw Aaron,” Schull says. “I laughed so hard that they had to redo my makeup—it was streaming down my face.”

Costume designer Joyce Schure sourced the outfits from thrift and vintage stores in the Toronto area. “I did a lot of shopping myself on that, and I had the best time!” she says. “Baskets and baskets [of clothes], the uglier the better, because you wanted it to be very iconic. Our leads, they laughed so hard. Once they were in it, they loved it.”

Stanford is loving the fact that the show is now at a point where they can have some fun with time travel. “When the show began, it was strictly future apocalypse and the present where there’s about to be a plague,” he says, “so it’s really fun to jump back to Victorian London and wear a bowler hat, or go the 1980s and hear all the music.”

9. CHRISTOPHER LLOYD HAD AN IDEA TO MAKE HIS CHARACTER EXTRA UNSETTLING.

Matalas knew going into season three that he wanted to explore the origins of the Army of the 12 Monkeys and their leader, the creepy Pallid Man. When it came time to cast the Pallid Man’s father, Zalmon Shaw, Matalas knew they’d need a tall, angular looking actor to play him. “I was like, ‘How cool would it be if it was Christopher Lloyd?” he says. Matalas got on the phone with Lloyd—who had heard about the show at fan conventions—and pitched him the character, and Lloyd said yes. “The coolest thing about it was how much he embraced the role and the mythology,” Matalas says. “To be having these theological discussions about the Red Forest with Christopher Lloyd was so surreal.”

The actor came to the role with lots of ideas for his character, from costume to ... eyebrows. Specifically: Lloyd didn't think his character should have them. “He said, ‘I think it would be really weird, you'd look at him and know something is off but you wouldn’t know what,’” Matalas recalls.

At first he hesitated, but, Matalas says, “There was this voice in the back of my head that was like, ‘This is an American icon who wants to shave his eyebrows for your show. Goddamn it, you’re going to let him shave his eyebrows if he wants to.’ And he did, and it looks great. It was just really cool to collaborate with somebody you have such deep respect for, for so many years.”

10. MENTAL FLOSS INSPIRED A LINE.

Late in the season, Team Splinter heads back to Victorian era London to track down The Witness. So—as the writers and all of the show’s departments must do whenever they start plotting out a trip back in time—Matalas hit the internet to do some research. “I was sitting here in Toronto, it was on a Sunday morning and I was like God, I’m never going to be able to find anything on Victorian slang,” he says. “Victorian slang was exactly what I Googled, and a Mental Floss article came up.” We won’t tell you who says it, or in what context, but the line is “Hello, chuckaboo.” The word is, according to the 1909 book Passing English of the Victorian Era, “a name given familiarly to a favourite chum.”

11. THE COSTUMES FOR THE BIG MASQUERADE WERE MADE ON THE GROUND IN PRAGUE.

Aaron Stanford as James Cole and Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly in 12 Monkeys.
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy

“Like the people on our show, we’re always battling time,” costume designer Schure says. Case in point: The epic Victorian London masquerade the travelers attend in 1899, which was shot on location in Prague. Schure couldn’t design the main characters’ costumes until a freelancer she’d hired went to London and picked costumes for the extras. “The company she was dealing with had been completely picked over,” Schure says, “but she managed to pull together some really nice things. [Our costumes] are all original; they had to work with what we were getting, and I didn’t know what we were getting until I got there.”

The costume department designed the costumes (which are actually from the Louis XVII era—"in Victorian times, they would wear clothes from an earlier time period; that was their idea of dress up," Schure says) and did fittings in muslin in Toronto, then brought those along to Prague, where they had around five weeks to actually create the ornate costumes. Each outfit has little details that reflect a part of the character wearing it. “I tried to keep what we’ve established as their character costume looks to this point,” Schure says. “For example, Jennifer’s a double sock girl—she always wears tights with double socks—and we repeated that little motif in her costume.”

Schure’s team also had to create doubles of the costumes for things like stunt work and photo doubling. “And we’re killing people, left, right, and center,” she says, joking, “I’m always up for a clean strangulation, but they like to shoot or knife people, so there’s always blood.”

The Victorian costumes came with an added challenge: There was a lengthy exterior scene, and it was very, very cold. “The second set of costumes, I fleece-lined them all—basically you could go skiing or snowboard in any of the fleece-lined versions,” Schure says. “We used the fleece-lined version if it was a stunt double or photo double or [on the actors] when we actually did the exterior portion.”

12. IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER.

It wouldn’t be 12 Monkeys if the season didn’t end on a cliffhanger, and season three’s finale, “Witness”—which sets up the final confrontation in a totally unexpected way—will definitely have fans screaming for more, like immediately.

The cast and crew are currently shooting the final season of 12 Monkeys. “Going into season three, we had to know how we were going to end, because it is a finite story and it felt like at the end of season two we were kind of at the midpoint,” Matalas says. “The most gratifying thing is knowing for sure you’re going to be able to tell that story. When you don’t know you have another season coming you might be like ‘Oh, well, we have to do this now because we may never do it again,’ but when you know that you’re not you can tell the story as it organically wants to be told.”

And yes, he knows what the final scene will be. “I definitely knew what the last scene was from day one. I think you kind of have to, right? It just influences so much [of] where you go. So yeah, it’s going to be very strange in a few months to actually shoot that scene. It’s going to be very, very bittersweet.”

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. John Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’s 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS' WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating, “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that features a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination).

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. “The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, ‘Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that.”

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen brothers are plenty fond of The Dude; after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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27 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Unsolved Mysteries
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NBC

Join me. Perhaps you will learn some things you didn't know about the wonderfully spooky Unsolved Mysteries, a show that aired is finale 15 years ago, but still creeps people out to this day.

1. IT STARTED AS A SERIES OF SPECIALS.

An Unsolved Mysteries reenactment
NBC

The three specials, called Missing… Have You Seen This Person?, were hosted by David Birney and his wife Meredith Baxter and aired on NBC in April 1986. The specials were so successful that producers Terry Dunn Meurer and John Cosgrove decided to broaden the scope of the show to include all kinds of mysteries.

2. IT WASN’T ALWAYS HOSTED BY ROBERT STACK.

When what would become the pilot episode of Unsolved Mysteries (but was then just a special) debuted on January 20, 1987, it was hosted by Raymond Burr. Karl Malden helmed the next two specials, and then Stack took over hosting duties, narrating the next few specials and the weekly episodes until the show went off the air in 2002. Later, when the show was revived, Dennis Farina took over hosting duties. (Stack had passed away in 2003.)

3. IN EARLY EPISODES, THE SHOW DIDN'T USE ACTORS IN THE REENACTMENTS.

According to director David Vassar, who directed 100 segments of the show, "In the early episodes, if there were any reenactments, we actually had the real people play themselves." That's why, he said in DVD commentary, "the acting of these first seasons when we were just getting our feet wet was not up to snuff. As we went through the seasons we were able to pay top dollar and get good people, so it just got better and better."

4. AND THERE'S AN EASY WAY TO TELL IF THE ACTORS WERE BAD.

"This is an Unsolved Mysteries hallmark, and it’s a secret," Vassar said in DVD commentary, "but if the narrator talks a lot, and the actors don’t talk at all, it means the acting is really pretty bad, and the narrator is going to cover everything up. If there’s everything out in the clear between the actors, it means the actors were usually pretty good. So the game was, how many seconds of the sync sound takes could you get to play in the open? The more sync you got to play in the open, the better the scene. Pretty simple."

5. THE REENACTMENTS WEREN'T THE SHOW'S MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENT, THOUGH.

"The interviews were so important to the way Unsolved Mysteries was produced," Cosgrove said. "People would think that the most important thing was the recreations, but really, having articulate people who can summon up the emotions of what it felt like [was key]."

"You trusted the interviews," added director Keva Rosenfeld. "If you didn’t have that, you didn’t have a good episode."

6. THE SHOW'S DIRECTORS CAME FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING.

A still from season four of Unsolved Mysteries
NBC

"We were all used to real life," Vassar said, "and in the first couple of seasons, it shows. Only occasionally had we worked with actors, and if we did, we worked with actors as hosts because they were hosting a documentary we were making." In the beginning seasons, the show shot with a small crew, too: "On the first season, it was basically director, a director of photography, an assistant photographer, a sound man, a producer, and lighting or grip guy," Vassar said. "There were five or six of us, trying to make these little movies. It was like silent films in the 1900s. We did everything ourselves."

7. IT WAS CHEAP TO MAKE.

In the early ‘90s, an hourlong scripted drama cost about $1.5 million per episode. Cosgrove told the Baltimore Sun that Unsolved Mysteries could be made for 25 to 40 percent of that cost. “If you're the president of NBC Entertainment, which show are you going to buy?” the Sun asked. “The one that costs $375,000 to make and finishes 11th in overall ratings or the one that costs $1.5 million to make and finishes 40th?”

8. STACK COMPARED UNSOLVED MYSTERIES TO THEATER.

"We're balancing two needs here," Stack told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. "We're trying to produce theater and we're trying to do a public service."

Stack’s stage comparisons didn’t end there: He saw his duty as host, according to Cosgrove, as akin to the stage manager of Our Town. The three-act play, written by Thornton Wilder, takes place in the small town of Grover’s Corners and features stories from a period between the years of 1901 and 1913. The stage manager served as the narrator.

9. THE SHOW’S FOUR-SEGMENT FORMAT WAS A DESIGN TO GET VIEWERS.

The show’s segments covered a number of themes, including Murder, Missing Persons, Wanted Fugitives, UFOs, Ghosts, The Unexplained (Paranormal), Missing Heirs, Amnesia, Fraud, and more. Each show consisted of four segments, plus an update on an older case. "Almost every show has an unexplained death in it, and almost every show has a lost love story," Meurer told the Los Angeles Times. "Then we'll mix and match in there a legend or a gold mine, or we'll put in one of our UFO stories."

“The idea,” Cosgrove said in DVD commentary, “was to have four different segments in four different areas so people would find something that they liked.” 

10. THE SPOOKY THEME MUSIC WAS COMPOSED BY GARY MALKIN.

Unsolved Mysteries’ original goosebump-inducing theme was written by Gary Malkin, who also served as the show’s main composer. “One of the things that really worked was the music,” Cosgrove said. “I had a lot of friends whose kids would run out the room because the music scared them so much.” Producer Raymond Bridgers agreed: “The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on,” he said. The theme was updated four times (you can hear the 1995 version here), and when the show was revived in 2008, it came back with a new theme (and new logo) altogether.

11. IT PULLED IN GREAT RATINGS.

In 1990, the show ranked #11 for all TV series that year. “Once a sleeper, the reality series hosted by Robert Stack, former star of The Untouchables, now is just a flat-out smash,” the Los Angeles Times wrote two years later. “In the last four weeks, for instance, the unshowy but rock-solid series has demonstrated its clout—ranking 3rd, 16th, 8th and 10th in the ratings.”

12. IT WAS NOMINATED FOR SIX EMMYS.

The category was the Outstanding Informational Series, and Unsolved Mysteries was nominated in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1995. Unfortunately, the show didn’t win, losing out to PBS’s Nature (1989), Smithsonian World (1990), The Civil War (1991), TNT’s MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992), PBS’s Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers (1993), and PBS’s Baseball and NBC’s TV Nation (1995).

13. PRODUCERS HAVE SOME IDEAS ABOUT WHY THE SHOW WAS SO SUCCESSFUL.

Robert Stack hosts the first season of Unsolved Mysteries
NBC

Number one, of course, was Robert Stack, whose poker-faced delivery could send chills up anyone’s spine. “Bob’s contributions were immense, really impossible to calculate,” Cosgrove said in a tribute to the actor after Stack’s death in 2003. “His fame and charisma helped attract an audience.” Said Bridges: “No one could deliver a spooky line like Robert Stack.”

Number two: Curiosity. "People are fascinated by the idea that they might be living next door to one of these people, and might be able to help find them," Meurer told the LA Times in 1990.

And number three: “One of the things that attracted people to the show,” Cosgrove said, was that “they wanted to be scared.”

14. THANKS TO JACK THE RIPPER, THERE WAS AN UNSOLVED MYSTERIES HALLOWEEN SPECIAL.

In its first year on the air, Unsolved Mysteries had a Halloween special—an entire hour devoted to ghosts. "Bob was pretty skeptical at this point about doing an entire hour about ghosts," Cosgrove said on DVD commentary. "He definitely, I don’t think, thought it was a great idea for us to change the formula of having four segments of different categories for this Halloween special. It was a little risky doing an hour on one topic."

NBC had asked the producers to create a one hour special, Cosgrove said, because the network "had gotten wind that there was going to be a Jack the Ripper special in syndication, one of those live event specials, that revealed the secret identity of Jack the Ripper at the end of the show. And they said, 'We want you to come up with a stunt program on Halloween.' But we said, 'Wait, we’re the people producing the Jack the Ripper special—we don't want to do that!' And they said 'We don’t care!' So we came up with this, which clobbered the Jack the Ripper special."

After this, though, the show would occasionally do single-topic episodes.

15. THE SHOW ONCE BLEW UP A CHURCH.

The segment "Lucky Choir" tells the story of a choir that met to practice every Wednesday night at 7:25 p.m. Except one night, when every choir member was late—and, as a result, avoided an explosion at 7:27 p.m. that surely would have killed them. The producers chose a church in Unadilla, Nebraska, that was slated for demolition, and planned an explosion. They flew a special effects expert to the site and surrounded the church with five cameras framed by plywood boxes that would protect the gear and the cameramen. "We were supposed to cave in the roof, and we framed [the shot] slightly above the roof," Rosenfeld, who directed the segment, recalled. "[The special effects guy] blew it up way bigger than we expected. A fireball went into the air, probably a quarter mile. We were all scared."

Shrapnel speared the plywood boxes around the cameras and their operators, and debris rained down for 20 minutes. "The cameraman walked up to the macho special effects guy, pretty angry, and said 'What did you put in there?' And this macho guy goes, 'Ninety-five sticks of dynamite and three 10 gallon tubs of gasoline,'" Rosenfeld remembers. "We immediately rushed the site to film the scene because we couldn’t recreate that. We knew we weren't doing that again."

16. A NUMBER OF STARS GOT THEIR BREAKS ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

Matthew McConaughey in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries
CBS

In his first professional acting gig, Matthew McConaughey appeared as a (shirtless, of course) murder victim in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. "They got the guy," the Academy Award winner told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. "They found him around Bryan, Texas, about two weeks after that show." Virginia Madsen also co-hosted the show with Stack in 1999. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines, MADtv’s Stephnie Weir, Saw’s Ned Bellamy, and Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim also appeared in episodes.

17. ONE OF THE SHOW'S MOST POPULAR SEGMENTS WAS ALSO TOUGH TO SHOOT.

It was called "Mystery Hum," about the Taos Hum, so named because the low-frequency sound began to be reported in Taos, New Mexico, in 1992. (In other parts of the world, it's called the Bristol Hum, the Bondi Hum, or just "The Hum.") Director Bob Wise said the segment was particularly difficult to film because there weren't many visual elements for the audience—and the hum's low frequencies didn't come through televisions well. Still, he said, "we got a lot of response to this, because a lot of people around the country and the world are hearing this same thing, and there’s a whole network of people who hear this thing."

18. THE SHOW USED A VISUAL EFFECTS COMPANY CALLED AREA 51.

That company was tasked with creating the show’s effects, from sparking clocks to creepy ghosts to, appropriately, aliens. In fact, the “Allagash Abduction” segment featured some of Cosgrove’s favorite effects created by Area 51. “We had such detailed paintings and drawings from [the abductees], and we based our special effects session on their drawings and paintings, not just from the descriptions,” Bridgers said.

19. BUT SOMETIMES, THEY DID EFFECTS THE OLD FASHIONED WAY.

In Unsolved Mysteries's early years, visual effects weren't very advanced and the show didn't have a huge budget for them, either. "When you’re shooting ghost stories, it gets kind of tricky if you want to do it without special effects," director Bob Wise said in DVD commentary. The crew was forced to get creative: For the episode "Gordy's Ghosts," Wise chose to give the ghosts an overblown white look. "We put a lot of light on [the actor's] face," Wise said. "The poor little girl could barely keep her eyes open."

For another sequence that showed a ghost lying down next to the little girl on the bed, the crew took off the mattress and had the actor lie on boxes, and pulled on springs underneath to achieve the effect. Ghostly effects in other episodes were created in camera using double exposure and projection.

20. ROBERT STACK—AND THE PRODUCERS—WERE PRETTY SKEPTICAL OF THE PARANORMAL STUFF.

DVD cover of Unsolved Mysteries: UFOs
Alchemy

Though Stack was, in Cosgrove’s words, “terribly proud of our contributions to catching bad guys,” he was pretty skeptical of the show’s paranormal and extraterrestrial segments. “In some of those narration sessions, he’d be like, 'Come on, Raymond!'” Bridgers recalled. But even Stack found some stories—like the “Allagash Abductions” segment—pretty compelling. “[That] one even nailed Bob,” Cosgrove said. “[It] got under his skin. These guys were so normal and credible and stood to gain nothing by making up a story.”

As many as 80 percent of the supernatural cases were dismissed outright, according to Bridgers. But, like Stack, the producers found themselves swayed by certain stories. “When we pick a ghost story, we’re always mindful of those stories where there seems to be a historical reason for there to be a haunting,” Cosgrove said in the DVD commentary for “Black Hope Curse.” “I don’t think any of us, when we started Unsolved Mysteries, really believed in ghosts ... we’ve all had to take a second look at our preconceived notions after the experiences that we’ve had. Initially we’d be very skeptical of stories, but when you find that there is a story, that there are facts and history and accounts from the past that match up to what people see ... it takes your breath away, and makes the stories a lot more credible.”

21. NOT EVERYONE WANTED THEIR MYSTERY ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES.

In the early days of Unsolved Mysteries, it could be tough to get people who'd had supernatural experiences to appear on the show—they were afraid, Cosgrove said, of exposing themselves to potential ridicule. "Back then, people didn’t want to come out of the woodwork to say that they’d seen ghosts," he said. "It was really tough to get people to agree to do the interviews." Still, there seemed to be some therapeutic value in it for the interviewees. "Having us talk to them and pay such close attention to them and help them explain it to the public seems to help them," Cosgrove said.

22. THEY FILMED MANY OF STACK’S SEGMENTS AT A MASONIC TEMPLE.

The temple was located in Pasadena, California. “We liked it as a set because it evoked ghostly spirits and things like that,” Cosgrove said.

23. UNSOLVED MYSTERIES RAN ON FOUR NETWORKS.

The show spent 10 seasons on NBC before moving to CBS, where it aired for two seasons before being cancelled. It later ran on Lifetime and on Spike TV.

24. THE REALITY SHOW SPAWNED TV MOVIES.

Victim of Love: The Shannon Mohr Story, which aired in September 1993, was based on an Unsolved Mysteries segment from November 1987. In the movie, Mohr (Sally Murphy) marries Dave Davis (Dwight Schultz) in a quickie Vegas ceremony. She soon discovers that he’s a pathological liar who neglected to tell her about his first wife. When Mohr dies of what appears to be a horse riding accident, her parents become suspicious. John J. O’Connor, who reviewed the movie for the New York Times, wrote,

The parents embark on a 10-year campaign to seek justice. A journalist and a detective prove most helpful. Confronted with mounting evidence against him, Dave flees the country, finally ending up in American Samoa. How can he be found? There's one possibility left, says the detective: "Unsolved Mysteries." And so we find the actors in this movie recreating the interview the real parents gave on the "Unsolved Mysteries" broadcast. The repackaging turns out to be an ingenious plug for the series itself. … Actually, Dave wasn't captured for more than two years after the original telecast. Credit, it seems, must go to the reruns. Marketing comes full circle.

Other TV movies followed: Escape From Terror: The Teresa Stamper Story (1995), Voice from the Grave (1996), and The Sleepwalker Killing (1997).

25. IT HAD A DRAMATIZED SPIN-OFF.

It was called Final Appeal: From the Files of Unsolved Mysteries. According to a synopsis from the New York Times, the show was “a reality-based series based on the NBC series, Unsolved Mysteries. [It] examines real-life cases of potential injustice involving convicted persons who, according to impartial observers, may be innocent.” Stack hosted. Final Appeal premiered in September 1992 and was cancelled shortly after.

26. MANY OF THE MYSTERIES ACTUALLY GOT SOLVED.

“Join me. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery,” Stack said at the beginning of each episode. The show asked its viewers to call police or a tipline if they had any information on a crime, missing person, or lost loved one—and boy, did they. The LA Times wrote about one case that appeared on Unsolved Mysteries in 1988:

It was no mystery to Jerry Strickland and Melissa K. Munday when police showed up at their door in Moses Lake, Wash. Hours earlier they had been watching television as the show "Unsolved Mysteries" mentioned them in connection with the unsolved robbery and slaying of a gas station worker near Pontiac, Mich. Police got about 15 calls from area residents after the program aired, and Officer John Mays and Sgt. Dennis Duke arrived to find the couple waiting for them, Mays said.

Unsolved Mysteries covered more than one thousand cases, and according to its website, more than half of the episodes featuring wanted fugitives have been solved. Over 100 separated families have been reunited—including LeeAnn Robinson, who ran away from her father’s home when she was 16 and found her brother and sister years later through the show. "I was standing there in the studio (after the program ran) and this guy came over and said, 'I have your sister on the phone,'" Robinson said. "I just started to cry. I cried for a week."

27. AND YOU CAN STILL HELP SOLVE A MYSTERY.

Though the show isn’t currently in production, visitors can submit information that might pertain to an unsolved crime on the show’s website. But just because it isn't currently in production doesn't mean it won't be back: in April, the show's creators participated in a Reddit AMA where they said that they were actively "in the process of reaching out to networks to see if there is interest in ordering new shows. Let's keep our fingers crossed!”

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