Next month, NBC debuts its hopeful new would-be hit: Timeless, a time travel program with a serious pedigree.
Created by Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, Timeless follows historian Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer), soldier Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), and scientist Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) as they chase criminal Garcia Flynn (Goran Višnjić) across time before he destroys modern day America as we know it.
Those are the basics, but what else is there to know about this new time travel-based game of cat and mouse? Well, let’s have the cast explain it themselves.
“The writers are pretty good at listening to the characters and seeing what we bring into it,” Barrett explains. “The whole speech I have in the trailer is basically a riff they let me go on. They initially wrote something that was sort of the stiff, white guy version.”
Spencer said of her approach to Lucy: “Falling out of the time machine was unscripted. I wanted someone who’s a goofball who has to keep it together, the worst person you could send back in time, because I think that adds to the tension.”
Lanter said of Wyatt, “He’s plucked out of the battlefield. He’s delta force, so he’s specialized in a lot of things. They need someone on the team who is going to be able to operate in a military way and get things done tactically, as well as hunt down the villain. The historian’s not gonna do it and the scientist’s not gonna do it, so they need someone to carry out the actual mission.”
“These are three total strangers put together in an extraordinary circumstance, and that’s what I love about it,” said Spencer. “Rufus and Wyatt and Lucy are clinging to each other. They’re becoming a family. It’s almost like…we’re calling the lifeboat [the show’s fictional time machine] the therapy.”
Barrett added, “Everyone kind of has their ulterior motives and secondary secrets. I think you realize early on that [Rufus] is spying on them but you don’t know why. The team doesn’t know that, and so it will be interesting to see what happens when that comes out.” The actor later explained, “Rufus wants to be there least. Period.”
Every time travel story has the rules it follows, and Timeless is no different. “The time machine allows us to go to the past, but we are not allowed to go to any period where we already exist, and we cant go to any period we’ve traveled to before,” Barrett said. “What’s also good about these writers is they’re good at establishing certain rules and expectations, and then defying them when the moment feels right.”
“Every time we come back,” Spencer explained, “we will explore what has shifted and changed because, in our world, Lucy, Rufus, and Wyatt carry all the memories. For Agent Christopher [Sakina Jaffrey] and Mason [Paterson Joseph], things shift because their history has shifted slightly. So, it’s sort of, ‘oh my gosh, how is this going to be affecting each of us?’”
As for the show’s potential for paradoxes and effects on causality, Lanter said, “The showrunners have said they are establishing their rules and they want [the show] to be a fun show that’s not too headspacey because thats when people get lost, and it becomes work to keep up with it, as opposed to just having fun with it. I think that’s their main goal right now.”
“This is one of those shows where nothing is going to be black and white,” Višnjić said. “We have to give the audience something to really bite on, so in the beginning, [Flynn's] reasoning is not gonna be known. He doesn’t know what he needs to accomplish exactly, but he believes in the things he does.”
On whether it’s hard to not be fully aware of Flynns plan, Višnjić later said, “The thing is, everything’s okay until you get a script that’s going against your belief. Then you have to pick up a phone and talk to [Shawn and Eric].” He added, “Sometimes, there are things you need to be aware of before you start doing a job, and talk to the guys to find out ‘okay, this is how far he’s going to go to accomplish certain things.’”
When it came to explaining what the most important thing audiences should understand about Flynn, Višnjić said, “In the pilot, he’s just this person who says, ‘look, this is why I’m doing that. I can’t explain all the details, but this is why I’m doing it.’ Of course, Lucy doesn’t believe it, because she heard from the government this guy killed his own family, blamed some magical characters for that, and is just a psycho that stole this time machine. But then, how could you steal the time machine if you don’t know a little more than that? He’s there for the audience to basically go, ‘wait a minute, things are not exactly as we’ve been told.’”