TIMELESS Scoop From The Set: Interview With Abigail Spencer and Malcolm Barrett

A ruthless villain steals a time-machine and the government quickly sends a team of a soldier, a scientist and a historian after him to eliminate him before he does irreparable damage to the existing timeline. In NBC’s new adventure series TIMELESS, the action starts and does not stop leaving little time to peel back the layers on the characters that are immediately introduced. In order to get a better sense of who our heroes and villain are, we made a trip to the set of TIMELESS to get the answers fans will want to know.

Stars Abigail Spencer and Malcolm Barrett reveal what drives their characters, Lucy Preston — the historian — and Rufus Carlin — the scientist — to participate in this crazy mission to preserve time and stop a madman:

We come into the show and time travel already exists and that is just part of the show. Obviously, Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) is going off for his own end and then you guys are chasing him. Why within the world of the show does time-travel exist? To what end are those machines used when it’s not for personal missions or stopping people with personal missions?
MALCOLM: That is part of what has come up and you’ll see explored there. There is sort of a bigger story behind what Conner Mason’s (Paterson Joseph) motivations are. What are the motivations of his company and what’s driving him? I think once we get into there, you’ll sort of discover what are the alternate reasons for why this machine is being built. You’ll also discover the motivations under which Rufus has done that. I think Rufus has sort of just seen the technological advancement of it. That’s what he is excited about, and also never intending on actually getting in it. For him, the joy is in the creation of this machine. As the episodes go, you’ll start to see his motivations behind it and what are the consequences and reasoning behind it.

Are they the only two time machines?
MALCOLM: Yeah, as far as we know. It is the initial one that we first built. So that’s it. So we just have the mother ship and the “life boat,” which is the sort of the rinky-dink version of the lead one.

One thing that occurred to me is if you’re the only one that knows how to drive and there is two ships, and you do actually manage to find the other ship, who is going to drive it back?
MALCOLM: Here is the thing because there is also Anthony Bruhl (Matt Frewer), who drives the other ship. So then it’s an issue of do we destroy the life boat and just bring back the better one? Or would we coerce Anthony Bruhl? I would handle one of the ships and Wyatt’s (Matt Lanter) character coerces Anthony Bruhl to bring the other ship back.

There also seems to be a bit of a bone of contention as to who is the actual leader on this “life boat.” Who leads the missions?
MALCOLM: [Laughs] I think between the characters it’s always up for debate. I know Rufus least wants to be there. Period.
ABIGAIL: Yeah. But we play with that too. I can’t remember which episode, but there was a scene where Lucy says, “okay, follow me!” And everyone went in a different direction, or “okay, let’s split up” and then we went in the same direction. So we are still working out our team membership dynamics.

Matt [Lanter] describing a little bit about Episode 5 and a kind of the friction arises amongst the team. Can you talk little bit kind of some of the relationship issues that arise as they start to get to know each other a little bit?
ABIGAIL: When we meet Lucy Preston and we meet her in her element. She is a historian, a very respected historian. What they keep telling me is she’s one of the country’s foremost historians. I am like, “Really?” Then you go home with Lucy, you meet her sister, you see that her mother is very sick and there is a knock at the door. “Lucy Preston, come with us.” And basically the government is asking her to come to this secret warehouse, which ends up being Mason Industries, where she discovers that time-travel is real and because they can’t take Google back in time, she is the only one that has all the information in her head and they send her back. What kind of gets revealed is that she’s not ready for this mission. She’s not aware of what’s happening. She only knows history and that is her passion and purpose, and it is where she meets Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), resident scientist and piloteer. What is so interesting is these are three total strangers put together in an extraordinary circumstance. And that’s what I love about it. It’s kind of like the experience of coming here and making the show. You leave your home, you all come together, you’re all making one thing, you’re with each other all the time. And you’re ordinary people having to do something really extraordinary. So you cling to the people you are going through that experience with. And Rufus and Wyatt and Lucy are clinging to each other. They are becoming a family. It’s almost like we are calling the “life boat” is like the therapy tank. Like where we bare our souls. And what’s interesting is at this point, their real lives aren’t as satisfying as the missions. But they only have each other in it. So they have really gotten a lot closer and then what happens in this episode [five] is you find out that Rufus has been keeping a very large secret from the team, and so has Lucy. And we all find out about it and so there’s friction. We definitely are at a crossroads at the end of this episode. But in the last episode, Lucy and Rufus basically put themselves in front of Wyatt and they got really close and now we get torn apart.

What can you tease about Rufus’ big secret?
MALCOLM: Tease? Well, the key is everyone kind of has their ulterior motives and some secondary secrets. So I think you realize early on that he is sort of spying for them, that you don’t know why and the team doesn’t know that. It will be interesting to see if that comes out.

How soon did they tell you you were going to be having a big secret? Did you know that when you did the pilot?
MALCOLM: You know, what’s crazy is that during the pilot we all sort of have secrets. There is no person without one. That’s a true . Also, we don’t call Goran [Visnjic] the villain, we call him the antagonist because everyone sort of has ulterior motives and you don’t know exactly why they are doing anything. At the pilot stage, there were things we were finding out as we were reading it. And there are secrets we have between each other as characters, as well as actors. There are certain back stories that I found out on set.
ABIGAIL: [Laughs] Which gets harder and harder to have when we fall in love.
MALCOLM: [Laughs] Yes. It’s a big tease which will hopefully be [seen later in the season].

Can you explain the rules of your time travel on your show, so the viewers can have a good understanding?
MALCOLM: I think so there is kind of basic rules which is that so we have the time machine and it allows us to go to the past, but we are not allowed to go to any period where we already exist and we can’t go to any period where we have already traveled to before. Because they lead to ramifications which not everyone is completely clear of, but they are disastrous.
ABIGAIL: Or can we?!
MALCOLM: What’s good about these guys is that they’re very good about establishing certain rules and establishing certain expectations and then sort of defying it when the moment feels right.

Does Lucy let Rufus and Wyatt know that her sister has been erased [after their first mission]? Is that something where they start worrying about their friends and family possibly getting erased?
ABIGAIL: It will come back. It will come up immediately in the next episode after the pilot and we will address it because that will be the thing — every time we come back, what has shifted and changed because in our world we are creating? Rufus and Lucy and Wyatt, they carry all the memories. For Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey) and Mason, things shift because their history has shifted slightly. So it’s like “oh my gosh, how is this going to be affecting us?”

There is a lighter tone to the show. The two of you must welcome that opportunity to kind of do some of the more funnier moments, right?
MALCOLM: It’s interesting. These guys are pretty good about listening to different things and listening to the characters and seeing what we bring in to it. The whole second diatribe that I have in the show’s trailer is basically a riff that they allowed me to go on. They wrote something initially in their words, and it was sort of the stiff white-guy version.
ABIGAIL: [Laughs] You should have seen my face. When he started riffing, the camera was on us when he started improving, and you see my face and my jaw starts to fall open. He went on this one rant that was so glorious and fantastic. I was so grateful that they let him just go. We found a lot of things, like Lucy falling out of the time machine wasn’t scripted. For me, I wanted her to be someone who is a goofball and who has to try to keep it together — like the worst person you could send back in time. I think that adds to the tension. If someone who falls a lot or is clumsy is very intelligent, but then I feel like every moment could be tense because they could fall at any moment and their cover could be blown. So in the pilot when Lucy is kind of tracking Flynn and she turns around and almost runs into the airplane, that literally happened. I did that. I was like, “oh, she should probably do that too.” We just found a lot of those things and it really opened it up. I think you’ll see as the show progresses there are a lot more moments that will just be found like that and they really use them.
MALCOLM: They’re very good at capturing our idiosyncrasies and bringing that to the forefront of the characters.

Do you get to do some of the more action heavy stuff as episodes go on? Do you get to fire some guns, set off some explosions? How extensive do your action stunts get?
MALCOLM: Because of the nature of the mission, we wound up doing a lot of things that we don’t expect ourselves to be doing. Without giving too much away.
ABIGAIL: We rise to the occasion. But in our true character form. Just yesterday, I broke Wyatt out of a abandoned hotel room that he has been locked in, but Lucy has got to do it. So it’s like I fall in the window — and my purse gets stuck. Everything goes the way that it would for that character even though we are rising to the occasion and doing somewhat heroic things, they happen to our characters.

Do you have any cool Shawn Ryan stories? What was it like when you were brought onto the show?
ABIGAIL: [Laughs] Please do not take this the wrong way. I call him “Daddy Ryan.” He is very fatherly with us and he really cares about us as human beings and as actors. His wife is an actress and he has a family. I find him to be very fatherly and protective of us.
MALCOLM: Like we watched the pilot at his house.
ABIGAIL: Yeah, with the wife and kids and all that.

Where have you not gone yet that, if the show runs long enough, you would love to see an episode take place?
MALCOLM: I don’t want to travel back in time. No. But I always talk about sort of rock-n-roll and sort of different things, like seeing Jimi Hendrix perform for the first time, and seeing these great rock-n-roll moments. I really just want to go to the great parties that happen throughout time where it just seems like that is the only fun time that I would really want to be a part of. It’s cool to see all these moments history to see these great speeches being given and be at the march on Washington and to be at all these very important moments in time but I think I really just want to go to the great historical parties.
ABIGAIL: It’s interesting because we are going back to a lot of events that we can even explore so many things within certain years. We have a lot to pull from. Something that I’ve been craving: I’ve been watching “Tootsie” and “Yentil” and “Victor Victoria,” like back to back. I’ve been watching a lot of the classics. I watched “What’s Up Doc” over the weekend, which is one of the greatest comedies of all time and really got a lot of inspiration, hopefully, for this piece to kind of weave in, even though it’s a very grounded drama as well. I really want to go to a period of time where Lucy can’t go, so she has to go undercover as a man and she forces her way into it. To see the underbelly of whatever that event in time, I think that would be really interesting. And a dream come true as an actress.

There are so many time travel shows coming out this fall, what makes TIMELESS stand out?
MALCOLM: Here is the thing: there is one where it’s actually like a comedy half-hour where they go back [in time]. There is one where they bring a guy from the past and he is like a detective — that’s the thing. And then there’s FREQUENCY, where they talk to the past. We are the only ones — outside of that half-hour comedy — that actually travel through time continuously, all throughout and have the machine and do the thing.

Actually, that’s not true. 12 MONKEYS is on Syfy, and they travel back and forth in time.
MALCOLM: [Laughs] Well, of the new shows.

Isn’t TIMELESS, kind of the reverse DOCTOR WHO? After all, your characters are like the Time Lords chasing down the renegade time-traveler who wants to go do all these things in time and change history and the future?
ABIGAIL: DOCTOR WHO is such a legendary show. It’s a family jewel for England. So I wouldn’t want to tread on their territory at all because we are a brand new story. As a child, I loved DOCTOR WHO. My mother said I would run around the house when it would come on and I’d go “Doctor Whooooooo!” So it’s so crazy then to be asked to play Lucy, which is kind of putting that on it’s ear and to be a female in that position. It’s great to be a woman on that mission and for Lucy be at the center of that.

To find out just what secret agendas and alternative missions each of the TIMELESS time-travelers have hidden from each other, be sure to tune in for the premiere of TIMELESS on Monday, October 3rd at 10:00 p.m. on NBC — and remember that Episode 5 holds some big reveals of those secrets!

For those curious, here is our video interview with Malcolm Barett from San Diego Comic-Con:
Malcolm Barrett TIMELESS Interview Comic Con 2016