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NBC's 'Timeless' is a big, fun, action-packed trek through history

by jmaloni
Tue, Oct 4th 2016 05:35 pm
`Timeless`: `Pilot` - Pictured, from left: Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin, Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan and Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston. (NBC photo by Joe Lederer)
"Timeless": "Pilot" - Pictured, from left: Malcolm Barrett as Rufus Carlin, Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan and Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston. (NBC photo by Joe Lederer)

Matt Lanter, Goran Višnjić interview

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

When the overnight TV ratings were released Tuesday, the debut of NBC's "Timeless" nearly doubled the audience of ABC's rookie serial "Conviction."

While the latter undoubtedly has merit - and Hayley Atwell in the captain's chair - it appears to be, dare I say it, not that different from ABC's "Scandal," "How to Get Away With Murder" or "Notorious."

The former is not like anything on the Peacock Network, let alone cable television. It's a time travel series that doesn't get overly sci-fi, but, instead, boasts big, bold action scenes, promises of romance, dashes of comedy, and even a true-to-life replica of The Alamo.

It's that last detail that really sets "Timeless" apart from other here-there-now-then vehicles. "Timeless" spends considerable, well, time, exploring the eras in which its time travelers explore. Each episode is filled with period costumes and props, and each story asks "What would you do if you could go back in time?"

In other words, if you could save the Hindenburg from crashing, or stop Abraham Lincoln from being assassinated, would you? If you do, are you prepared to deal with the time-shifting ramifications?

While other, more science-fiction-heavy shows focus on changing one event, or reshaping the lives of its own modern-day characters, "Timeless" routinely reframes our most historic, most well-known moments. Not many shows boast Ian Fleming, the Rat Pack and John Wilkes Booth.

In terms of characters, Abigail Spencer's renowned historian, Lucy, is smart, strong, passionate and kind of clumsy. She's a reluctant hero intent on saving history, and driven to save her family.

Matt Lanter's Wyatt is a military-trained guardian, but he's not just there to punch bad guys in the face. He's conflicted and mourning and, though he's focused on the mission, he's not averse to bending the rules.

Malcolm Barrett's Rufus, the time machine operator, is shy and funny, romantic, and - unexpectedly - is keeping tabs on his team for a science-ier Steve Jobs-type who created the large, round travel pods.

Goran Višnjić's Flynn is the man trying to twist time. In the pilot, he sure seems sinister, but is there more to his story? What happened to Fylnn's family, and is he trying to save his lost loved ones?

Only time will tell.

I, for one, am happy to take this ride and find out more about these "Timeless" characters, and their quest to rewrite the past.


BTS recently caught up with Lanter and Višnjić, who more fully described their characters, and what they like about the show's premise.

•On the props, costumes and sets from famous historic times:

Matt Lanter: Oh, it's a blast, yeah. You know what, surprisingly, we do deal with green screens and blue screens all that kind of stuff, but I think you'd be surprised at how often we do not have that stuff. We actually did build out a lot of our set. I mean, most of our sets.

I just wrapped - I'm actually still here on set - but we just wrapped up for the day on the last day of The Alamo episode. They built out a lot of The Alamo. I'm not sure if it's completely to scale or not, but it seems to scale. They built the three walls of The Alamo. So, we're actually sitting and standing, fighting, in The Alamo. Seeing these old muskets and all this kind of stuff.

I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised at the lack of green screen.

Goran Višnjić: It's been really amazing. ... To be on a show that's using a lot of the real things - I was just on the set of The Alamo, and we built the whole part - almost three-quarters of the mission was built on one huge parking lot. And the dirt was brought in to look like a desert. So, it's quite amazing.

We do use some visual effects add-ons. For example, if you remember from the pilot, you see two time machines: one silver one, and the other one's kind of high-tech - the white one. They're both actually built. We have the built time machines. We can walk inside of them. You have all the equipment and all the kind of control board, dashboard, and all of that. But, the add-ons are going to be those rings that are actually moving. Those are going to be done post visual effect.

But we actually do use the time machine. We do use the whole set, and costumes, of course. Every episode is almost like being on a different TV show. I have to say it's really a tremendous (and) satisfactory to be on a show like this.


"Timeless": "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" - Pictured, from left: Goran Visnjic as Garcia Flynn and Michael Krebs as Abraham Lincoln. (NBC photo by Sergei Bachlakov)


"Timeless": "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" - Pictured, from left: Kurt Ostlund as Lewis Powell and Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan. (NBC photo by Sergei Bachlakov)

•On fan reaction -- and their own reaction to the storyline:

Matt Lanter: Well, when I read it, I loved it. And the reason: It reminded me immediately of kind of the old Spielberg stuff. And that's the kind of stuff - that's why I'm an actor. "Jurassic Park" was one of the things - it reminded me of movie magic. And Spielberg did that for me. And that kind of adventurous spirit of those films did that.

And I feel like this show is a lot of that. More so than the sci-fi, the time travel, this is really more of an action-adventure show. The time travel thing, of course we talk about it. And of course we dabble in it a little bit. But it's less about the scientific aspect of time travel, more about transporting us to these new worlds that we get to see on screen in kind of a modern form. Historical events.

I loved the character interactions. I love Wyatt, my character; in particular, (he) reminds me a lot of Han Solo or Indiana Jones - kind of that Harrison Ford - you know, just a cool guy. And, of course, I'm a big "Star Wars" fan. And I've worked on some ("Star Wars" projects). So, I'm super close to that character. If anyone had an opportunity to play someone like Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones" or Han Solo in an action-adventure TV show, where you're time-traveling, you don't say "No."

I was blown away by the script, and the producers behind it. I've worked with Shawn Ryan before. And I know the kind of quality that he puts out there. And, obviously, Eric Kripke has his own major successes, and he's got years and years of television under his belt. So, I knew the team was going to be awesome. The first script was awesome, and that was kind of it. The chance to be part of something fun - I couldn't pass that up.

Goran Višnjić: The main thing for me was Shawn and Eric, because there's not much to go on in the pilot for my character. You know, when you see it in the script, especially.

I was kind of asking myself how would the show look like if Shawn Ryan and Eric Kripke are creating it together. And I was like, "That must be something insanely interesting." And I had a meeting with them, and we talked about the Flynn character and the future - what's going to be happening with it, why is he doing things, how is he doing things. And I was like, "You know what? This sounds like a really great ride."

And we're now into episode seven, and I'm actually really happy that I came to that meeting and that I'm on the show.


"Timeless": "Pilot" - Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan. (NBC photo by Joe Lederer)


"Timeless": "Pilot" - Goran Visnjic as Garcia Flynn. (NBC photo by Joe Lederer)

•On the characters:

Matt Lanter: They've done a great job of really developing all three of these time travelers, and it's not just a historian, not just a soldier, and not just a scientist. We're really getting to know them, and cheering for them and rooting them in different ways. They all bring their own interesting elements to the team. Of course with certain special skills.

Wyatt Logan, he's been put on the team because of his tactical ability. He's much like Jason Bourne in that way. He's able to physically take care of business, and to complete the mission. I think he's also been put on the team for his emotional level. He's been through the ringer, and we do find out more about that. He's been through the ringer in his personal life, which I know we saw in the pilot - with his wife. His wife died.

And he has some skeletons in his closet. I think he feels a personal responsibility. We're definitely going to find out why. He carries a burden with him. And I think when he carries his burden with him, and also his special skillset, into the battlefield, it sort of makes him rogue and reckless in a way. He's very mission-oriented, but I think it's kind of an at-all-costs thing. Because he doesn't have much in his life to keep living for at this moment. So, it makes him very dangerous. And I like that. I like that about him.

And I think we're going to see them develop individually, and we also see them develop as a team. There's going to be ups and downs, ebbs and flows, as a trio and as a team. It's not easy being thrown into this situation with two strangers, and basically having to support the team and make the mission happen when they are not mission-oriented. He's the only one. So, we'll see a lot of his stresses in that, as well.

•Goran Višnjić: I think I can safely tell you. ... It's always a bit of a danger, especially with this kind of a character, because he kind of instigates the whole thing. He's the one who kind of starts everything, once he steals the time machine. He's the one who everybody starts chasing.

Basically, what happens is they think that he murdered his family, and he's saying that he didn't do it - that he was set-up. Now, who believes him, who doesn't, that's the question. That's what started the whole chain of events. That's why he steals the time machine - to go back to the past and fix it.

Now, does that make him a bad guy, because, at the same time, he's going to hurt all these people, if he does something to help his family?

There's going to be a lot of open questions, and a lot of things that we're going to be surprised with Flynn's behavior, his choices, and why is doing things that he's doing. And I really do hope that the audience is going to be kept on the edge of their seats, because, every episode, you know, it's something kind of like, "Oh, well, this seems kind of that way." Quite interesting.

•On episode one's final twist, where Lucy's sister disappears, and the likelihood of more time changes:

Matt Lanter: You know, we don't have that shocking element - the whole twist - every single episode. I think I've heard Eric Kripke say, you know, we did that in the pilot to establish that, "Hey, if these guys do wrong, and they don't get the mission right, bad things happen." For every one guy they kill, or they don't kill, or one person that they meet, or don't meet, or keep one guy from meeting this other person - there are repercussions that are ripples through time.

And I think that's just really in the pilot to say, "Hey, nothing's safe." Bad things can happen, and every single thing that they do will have repercussions.

Every single episode we're not going to be, you know, it's not going to be Wyatt's mom is gone. And then Agent Christopher is gone. It's not going to be that. I'm sure we'll get our fair share of that through the season, but it's not happened yet. I think that was to throw things. Really to say that it's dangerous. It's not safe. And there are ripple effects. But we're not going to see that every single episode.

Really, the present day, we display a lot more of our time travelling, and back in the time periods, than we do in present day. I think the show centers at this point more around the adventure that they go on - the adventure that the audience comes along with us on.


"Timeless": "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln" - Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston. (NBC photo by Sergei Bachlakov)


"Timeless": "Pilot" - Pictured, from left: Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston, Paterson Joseph as Connor Mason and Matt Lanter as Wyatt Logan. (NBC photo by Joe Lederer)

•On sci-fi fans, and what makes this show different:

Goran Višnjić: I'm a big sci-fi fan, since I was a kid. ... There are so many different science fiction things that some people - sci-fi fans can watch all kinds of science fiction - but there are some people who are normally not into sci-fi, but they're going to be impressed by certain movies. Some people don't like space opera. Some people, they like big bang action, or maybe even something that's happening in space. This is a little bit more evolving out of everyday life, in a way.

When you go back to the past, and you are actually able to save Abraham Lincoln's life, will you do that, or you wouldn't do that? There's a huge question, because, if you do it, obviously, in that moment, it seems like a brilliant idea. You can only do good with that. But, maybe, down the line, two centuries later, or 100 years later, that decision actually makes something worse, happening 100 years in the future.

So, it's very much thought-provoking, and it's very much touching something that we already know happened. We already have information from the history. So, it's much more different than science fiction that's happening in the future, or it's happening in some unknown land, or like a fantasy world, or something like that. We all know these events. We all know who these people are, and what they did in their lives - or we think that we know of them. And we, sometimes, we're going to see history from a different angle, and that's going to also be interesting.

We hope, after every episode, that people are going to start talking about the episode, and say, "Would you do that?" or "Would you do something different?"

On what to look for in a successful series:

Goran Višnjić: I have to say, in normal circumstances, the script would be the most important. In this case, it was a good script, but my character was there only a little, for like one or two episodes. So, the main thing would be, in this case, talking to the creators of the show, and like I said before, if you kind of see the work of Shawn Ryan and work of Eric Kripke, and, you know, they're trying to create this show together, that was kind of like the most interesting thing for this specific project, for me.

Things to look at, of course, the script. But, mainly, I have to say, it's the people who are creating the show. And the talent who's on the show. Because you're going to be spending a lot of time with those people, and you're going to need to talk to them about your character and all of these things happening in the future.

There is no magic formula. I mean, you can just hope that you made a good decision.

"Timeless" airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC. For more information, visit www.nbc.com/timeless.

Preview videos:

"Timeless: "First look" video sneak peek:

"Timeless": "The science of time travel" video sneak peek:

"Timeless": "The five coolest things about time travel" video sneak peek:

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