Interview: ‘Timeless’ Producers on Casting Historical Figures and Bringing Back Spielberg-Style Optimism
Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2016 by Fred Topel
Are you casting an actor as Lincoln and will we meet historical figures on Timeless?
Ryan: We have a rule here. We want to be as accurate as possible to the looks of these people but some people are more famous than others. My point on Lincoln is he’s on currency so everyone knows what he looks like. That was a high bar for us. We actually found somebody who works as a career as a Lincoln impersonator. Now it’s not the biggest role in the episode. Lucy actually spends a lot more time with Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln’s son. Now, people don’t know what Robert Todd Lincoln looks like the way they know what Abraham looks like. So the bar to match that isn’t quite the same. But for us, if we want to make this feel grounded and realistic, if we’re going to put Abraham Lincoln on the screen, he’s got to really feel like Abraham Lincoln. He can’t be like an almost. So we found somebody that really does embody him quite well. I think we flew him up from Chicago.
Kripke: I think the trick is, I think what we’re learning is the really iconic characters that everyone recognizes, it’s better to not have them be main characters in the show. We have Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. but we have them on stage and in the background. What really works on the show is to focus on important historical characters that maybe people don’t know quite as much about. Robert Todd Lincoln or Judith Campbell who had an affair with JFK, Sinatra, and Sam Giancana of the Chicago mob and really acted as a go-between between the White House and the mafia. Really exploring characters and stories that maybe people don’t know as well.
Events like the Hindenburg and Lincoln assassination are famous too. Are those equally challenging to get right?
Ryan: Well, the Hindenburg was a massive undertaking which is one reason why we put it in the pilot, not the series. With a pilot, you have more time and more money to pull that stuff off. Having said that, we did promise NBC that there was an epic quality to the show in the pilot that we were going to maintain in the series. So we’re going to see the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater. We’re going to see the Sands Hotel and the Copa room when Sinatra and the Rat Pack perform. We’re going to see German rockets taking off during WWII Germany. We’ll be in Mission Control for the day that we landed on the moon.
These are all things that we want to bring to the audience and bring to in a very realistic and believable way. It requires a ton of logistical work and planning and early outlines and early scripts so that the production team [can do it.] One of the amazing things about Hollywood and making TV is that these people will give you what you want if you give them enough time and resources to do it. What we’re after is really, really ambitious but what Eric and I have tried to do is give them early heads up to this stuff so that they can accomplish it. So far they’ve come through.
Do Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus ever go to the future?
Kripke: They won’t go to the future in the foreseeable future. One, we think there’s such a rich tapestry in history and there’s so many fascinating exciting visceral details of history to explore that we really want to explore those. We don’t feel an incredible desire to create some fictional timeframe where there’s slick cars with stainless steel hubcaps or whatever shitty depiction of the future happens in television so often, rather than exploring what’s so true and detailed and real about the past.
With things like Kate Drummond in the pilot, does it suggest no one can really be saved? Something in the timeline will always right itself.
Kripke: I think you’ve touched on really the core question of the show and where we really want to live is in the question mark. It’s an ongoing debate. Sometimes our heroes are able to save people and alter history. Sometimes fate just takes over and there’s nothing you can do about it, Kate being a perfect example. We very, very intentionally don’t want to answer that question. We think one of the core philosophical underpinnings of the show is, is there fate or free will? Are we living in a random and chaotic universe or are we living in an ordered one where things happen for a reason? I think sometimes on our show one thing will happen and sometimes I think the other. Wyatt really believes in free will and Lucy really believes in fate. But it’s not an easy question to answer and I don’t think we’re going to answer it overtly for a long time, if ever.
Why can’t Kate be saved but Lucy can alter her family?
Kripke: Exactly. That’s a very intentional structuring of the pilot.