Interview: 'Legends Of Tomorrow' Showrunner Phil Klemmer On Time Travel, DC Easter Eggs, And More

Legends of Tomorrow is the latest show from DC Comics. They have a good track record with Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl, and producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg remain involved. Phil Klemmer is the showrunner for this one, and /Film got to sit down with him after a panel for the Television Critics Association.

Legends unites Arrowverse characters Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), Leonard Snart (Wentworth Miller), Mick Rory (Dominic Purcell), Carter Hall (Falk Hentschel), Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renee), Martin Stein (Victor Garber) and Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh). Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) comes from the future to enlist their help catching Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), and so begins a time-traveling adventure that begins Thursday, January 21 at 8PM on The CW.

Ahead of the premiere, I sat down with Klemmer to get the details on what's ahead for our heroes in season one and beyond. 

The first thing they say in Legends of Tomorrow is that they're there to guard the timeline. What fun is maintaining the timeline? We all want to change something.

Oh, totally. Yeah, and it's one of those things that's great in theory. It's like everybody else should be respectful of the sanctity of time, but when it comes to me, it is one of those things where you can delude yourself in being like, "You know, while I'm back in 1984, I know that I get in this horrible bicycle crash. What's the harm in going into my garage and giving myself a flat tire?" It's the unforeseen consequences, the butterfly effect of that flat tire means that your parents drive you to school which means you get in a head on collision that kills you both. It's deceptive how simple it seems. We all want to make these sort of surgical tune-ups to our own timeline, but the fun is realizing that in trying to correct one thing, you can f*** a dozen things up and the things you f*** up can be so much more huge than wrecking your bike.

I'm all for learning the value of the small disaster to teach you lessons to avoid bigger disasters, but I'm not particularly interested in watching a show about preventing any changes to the timeline. I want to see you mess things up.

Oh totally, me too. That's why we chose the legends that we did. If we wanted to do things surgically and discreetly, it would've been just the Rip Hunter, Ray Palmer and Professor Stein show. They would've gone and done all these little things. Once you let Mick Rory and Leonard Snart on the time ship, you're opening yourself up to some messy adjustments to the timeline. The real fun is being your own worst enemy. There's only so many times we can try to stop Vandal Savage. When we have our own guys who are destroying time, it becomes clear in episode two that we could very well destroy the world before we ever save it. To me, that's fun because we're our own worst enemies as opposed to just some villain that we're trying to stop.

Is killing Savage the whole series, or could they take care of him and find a new mission?

It is the stuff of this season. Next season I honestly have no idea what it will be about but I can promise you it will resemble this season hardly at all. It'll be a total shift in genre, perhaps tone. It's all up for grabs. We really want to treat this as a 16-episode miniseries that leaves nothing behind. You can't go home again. You can't restart. It won't be like, "Ooh, Savage got away. How are we going to stop him this year?" It'll be totally different building blocks.

Legends of Tomorrow

So even this lighter tone of the series may not be permanent?

Even on the show it's not permanent. There's real pathos on this show. When our characters are forced to go back and look at their own mistakes in their own lives, people like Mick Rory have horribly just grisly backstories. Yeah, it's happy go-lucky, we're going through time, we're fighting Vandal Savage, but there are moments in the show where we have to go back into our own histories and look at the events that made us who we are. That's real pain and pathos. I feel like the sort of light, absurd quippy tone, that is used to leaven the real heartbreak that our characters will encounter.

How far back could we go? Could you go to the Stone Age or dinosaurs?

Sure, sure. I think the idea is the farther you go back, if you throw a pebble in the pond, the longer you let those ripples go out, the more unforeseen consequences. So far we're focused on the 20th century and the near future just because I'm a history nerd and I like going back. The conceit that Vandal Savage was there secretly whispering in people's ear and changing the events that we all learned about in history class, that's primarily what we've dealt with so far. Also the idea is the farther you go back, the more debilitating it is on your body, so by the time you get back to the dinosaurs you'd be pretty well f***ed up.

But we are talking about the breadth of human history?

Yes. I would love to do a Land of the Lost episode though. Especially since we shoot up in Vancouver, we can do an awesome primitive land before time.

They've done Egypt on Arrow. Would Rome or Greece be possible?

Yeah, I mean, I'm a classics major so we will see the ancient world in Legends.

There was a line, "I've seen men of steel die." Is that one man of steel in particular or several?

Oh man, are you trying to get DC to put a gag order on me? No comment.

These shows are always careful about how they address the big characters. Is that paying homage to the bigger world but keeping it in your world?

Absolutely, although I will say that DC has been incredibly generous with loaning us familiar names from their compendium. So far, there hasn't been a time where we called Geoff Johns and asked him to use a name in which he said no.

Does that line suggest you might tell us the fates of characters who are not portrayed by actors in the Arrowverse?

Yes. I will say this. If you pay a lot of attention to Rip's parlor, I think there's about a dozen Easter eggs that our art department put in there. Little clues that come from the DC universe. Some of them are red herrings and other of those clues are ones that give hints to storylines we will address in episodes of Legends this season.

I always admire the fights on Arrow and there's continuity with them on Legends. Is there a formula with how they do the fights, when you shoot the acrobatic stunt doubles and where you block the actors?

It depends. A lot of actors like to do their own stunts. Stephen Amell wants to be there with the camera in his face. Other people don't like to do their own stunts. Caity Lotz has an Olympic Judo champion as her stunt double and yet a lot of times she does her own stunts because she's that good. It's up to the performer but we do have the same stunt team. J.J. Makaro is our stunt coordinator and he coordinates all three of the shows, he and his team. That's why there's a similar style but it's up to the performers and it's up to the directors how they choose to shoot that action.

Legends of Tomorrow was not a DC comics title, but were there any issues of any series that informed the show?

No, it really is the characters. The fact that these people have never breathed the same air before, we use the characters as they existed on the Flash and Arrow shows. Then obviously Rip Hunter was up for grabs. He is the glue that holds the show together but his backstory is something completely of our own invention.

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Legends of Tomorrow premieres January 21 on The CW.