Reading the novels of H.G. Wells has been a bit of a revelation for executive producer/director Marcos Siega when it came to his new ABC series, Time After Time. The series is a remake of the 1979 novel and movie, and the material became a launching point for the TV series, which has H.G. Wells traveling to our present time to hunt for former friend Dr. John Stevenson, who turns out to be Jack the Ripper, Siega said in an exclusive interview with Syfy Wire.
Along the way H.G. learns that woman have changed and the world is nowhere close to achieving utopia. The series was created by Kevin Williamson, and the pilot was directed by Siega, who both executive-produce. Time After Time stars Freddie Stroma as H.G. Wells, Josh Bowman as John Stevenson/Jack the Ripper, Genesis Rodriguez as Jane and Nichole Ari Parker as Vanessa Anders.
Time After Time premieres Sunday, March 5, at 9 p.m. with a two-hour premiere on ABC.
Siega (Dexter, True Blood) talked with us about creating a new kind of time machine, shaping the direction of the first season and why H.G. Wells would be disappointed in us.
As a director, how did you and creator Kevin Williamson approach developing the series?
Marcos Siega: I started with it being a remake. I started reading the book. I had not seen the movie, and once Kevin talked to me about it, on YouTube I saw the trailer. And hearing Kevin talk about how he loved it so much, I decided that before I shot the pilot I didn't want to see the movie. I didn't want to subconsciously have it in my head. I wanted it to be our own thing. So it started with that, and then there are big questions, like if somebody says to you "design a time machine." Well, you immediately go to what you know. Time machines, we've seen them in movies. We've seen them on book covers and in literature. So we have this very specific idea in our head of what a time machine is supposed to look like. And even with that, I tried to go in the other direction. So our time machine looks and feels different than what you've seen in previous time machines.
It is cool-looking and different.
It's not easy undertaking. It's not easy because people fall in love with what it's supposed to look like. But Kevin also had some ideas that he wanted to be included, so we worked off of the concept of in that time period it was very steampunk. I am really happy with it. I think hopefully we've created something that people will look at and really enjoy.
Will we be traveling through time with H.G. and John or will it take place primarily in our time?
Once they come to the present day that's where our story is really going to take place. We travel I think four or five times in the first season but it's not a weekly time travel show. After the pilot I don't think we time travel again until episode four, maybe five. I know that there've been a lot of time travel shows and the title and the movie implies time travel. I think Kevin really wanted to create a mythology and make it a bit more than just a show where we travel back in time every week.
Now you have these two characters who are out of time and one more so than the other, with that being H.G. As a director, how did you approach what you were looking for from the performances with these guys who are obviously very talented actors? How do you bridge that gap between making them feel like they are from that time period and yet in this time period too?
My approach was really the anchoring it in traditional storytelling, which is a fish out of water story. It could be, whether it's somebody in the wrong time or it's somebody in another country or a kid going to a new school. There's something we can all understand when you don't belong. So you anchor it. And then the guys are so incredibly talented and I think they are perfectly cast because Josh Bowman who plays John Stevenson is very much that guy. He's more outgoing, charismatic and charming and he seduces you. And Freddy [Stroma] is the more proper, more reserved, really thoughtful, and in many ways we got really lucky with the casting of these two men because there wasn't a lot that we needed to do in terms of shaping them. They really brought their personalities to the roles and I think that really filled it out nicely.
Why should people tune in to the two-hour premiere on Sunday?
I think it has a little bit of something for everyone. There are the things that Kevin does really well. The suspense in storytelling. The romance in storytelling. The danger, and I think it's a big fun show. Everything Kevin and I have done together, we did Vampire Diaries together, we did The Following together. And I've always felt like if he was writing a novel, it's a page-turner. You have to see what happens next. And this is no different.
When you take that, what Kevin as always done really well as a fantastic writer, and you add to it the really interesting concepts of what we're going to see is really the adventure that informed H.G. Wells' novels. He's considered the father of science fiction. He wrote The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds, and how did he come up with those ideas? This series touches on that. It gives you a glimpse into if H.G. Wells had time traveled this is how he was inspired to write the novels.
What themes play out during the first season?
I think thematically family was a big theme. It’s how a family has to come together to overcome something huge ... and then also the same for his relationship with Jane and in many ways John Stevenson also becomes, I don't want to say part of a family, but there's a big family component to his storyline that is carried through the season. So if I had to say thematically what it was, it's that place.
When you watch the pilot, you don't want to see H.G. lose his innocence, and yet you know he will have to to bring John back to justice.
And that's the fun of it because he's constantly challenged with being somebody that he doesn't want to be and doing things he doesn't want to do. So that's part of the fun narrative week to week.
What can you tell us about what we have to look forward to with the first season?
It's a tough one to answer without spoilers, but we go back to a time that informs. Season 1 we really get into how Wells came to write The Island of Doctor Moreau. So I think people who know the story will appreciate it and people who don't know the story will learn about the story and understand what it is that we're putting out there. But we go back to the time where after he's confronted with some big choices and decisions that ultimately play into what would have become the inspiration for writing that novel. And that's a very roundabout way of me trying to say something without spoiling anything.
Will other inspirations for his novels play out as well?
Yeah ... and if I were to give you just a big picture on The Invisible Man, for example. The Invisible Man literally doesn't have to be a man who can become invisible. He turns into somebody that you can't find, somebody you don't see. Like not being able to catch John Stevenson metaphorically could be the beginning of what is ultimately The Invisible Man.
H.G. Wells wrote so many great novels. You could have a lot of fun mining that territory.
I didn't realize until we were doing this and I started reading some of his work and we actually put it in the show. But in one of his novels he wrote about something called the World Brain and he described it and in his description, in the real H.G. Wells' description of the World Brain, when you read it you go, "Oh, my God, that's the Internet.The World Brain is the Internet." So it's not that he predicted it, but he wrote about these things and when you go back and look at it you realize he was a real visionary. He did tap into something and he really believed as a man that technology and people being able to communicate more freely than when he was around would lead to a better world, would lead to a Utopian society where people would be connected and people would get along.
That's what's so devastating for him in the pilot. Here he is in a world where we are more connected now than any time in history. And we are more divided now than any time in history. That is a hugely profound disappointment for him. So as a man he has to deal with that and face that. I think it's really interesting. I just think it's very timely also.
His budding romance with Jane Walker, the assistant museum curator, is fun and has some of the same tones as the original movie. What are you trying to do with the series when it comes to H.G. and Jane?
I think for H.G. being a man from 1893 and falling for a woman who is fiercely independent and going to speak her mind and she's a true equal to him. Seeing that, having to look at the opposite sex differently and how he deals with that and how he quickly learns that this is how it should be and this is what it always should have been where he was coming from. I think it's a really fun part for Genesis to play because she does get to be a hero. She does get to be a heroine in the season, and we do really lead into that relationship. And ultimately I always look at everything someone has done whether it was Vampire Diaries or The Following. There is this love triangle, right, and I do feel that you have the best elements of that in the show.
My wild guess is that the triangle is actually H.G.'s attachment to hunting down John.
I'm not going to say anything.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I feel really blessed ... we are very lucky. We have a tremendous, not just the three leads, we have a tremendous supporting cast, and I hope that people respond to the show. I hope they enjoy it, what it is, a nice big fun adventure and I can't wait to see how it's perceived. Fingers crossed.
Here's a preview of Time After Time.