Q&A: HBO’s ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ Series Cast & Creators Talk About Time Travel, Love, & More

Steven Moffat of 'Sherlock' and 'Doctor Who' brings the beloved book to life in this new HBO series!

Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife is heading to our screens with Game of Thrones star Rose Leslie and Theo James of The Divergent trilogy playing the lead roles.

The six-part HBO Original series created by Sherlock and Doctor Who‘s Steven Moffat and directed by David Nutter tells the love story of Henry de Tamble and Clare Abshire– a romantic relationship made complicated by the fact that Henry could time travel, but the strange phenomenon is out of his control. Thus, while Clare had already met Henry in her youth, when they meet again in their 20s, Henry doesn’t know her for they have yet to meet in Henry’s time-traveling timeline. Back in 2009, a film adaptation of the book has also been released starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.

Before the release of the brand new series this May 16, we got to virtually interview Leslie and James alongside their co-stars Desmin Borges and Natasha Lopez, as well as Moffat, Nutter, and producers Sue Virtue and Brian Minchin where they shared some behind-the-scenes details on how they recreated this beloved story from the pages to our screens. Check out the highlights of the interview below.

Can you describe your characters in this series?

Rose Leslie: I’m playing Clare Abshire, who is in fact the Time Traveler’s Wife. And so this is a story about Clare and Henry and how determined they are, their resolve to be together. The love story is essentially from her perspective. And we learn through Clare, what it is exactly, to live with somebody and to be in love with somebody who has this condition of time traveling, and then the implications that it has on the friendships that she has, on the relationships with her family, and ideally, how difficult it is to weather the storm that is [their relationship].

Theo James: I play Henry de Tamble in Time Traveler’s Wife. He suffers from an affliction, a disability, which is he gets thrown around in time and he can’t control it, he doesn’t know when it’s gonna happen. And he meets the love of his life Clare Abshire. But you know, he’s constantly drawn away from her by his inability to stay in one time and one place. And it’s kind of a story full of hope and love, but it’s also quite tragic, in many ways.

Photo: HBO

Natasha Lopez: My character’s name is Charisse, she is Clare’s best friend and roommate. She is a little neurotic, and she’s that friend you want to have that has no filter, and you want to have that person around. So yeah, that’s gonna be a brief introduction to my character, and there’s gonna be a lot of things happening.

Desmin Borges: I’m playing Gomez, and I am part of the best friend trio, with the lovely ladies. Gomez is a bit of a man-boy still out there in the world. He’s in the world of law but not in a great place in the world of law. He’s secretly in love with Clare while in a relationship with [Natasha], and hates Henry at the start. And then, his sort of loyal, truculent sort of nature takes over and as time goes by, he realizes that Henry and time travel is probably the coolest damn thing he ever experienced in his life and Henry becomes [his best friend] and the show basically becomes a bromance between the two of them.

Photo: HBO

For Rose Leslie, which age of your character did you enjoy playing the most?

Rose Leslie: I would say that my favorite version of Clare to play. Obviously, it was a lot of fun to portray a character in different stages of her life and to see the development that she then goes through. But for me, it was her 16-year-old self. I was putting on additional hair, does that make sense? I put on a wig that gave me longer hair. And it’s very realistic for me, it kind of sat well, which meant that suddenly I had hair all the way down to my hips and I would plait it and braid it, and playing with it reminded me of myself when I was younger. And suddenly with kind of insecurities that I had, I’d kind of hide behind the hair. And I play with it to distract, you know, the thoughts going on in my head. So it was quite surreal to go back in time and try and remember how it was, how I was like, when I was 16 years old, but because of the script and Steven kind of peppering it with comedy throughout certain scenes, it was really enjoyable to lean into that.

At its core, what do you think is the message of this show?

Rose Leslie: Well for me, I find that Clare is wholly committed to the love that she has for Henry. And that is admirable and remarkable that she is willing to wait with so much patience and understanding. And through the perseverance of both of them, deciding and choosing to make this relationship work, I’d feel that that is the message. That it is extraordinary and beautiful that they are both on this journey together unwavering in their faith to commit to it and to make it work as best as they can. And that perseverance for their love is something that I’ve suddenly taken away from reading the book.

Theo James: It’s hard to sum up in a way because there are so many things, you know. It’s memory. It’s also an analogy for how we deal with traumatic events in our lives, whether it’s, you know, abuse, that Claire suffers [from] or Henry and the death of his mother, and how that shaped his life. But the core of it really is, I think, can love transcend time? Is there an immortality to love beyond the specter of the human body and can love rise above all of that. And that sounds cheesy, but in a way it is. It’s about love conquering all, even though it’s a kind of doomed love story in the end.

Natasha Lopez: I think the show is so many things, cause I can’t really personally put it in one genre. There are so many things that happen, like in episode four, I feel like it’s very comedic. There’s a lot of tragedy. But I think for me, the overall theme is to live in the present moment and to really enjoy the people that you love […] I feel like other things get in the way, like work and life and we forget to be present and in the moment. And so I feel like, even though it is a sci-fi show, for me, it’s so relatable, because it’s pretty much the same thing. When you’re there, just be there. And it really is all about love, not just the main love story which is incredible, but you know, there are the friendships and the relationships. I think that love is really the resounding theme for me.

Photo: HBO

Desmin Borges: Yeah, love is definitely one of the main themes of it. I would have to say that the more I’m away from the project now and kind of looking back on it, I feel like it’s about missed connections, and finding the gray space in between that. We have so many times where we have Henry and Claire not jiving at the same point. You know, he’s in a different headspace. She already kind of knows what’s happening. He fills her in. She fills her in. And then you have the thing that’s happening with Gomez and Charisse and everybody on the outside. We don’t really know what’s happening, but we’re finding those moments in between when we’re really missing each other. And that’s the stuff that makes them human and enjoyable. And it keeps us as actors on the edge of our seats, and hopefully the audience as well.

How similar are you to your characters in this show?

Theo James: I would have loved to have young Henry’s floppy hair. It’s funny, I tried to grow out my hair before we did the show. And I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna be like this guy,’ and I got to sit with David, and the director took one look at me like and ‘Yeah, we’re gonna shave that head because you look ridiculous. You wear a wig.’ But joking aside, I think there are definitely similarities and you bring your own similarities to a character, you bring pieces of yourself to any character, I think most actors do. That’s your way in, you know, you try and empathize with them. But for me, I sit snugly between the ages of the guys that I’m playing. I’m 37 and I play a 28-year-old and a 42-year-old. And that puts me in a great place to be able to do both in a way I remember. I still am that young, kind of impulsive version of myself, but then I’m a bit longer in the tooth, and hopefully a little bit wiser. So I can imagine myself as a 42-year-old man and having a little bit more composure.

Rose Leslie: I totally agree with Theo about bringing elements of yourself to a character so that you hopefully try and exude some empathy for that person, as it were. But I certainly don’t have the patience that Clare has. And that was something that I wish I do have that type of patience, which I don’t. But yes, if only I was more like that, but I’m not.

Photo: HBO

Natasha Lopez: I feel like there are a lot of similarities except the fact that Natasha is not confrontational. I only don’t have a filter with my close friends. I feel like Charisse will lay down the law for anybody because she’s in the building and she needs to know. Whereas for me, I am I’m shy around people, I’m not that person. But with my close group of friends, they’ll tell you that I’m very blunt, very no filter. So in a way, I kind of wish I had that Charisse moment where she’s like “just go, just do it.” But I think I’m a little bit more shy when I don’t know people versus her.

Desmin Borges: I think Gomez actually kind of encapsulates me at different parts of my life. We’re both kids of the 80s. We both know that Back to the Future is the blueprint for anything time travel related. We’re both extremely loyal to the people we love. And we’ll go full hog and become aggressive if we feel that we or they are in any sort of danger. Although I don’t like to get physically aggressive. I’m from Chicago. So we get very talky sort of aggressive. And, you know, at the end of the day, I feel like, the space where we miss, where Gomez and Desmond don’t really coincide, I don’t really approve of him being in a relationship with one person and being in love with their best friend at the same time, I feel like Desmond would have attacked that at a different angle and made sure that their things weren’t so messy and sort of convoluted, but hey, you know, love is a messy thing right? So who’s to say, although I’ve never been in that situation, but that is Gomez in a nutshell. So I would say we’re, unfortunately very similar throughout different parts of my life, for Gomez, not for me, I’m very happy to be very much like him.

To producers Sue Virtue and Brian Minchin, what do you think makes The Time Traveler’s Wife a timeless love story that’s worth telling even to this day?

Brian Minchin: It’s a story about two people who are destined for each other and about what it’s like after how you sustain a marriage with the big problem of time travel. So it touches on the heart of a lot of people’s stories, which is, you know, there’s one big relationship which kind of defines your life, no matter what’s thrown at you, and kind of how you respond and get through that. And I also think it’s tremendously funny and sexy and scary and adventurous and exciting as a TV show. And I think it’s a great material because the time travel adds such elements to it.

Sue Virtue: And Rose and Theo, I think the chemistry between them is so good. It’s a joy to watch the two of them together, I think.

To Steven Moffat and director David Nutter, what was your approach to telling the story given that it’s a well-loved novel and there’s also a movie adaptation from 2009?

Steven Moffat: Well I suppose you always have to perceive from the assumption that it isn’t, if you see what I mean. You always have to tell the story again. You can’t make any assumptions that everybody knows it, and you certainly can’t make the assumption that everybody remembers it, so I was thinking, you just gotta behave like it’s brand new. Because actually, even if I’m watching yet another version of Sherlock Holmes or something, I’m thrilled to see it all done again. I don’t think the fact that it’s been done before is a problem at all, so you always address the new audience, because the easiest to seduce are the ones who already like it. So you’re always going for “If you know nothing about this, what do you think?” So you present it that way.

David Nutter: For my own self, sometimes it’s about, as a director, not needing the source material. Because to me, the screenplay is the source material. That’s my bible to some respect. So my opinion is to not read too many things that are off-topic or off-center, but I use the screenplay as my bible, as my source material […] and examine that more than anything.

Photo: HBO

What attracted you to the story and inspired you to turn it into a TV series?

Steven Moffat: I read the book nearly when it first came out, I think I read it in 2005. I absolutely loved it, wonderful story, and at the time I was in the very early stages of writing Doctor Who and I suggested to [Russell T Davies] we should do an episode like this. And I did an episode called The Girl in the Fireplace, which has some resemblance to The Time Traveler’s Wife. In Audrey’s next book, she has a character watching The Girl in the Fireplace on television. So I realized, at that point, she was onto me. I ripped her off and she ripped me off back again, so we got in touch and we were friendly and liked each other. She came to a screening of one of the River Song episodes of Doctor Who and so on […]

On the very last day, Brian Minchin and I were working on Doctor Who, he said ‘Look, I’ve been looking into the rights of The Time Traveler’s Wife, maybe we could do a TV version.’ And here, in television terms, in a very very short space of time, here we are. We went and pitched for the rates, got room, pitched to HBO, got permission, then frankly, if not for the pandemic, this would have been quicker. It was a speedy process. It comes from one of the best possible place– it comes from the love of the book.

The Time Traveler's Wife
Photo: HBO

David Nutter: Well, for my own self. I’ve had a lot of success with Warner Brothers and television and so forth. So Peter Roth has been my godfather when it comes to projects that I worked on and so forth. And then one thing he knew from me, and I told him this, at the get-go is that, if I don’t feel something, I can’t portray that. If I’m not moved by the script, I’m not touched by it, I can’t create that.

And when I read this script, it was just by hands down, the most personal, the most revealing, the most ambitious as far as the telling of an emotional story I’ve ever been involved in. And the elements in this show [are the things] that I tried to put in everything that I do. And in this show, every moment was just something special. And it was just something that I couldn’t turn down.

What is it about time travel as a theme that appeals to you?

Steven Moffat: Time travel, well, it’s a different way to look at your life. And that’s what the book does brilliantly. By putting your life in the jumbled up order that time travel allows, it gets you to see that love and loss are inextricably linked, that one entails the other, which I think is a vast thing. It means that happiness means sadness, it means togetherness means being apart. Light means shadow, all those things. And by dicing up the time travel, you are allowed not to forget.

The appeal of the overarching genre of time travel is if you can travel in time, you can go to a shore that cannot be reached by any other means. You and I cannot go to yesterday or last week, and we can’t go into the next 100 years unless we live for an unconscionable amount of time. So you know, places we can never go are particularly exotic to us. And time travel is a means of going to places that you can never reach, I suppose that’s what it is. Wouldn’t it be great to go see yesterday again, wouldn’t it be great to go and listen at the next table to your first date with the love of your life? And find out what you actually said and maybe even see what she might have liked about you because it’s always been a mystery to you. You know all that, all that.

David Nutter: I find audiences and people who really love science fiction, stories and so forth, they get so emotionally attached. They are so moved by this stuff, that some of these shows are part of their lives. Through the various conventions, meetings, and various people that I have met, these shows mean the world to them. And they’re so touched by it, and so moved by them. And their emotional lives are so tied up in these stories. And so when I read this, I said, ‘Oh, my God, I got something to hang on to here because this [will touch] somebody emotionally, it’s going to be a resounding success, it’s never been seen before.

What can you say about the perception that the story feels like Clare is just waiting for Henry to get back from his adventures?

Steven Moffat: That’s a wrong summary. The adventure is the love story. The time travel is the interruption. He just gets back there. He’s not like Doctor Who, he doesn’t run around saving people or solving crimes the way I obviously would. He just wants to get back home to Clare. The adventure, the story is what’s happening between the two of them. And, you know, it is a tricky thing with the character of Clare, that if you’re not inside her head as you are in the book, she can seem passive– the person to whom things happen. But that’s anything but what we do in the show. She’s quite angry sometimes. She’s been shown the markers to her future. And she’s got a strange dichotomy about that, but she quite likes that future. She likes it, ‘Because I liked this guy, and I’m in love with this guy. At the same time, I don’t like being told that’s my damn future. I’ll decide for myself what my future is. And you will not tell me.’

No, the reason I think [that] the millions that responded to that book is that’s kind of what falling in love is like. There’s a line at the beginning of chapter four when Henry says people always talk about agency, everybody’s got to have agency. Well, let me tell you something about falling in love. No one has any agency. That’s why they call it falling.

The Time Traveler’s Wife premieres the same time as the U.S. on May 16 at 9 AM on HBO and HBO GO, with a same-day 10 PM encore on HBO. A new episode will follow every Monday.

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