Timeless love

Timeless love

Life sat down with Steven Moffat and stars Theo James and Rose Leslie to discuss the TV version of The Time Traveler's Wife

Timeless love
Theo James and Everleigh McDonell in The Time Traveler's Wife. (Photos: HBO GO)

Who says relationships have to happen in order? Here's a magical yet intricate love story that chronicles the romance of a married couple named Clare and Henry whose relationship has only one problem -- time travel.

If the characters and premise sound familiar to you, it's because The Time Traveler's Wife was not only a bestselling novel by Audrey Niffenegger but also adapted into a 2009 movie starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. Now, HBO has dropped its first episode of The Time Traveler's Wife television series, which promises to deliver a fresh take on a heartbreaking love story. A total of six episodes will be released on the platform every week until June 19.

The series stars Theo James (Divergent) as Henry DeTamble, a man who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes him to drift uncontrollably back and forth through time. He meets the love of his life, Clare Abshire, played by Rose Leslie (Game Of Thrones), and they fall in love and marry, but the problems of any relationship are multiplied by Henry's inability to remain in one place for any amount of time.


As one of the main appeals of the story is the concept and the law behind time travelling, and what Henry experiences as a time traveller, this new adaptation was written and created by Steven Moffat, who's well known for reanimating the UK hit sci-fi franchise Doctor Who that got a new generation obsessed with time travel. So this project is kind of a natural fit for him.

Life recently caught up with the show's creator Moffat as well as the two main stars Leslie and James during an online roundtable interview where they talk about their experience working on the show together.

Steven, how did you become involved with the project in the first place?

Moffat: When Doctor Who finished for producer Brian [Minchin] and myself, we left to go and work on other projects but Brian said, 'Hey, I've been looking into the rights of The Time Traveler's Wife which you obviously liked. Why don't you go and adapt to the real thing?'. And so we got the rights from Warner and pitched HBO, and shortly afterwards, here we all are.

Rose and Theo, how aware or familiar were you with the original novel or the origin of the film prior to or after starting working on the project?

Leslie: I actually hadn't read the book prior to auditioning for the role of Clare and it was only once I managed to get the role I decided it would be a good idea. And so I read the book, but it was a deliberate choice of mine to actually not watch the film and I haven't seen the film as of yet simply because whilst shooting, I didn't want to overwhelm my head with the different variations of Clare and wanted to kind of pull from the script I had in front of me because I felt Steven had done a fantastic job adapting the novel, but also staying true to the story. I felt that his words were enough to give me what I needed to portray Clare.

James: Steven is a giant fan of the book and he had a relationship or some back and forth with the author prior to this. So it's always been something he really wanted to do. As a result, he serves the material really well and he's faithful to the book. However, at the same time, he has a very specific writing style because he's great with messing with time as a narrative device. He was able to bring his own magic to it. So it's all there in terms of the DNA of the book, but there's also some added material. We have the luxury of a little longer storytelling, and some added sequences. There's the idea of the two Henry's being together at the same time and some of it is lifted from the book, but some grew from Steven's own ideas. I think it creates a really good comedy but also dramatic tension.

Steven, is it true you loved the novel by Audrey Niffenegger so much that one of your Doctor Who episodes was inspired by the book?

Moffat: Back in 2005 when I first read the book, I had just started writing Doctor Who. I read the book and I absolutely adored it. So I said to Russell [T. Davies] who's running the show at the time, 'Well, we should do a Doctor Who episode like this. A romantic Doctor Who with this time split relationships'. And so I wrote The Girl In The Fireplace consciously ripping on The Time Traveler's Wife. In Audrey's next book, Her Fearful Symmetry, she had a character watching The Girl In The Fireplace and so I thought, 'Oh, all right, Audrey is on to me. She's noticed I've ripped her off'. So at that point, we got in touch because I was amused and she was amused and we had that connection.

As the romance aspect goes, what do you think makes the relationship between Henry and Clare so special?

Leslie: Well, I think it's the time-travelling that lends such intensity to the relationship because when Claire and Henry can only be together for so long before he bounces off again. That lends itself to a kind of heightened love, as it were, because you never quite know how long that exchange is going to last. But certainly what I found very special between the two is their dedication to one another despite the time travel and the recognition that certainly Claire has in wholeheartedly believing that this is who she is destined to be with and works very hard at trying to embrace this very difficult scenario, but also not allowing it to fill her with self-pity or regret.

In the show there's this talk about 'fate' versus 'free will' and they talk about trying to change things. Do you think that Clare and Henry are really destined to meet all the time or do they choose each other cautiously?

James: In a way, it's the spine of the show, isn't it? It's whether they choose to be with each other or it's destiny or predetermined determinism or however you want to see it. The things we do, are they determined or are we able to be fashioned by our ability to make our own choices and change our destiny? And that's what Clare really rallies against. She thinks that she can change and make choices and Henry's response to that is, 'You make the choices that you're going to make. I just know the choices you are going to make'. So it's a funny kind of paradox. In a way, I think they definitely choose one another and would choose each other if they met independently of the time travel element. Also, they are in a way constrained and trapped by time travel and see this ailment that Henry is stuck out of time.

All the laws of time travel can be complicated and confusing. Steven, how tricky was it for you to build a story around the idea of time travel as some writers may find it hard to keep the plot holes out and build a cohesive story?

Moffat: Yeah, and I'm definitely one of those writers. It is very difficult. We only have experience of living our lives in a linear fashion. You can't really learn how to do it in the wrong order. I assume at some point in time, I'll make a terrible mistake. I think I found one in the book, but it's tough having to remember that as a 36-year-old Henry in this thing has already been in all the episodes of the second season. And we haven't even made them yet. So trying to avoid a continuity error in advance is a menace.

Lastly, what do you hope audiences will experience when they see this film?

Moffat: An overwhelming desire to watch again next week? [laughs] I hope they'll think it's a roller coaster in a way that they are moved one minute and then really laughing.

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