It’s not a workday, but Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, and Malcom Barrett —known on their NBC time-travel drama Timeless as Lucy (Spencer), Wyatt (Lanter), and Rufus (Barrett)—are happy to spend an afternoon off together, especially since their tenure as “the Time Team” almost came to an end when their show was canceled last May. (The network reversed the call just three days later.) Over some libations at quirky Hollywood watering hole Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, the trio reflect on their show’s unprecedented renewal, the pleasures (and pains) of period-piece wardrobe, and what their passionate fans can expect from season 2, which premieres March 11 at 10 p.m.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Walk me through those three days Timeless was canceled.
Abigail Spencer: I call it the Great Crucifixion and Resurrection of Timeless, because we were crucified on a Wednesday and raised from the dead on a Saturday.
Matt Lanter: I knew what our ratings were and I thought we had a pretty good chance, so I was a little surprised when we got the call that Wednesday that we were gonna be canceled. But—and I think all actors do this—I justified it: We shot in Vancouver and we all missed our families, so now we get to be back in Los Angeles. Then that Friday my wife comes down and shoves a pregnancy test in my face and goes, “Babe.” I was like, “Oh my God. This is it. Now I get to stay in L.A. and raise our kid.” Then Saturday morning I got a call from [co-creator and showrunner Shawn Ryan] saying that the show was picked up, but we were going to shoot in L.A. It was three or four days of ups and downs.
Malcolm Barrett: I was bummed when I found out, but I was shooting Preacher at the time so I was focused on that. That Saturday morning my phone was on airplane mode and I was just chilling, doing my thing. Then around noon I turned my phone on and saw a voicemail from my agent. They never talk to me on the weekend, so I knew something was up.
Spencer: My phone was also on airplane mode. When I turned it off, I looked over [at it] and saw “Timeless is back.” I just thought it was a fan campaign, but then I suddenly had 150 texts. James Corden was like, “Congratulations.” I was like, “For what?!” I knew the internet was not to be trusted, so I went through my emails and, sure enough, Shawn had written us, “This is not a joke. Timeless is renewed.”
EW: What drew you to the show in the first place?
Barrett: It was a big opportunity to be an African-American in sci-fi and get to address issues of race through history.
Spencer: I remember when we did the pilot, there was another comedy you wanted to be on. But you were debating doing the same thing or taking this opportunity to do something—not only as an actor, but for society.
Barrett: Ultimately I said to myself, “If I see someone else play this part, I will kill that person…. And I want them to live, whoever that person might be.”
Spencer: When I met with Shawn [and co-creator Eric Kripke], they pitched me the idea and—I’ll never forget this—said, “You’ll never be bored.” My mother made all my clothes growing up, and I really enjoy period pieces, and they were like, “Now you get to do one every week.”
Lanter: I was doing the pilot-season rat race and had already zeroed in on another project.
Spencer: Can we say which one?
Lanter: I don’t want to, but it was a big project, like a title-character project and everything. But I went in to audition for Timeless on a Saturday, and the next day we were flooded with emails from Shawn and Eric asking me to meet with them again before taking the other show. They said, “Wyatt is the Han Solo of the show.” And I’m a big Star Wars fan, so the idea of being Indiana Jones in a time-travel show was just something I couldn’t resist.
Barrett: He was up for the Will & Grace reboot.
Spencer: Debra [Messing] was on the fence about coming back.
EW: Was the Time Team chemistry pretty instantaneous?
Spencer: My favorite part of the show is when it’s just the three of us. There’s a relationship that we developed during the pilot—I think it was the first scene, we already had an inside joke.
Lanter: One of the things that’s surprised me is that we’re a time-travel show but people really love the Wyatt-and-Lucy stuff. That’s surprising.
Spencer: Because we don’t like each other at all. [Laughs] I try and unattract him as much as possible. I do these kind of…
Barrett: Kristen Wiig dances.
Spencer: Yeah! Matt and Malcolm hate them. I love doing them because they hate them so much.
EW: What can fans expect from season 2?
Spencer: We pick up right where we left off: Lucy has just found out that she is a purebred Rittenhouse descendant, and they’re about to travel back in time to find her sister. The big question is: “Whose side will Lucy be on?”
Lanter: We visit World War I, NASCAR in the 1950s, the Salem witch trials. We meet Benjamin Franklin’s mom, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Marie Curie.
Spencer: We go to 1940s Hollywood.
Barrett: Abi finally gets her musical wish.
Spencer: I do! Lucy and Wyatt go undercover as a new musical act, and Rufus is undercover as a playwright.
Barrett: Langston Hughes!
Spencer: Sleeper agents are a big worry, too.
Barrett: Yeah. We expand the world. We thought Flynn [played by Goran Višnjić] was bad, but he’s nothing compared to what we face now. And we learn more about how Jiya [played by Claudia Doumit] can time-travel without a ship—and explore what’s going on with everyone and their relationships.
Spencer: Because we’re all living together now. “Seven time travelers picked to live in a house…”
Barrett: Real World: Time Travel.
EW: I’m sure you have a lot of favorite costumes, but which ones have you hated wearing?
Barrett: My least favorite is in the [upcoming Salem witch trials episode] ’cause I’m extra slave-y. It’s very “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”
Lanter: The Civil War shoes were tight and hard and horrible. We shot that episode in the summer and were in these authentic wool suits. That was definitely the most uncomfortable.
Barrett: What about the Jesse James episode? We actually had to change the script because it started snowing. If you notice, I’m wearing a blanket when we’re at the campfire. That’s not a character choice; I was just cold.
Spencer: I requested an electric blanket to be on my spot before we shot that scene.
Barrett: What?! [To Lanter] Did you know that?
Lanter: Not until now!