Rose Leslie & Theo James Interview: The Time Traveler’s Wife

In 2003, Audrey Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, a novel that embedded itself into the genres of sci-fi and romance forevermore. Hints of its plot crop up in movies and fanfics alike, and there was even a widely-discussed film adaptation starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. Nearly two decades after the original book, HBO is premiering a television adaption spanning 6 episodes that dissects the tale of love and time more in-depth.

With Doctor Who‘s Steven Moffat serving as showrunner and David Nutter directing, The Time Traveler’s Wife stars Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Theo James (Sanditon) as star-crossed lovers Claire Abshire and Henry DeTamble. An otherwise well-adjusted and normal girl, Clare has the (mis)fortune of meeting the love of her life when she’s 6 years old – and then waiting to see him again for years at a time. Henry, meanwhile, is afflicted with a mysterious genetic disorder that causes him to jump out of time throughout his lifespan.


Leslie and James spoke with Screen Rant and several other outlets during a recent press event about the humor of playing off several versions of oneself, intimacy coordinators for solo scenes, and the difficulty of building one’s life around another person.

What enticed you to play the character of Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife(TVFanatic)

Rose Leslie: I always find it fascinating that she was one half of the time traveling couple. I thought that that was a pretty good hook in, as it were, just because of how fascinating [it is].

But also knowing that Clare has gone through something extraordinary in her childhood, and that something phenomenally exciting but also very complicated has happened to her, and how that then shapes her as a character. Henry, from a very early age, has a pivotal role in her life. Then we see her develop into an artist and sculptor, and how that then informs her work, and how she knows that she is committed to this life of uncertainty. But yet she’s very able to show an extraordinary amount of patience, and I just thought [those were] remarkable qualities in a character and very, very fun.

What do you think the show says about living in the moment and really savoring where you are? (CinemaDaily)

Theo James: I’d say it says a lot. In a way, that’s one of the themes of the show and the book.

I think it’s episode 5 [that] Henry says, “People are worried about the past; what they could have done, what they didn’t do. They’re worried about the future; what’s coming, what’s not coming, what they might be able to do what they won’t have the opportunity to do. But the only thing that matters and the only time is now.”

I think that’s so true, and it’s a good reminder for myself, because I do exactly that. I worry about the future, and I worry about the past. But living in the moment is the only time that really matters. Given the world we live in now – the complicated world we live in and everything – there’s a lot of things online and a lot of distractions. I think it’s a good message for everyone.

Rose Leslie: I completely agree with that. I think it’s a good message; certainly a difficult one to retain: being as centered and aware of one’s present moment, and what’s happening in the here and now, rather than allowing anxiety to rule and get freaked out by the future. And as a result, I think that it’s a powerful message, but also one that we can all hopefully try and adopt into our lives.

Henry is in a lot of the scenes at the same time at different ages. Theo, how was it to play that? And Rose, how was it to interact with different versions of him when there’s only one at that point in time? (fresh pair of iis)

Theo James: Yeah, it was tricky. One of the first scenes that we shot during the whole thing was this big dinner sequence where there’s two Henrys of different ages, and there’s all the other characters all in the room at the same time. It was a dance, in a way. There was an element of choreography; a bit of making sure you remember exactly what you’re doing.

But I found it tricky because, normally with a scene, you do what you want, and it evolves. Essentially, you feel what’s right. But the problem was that, with filming, you didn’t want to trap yourself into certain corners. If on one day I would play the older Henry, we would be doing part of the scene and perhaps older Henry would interact in a certain way. It meant that I didn’t want to prescribe what the younger Henry was saying on the other side of it the next day, if that makes sense.

It was complicated, but it was also kind of a joy. That scene’s almost like a fast play, so it was a great scene to start with.

Rose Leslie: I would say that been being in that scene and having a very easy time of it, whereby I was sitting at a table and had a line here and there, was a joy. [It was] fascinating to watch Theo do his thing and know that when he is playing the older version, there’s a different aura about him and a different stance; a different way of delivering the lines.

[I was] seeing that – not necessarily mimicked, but seeing that mirrored in the younger version, but it being far more throwaway and careless. It was the first time that ever happened to me, and I felt like I got away easy with being able to observe. It was very cool to see.

What I find so fascinating about The Time Traveler’s Wife is the concept of building your life around someone, which is what both of them have done. It’s both romantic and terrifying, especially for Clare, who’s been doing this since she was six. How do you approach that aspect of the romance, balancing the almost toxic nature of a time travel love with the destiny aspect? (Screen Rant)

Rose Leslie: I think it’s a very good thing to bring up: the pushback that Clare has when she’s in her 20s, recognizing that she almost didn’t have a choice in whom she would find attractive or whom her perfect man would be.

Simply because she knows that having met Henry at six years old has shaped her – she says it’s shaped her libido. It’s shaped her attitude on men, because she knows that when she’s at school, nobody actually comes up to par with the way that Henry makes her feel in her 20s. She feels almost of the decision of her own self in being able to determine who she finds attractive.

But what a wonderful thing to know yourself so well that there is one man for you; one partner for you. And that person is who you have decided wholeheartedly, with unwavering faith, to spend your life with despite the very clear trials and tribulations. There’s a beautiful commitment coming from her, and I think that’s balanced in her 20s.

By the time that she’s at the end of her 20s and they’re married, and even prior to their marriage, she has accepted the fact that she is in this for the long haul and that she loves him no matter what.

The show is very emotional, and what works really well is the humor that is blended into these characters. What was that dynamic like and how did you find the humorous moments mixed into these more dramatic ones?  (The Mary Sue)

Rose Leslie: I feel that we were incredibly fortunate with the script that we were working off, simply because of the kind of genius that Steven Moffat is. He peppers the comedy in the dialogue anyway.

Certainly there were scenes where it was just one-on-one, myself and Theo, bouncing the lines off one another. That in itself, just knowing the words that you had to speak as the characters, lifted it and made it lighthearted and joyous. But there’s always this undercurrent of tragedy for these two lovers, and Steven also wove that into the dialogue.

I leaned in heavily to the words, what I was saying, and trying my utmost to do them justice. Because I felt very fortunate in knowing that everything that I felt I should portray was right there in front of me.

Theo James: I second that as well. One thing from the book which we’re all keen to, emanate throughout the series was [that] they’re both funny. They’re funny people there; there’s a lot of humor in there, and Steven obviously is a master of that. And the joyous thing about it is it’s deeply dramatic, but then some of it’s almost farcical in its comedy in a great way.

I remember saying to Brian [Minchin] once, after doing quite a few of these great comedic scenes back-to-back, “Are we doing a drama, or are we doing a comedy? I’m kind of confused.” And obviously, he said both.

But it’s so important, because amongst the tragedy, you need that levity. It makes it more powerful in a way – I hope. We haven’t seen it, but we hope.

Theo, got to work with the younger actors. How did you approach working with young Henry and young Clare, especially in the emotional scenes? (TVFanatic)

Theo James: Yeah, it was great. The young Henry, that was a kind of fascinating journey. Because what happened in a nice way is we ended up having almost an older brother and little brother dynamic, which developed organically. And that made those scenes feel very easy.

Then when it came to the two actresses who played the young Clare, what was really interesting is they had – not hugely diverging, but they had very specific, different takes on Clare at different ages. And that made it really interesting, because of course that’s true. A 6-year-old is very different to a 10-year-old. You evolve and change in terms of your confidence; your ability; everything about you. They were almost quite different as people, but it was a joy because they’re really good.

There’s so much on TV right now that’s dystopian and negative. How does it feel to be put in something hopeful, that’s a story about love and people fighting to be together during this time? (CinemaDaily)

Rose Leslie: I hope that it’s a lovely escapism for people who feel the incredibly difficult world that we’re all now currently living in. With Ukraine, there’s hopefully a little bit of escapism with something that is light and at times farcical.

And also, seeing some of it in ADR, the way that this series is lit… It’s lit so beautifully. Certainly, when they are in the clearing as the young Clare and [adult] Henry, there’s a beautiful light; a kind of golden sheen. And hopefully that helps some people just transport themselves away from the sofa, really.

Theo James: It’s a story about hope, really, although there’s a in the DNA of the lovers. It’s really a story about how love is timeless, and it transcends time and death in a way.

There’s an idea that Henry, even after death, can visit Clare because of the nature of time travel. A younger version of him could visit an older version of Clare once Henry has died. That’s obviously an analogy for memory, and how love transcends death. And I think that’s a really hopeful message.

One of the great things about a series instead of a movie is how much you get to explore other dynamics outside of the primary relationship. For each of you, what is one dynamic that you really liked diving into?  (Screen Rant)

Rose Leslie: There are a couple. I enjoyed the tripod that is Charisse, Gomez and Clare. I’d love for that friendship to evolve, and we see it develop onscreen.

But also. I was pulled in by the marvelous actor [Peter Graham] who plays the brother, Mark. I would love to nitpick that relationship and why indeed, on screen anyway, they have such animosity towards one another. Because I think they’re slightly more supportive of one another in the book, possibly. Onscreen, I think that would be quite fun to explore.

Theo James: Yeah, I’d probably go for Gomez. They detest each other; Gomez is in love with Claire as well, and he doesn’t try to cover that in a way. But then they become, over time, best friends. I liked that storyline. I thought it was very delicate.

With this show, every time I think of time travel, I’ll think of Theo James showing up somewhere completely naked. But you worked with the intimacy coordinator on that aspect of the show. How was it working with them and playing with that aspect of Henry’s time travel? (The Mary Sue)

Theo James: Yeah, the intimacy coordinator thing was interesting, because normally it’s usually when two people are together. We had a bit of that obviously, with Rose and I.

But in a way, when there’s two people, there’s more clarity. Because it’s about two people having boundaries and being feeling comfortable, and you all those things that go with it. But when it’s just you running down the street in New York at night with your bum out? I don’t know, the lines are a bit more blurred. Because it’s like, “Cover up or don’t cover up?”

But I think that his nudity is so woven into the DNA of both the book and the show that I wanted it to feel dangerous. I know that sounds silly because in some ways the nudity is a great comic foil in places, but also, it’s dangerous. He doesn’t have a choice when, for how long, or where he goes to. I really wanted to connect with that.

When he goes, it has physical and detrimental effects on his body. It’s like an epileptic fit. He gets thrown through time. The other side of it, he’s covered in sweat. He’s depleted; he’s hungry; he’s naked. He has nothing on him. Not a weapon, not a wallet, not a pair of underwear. [I wanted to show] what that would feel like, and how dangerous that would be.

Because one thing about the book that I loved is the simmering danger underneath the love story. At any point, he might die or be violently injured.

The Time Traveler’s Wife Synopsis

Adapted by Steven Moffat from the beloved novel of the same name, The Time Traveler’s Wife follows the spellbinding and intricately out-of-order love story between Clare and Henry, and a marriage with a problem: time travel.

At 6 years old, Clare meets Henry, the future love of her life – and who, as a time traveler, is actually visiting from the future. Fourteen years later, when a beautiful redhead wanders into the library where Henry works claiming not only to have known him all her life but to be his future wife, a magical romance ensues that is as sprawling and complicated as Henry’s attempts to explain his “condition.”

Over six hour-long episodes, the genre-bending drama series expertly weaves themes of love, loss, marriage, and survival – in a story that defies the laws and logic of time.

Check back soon for more interviews with the cast and crew of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The Time Traveler’s Wife episode 1 will premiere at May 15 at 9pm ET/PT on HBO, after which it will be available to stream on HBO Max.

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