Timeless: Matt Lanter on Fate vs. Free Will for Wyatt and Lucy

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Timeless has been keeping us on the edge of our toes each week as we go deeper into the mysteries surrounding Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) and Rittenhouse. Last week’s episode took the team deep into Nazi territory, accompanied by James Bond himself, Iam Fleming (Sean Maguire, Once Upon a Time). Once again the team struggled with a moral dilemma when they were faced with the prospect of saving von Braun and potentially erasing America’s space program off the map.

Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) continued to face his own moral issue of spying on his team for Rittenhouse. The episode ended with a chilling warning after they remotely hacked into his car and cornered him on an empty street.

We spoke with Wyatt actor Matt Lanter about the show’s moral dilemmas, the surreal experiences he’s had filming and previews an emotionally insightful episode for Wyatt in the Alamo.

The TV Junkies: This past episode saw your characters working as spies in Nazi Germany alongside the man who created, and really was, James Bond, Ian Fleming. How surreal was that to film?

Matt Lanter: It’s crazy. Sean Maguire, who plays our Ian Fleming, did a great job as James Bond—or as Ian Fleming who, like you said, is James Bond. I didn’t really realize that. I never really put two and two together that those were actually his own experiences and he created James Bond from his own experiences. It was pretty cool. The episode in Nazi Germany was very surreal–you used a great word–it was extremely surreal. One of my first days on set for that episode, we were in a big theatre and it was a big Nazi party that was happening. They had 40-foot swastika banners hanging from the ceiling, all these people in Nazi uniforms. It’s something we’ve obviously all seen in TV shows and movies, but to really see it firsthand and experience that, knowing what that represents and what they did, it was very frightening.

They did a great job making it look right and making it look real. I can’t say enough about our set deck and our set builders, week to week they make everyone look fantastic. Next week we’re going to The Alamo, I’ve seen some clips from that and it looks fantastic. It’s a whole different look and feel, it’s a gritty, dusty, dirty feel compared to some of these other episodes. It’s very surreal to walk onto these sets, not just for tonight’s episode, but week to week. It’s really interesting. But it helps as an actor, you really feel like you’re living in this time, talking to these people.

TTVJ: It seems like every week you’re stepping onto a brand new set. Does that help keep you all engaged in that acting process?

ML: It does because not only do we have new sets, we’ve also got new costumes. Our costume designer is incredible, we’re wearing real, authentic stuff. Some of it is actually vintage. We did a 70s episode where a lot of the pieces were vintage pieces that we were wearing, and it does help you as an actor. There’s challenges because of that same reason though. That means I’m doing a fight scene in a leather vest and a hat, and a musket on my side, so it presents its challenges.

We have a new cast every week in our guest stars, who have been fantastic up to this point. It’s fun. For all those reasons it really does make you feel like you are back in that time.

TTVJ: Something I find really interesting about the show is, while it’s an adventure show, it’s not afraid to look at the overarching moral issues of time travel. A few episodes ago your characters considered preventing Lincoln’s assassination, and in this past episode they dealt with letting a Nazi war criminal go unpunished to save America’s history. When you’re filming, do you find yourself thinking about you would do in Wyatt’s shoes?

ML: It’s hard not to. I think our show is a fun action-adventure show, we’ve even got some peppered, Indiana Jones-type comedy and fun, but on a bigger scale, the theme of the show is fate vs. free will. What would you do and what do you believe? What’s interesting about it is that every single person watching can not only come on this weekly ride with us, but it really poses the same question to each audience member: What would you do in that situation? Do you believe in fate or free will to change things?

It’s something we all have to answer and our characters have to answer as well. My character does not believe in fate. He believes that his actions and his choices affect what happens. His wife died and he feels guilt about that. He feels that the choices he made affected the outcome of what happened, whereas Lucy (Abigail Spencer) is a little more about protecting history because it’s fate, it’s what’s meant to be. We have those clashes and, at the core of it all, what do we believe? It’s interesting and I love how the writers have layered those deep thoughts into this fun, action-packed adventure show. So, really, you can get out of it what you want to get out of it. If you’re just tuning in to see time travel, history and fun adventures then sure, but if you want to think about it and go a little deeper it’s there to mine, if you will.

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

TTVJ: I’m glad you brought up Lucy because I do find their stories contrast but are also parallel. He’s trying to change his own history and prevent his wife’s death, whereas Lucy’s history has changed and she’s trying to change it back.

ML: They’re classically contrasting in what they believe every step of the way. What’s interesting is that they’ve both experienced loss. I think it makes it interesting when they are so firmly opposed to each other in the very beginning and I think, as you would expect, things are not so black and white. When history becomes more real for Lucy and feelings and emotions are involved, it’s not just about keeping what the history book says. It’s very real and I think it’s interesting that these contrasting outlooks and views are questioned the further they go along. Whether that’s due to their relationship—does it bring them closer, does it push them apart? Does Lucy want to resist her feeling more emotionally to history when she knows she needs to look at it as text in a book? It sends their relationship on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

TTVJ: As that clash continues, will Wyatt keep trying to prevent his wife’s passing?

ML: I don’t know if that’s something we’re going to see him physically trying to carry out every episode. I think you can count on that it’s in the back of his head at all times. As these episodes go on, the idea that he might be able to go back and save her grows and grows. In that third episode where you see him write a telegram, that was a very easy thing for him to do. It didn’t affect anyone else, and it was his first small attempt at possibly saving her. What I think, and I’ve not even read these episodes so I don’t really know, is that his desire and will to save his wife might get stronger and stronger, and the actions he takes to ensure that he sees her again might become more bold. Maybe that means stealing a time machine on his own to bring her back, I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea that I’ve thought about. I think that strong pull to want to save his wife is always there for him. It definitely affects him.

TTVJ: What can you preview for the upcoming episode set in the Alamo?

ML: The Alamo is a fun episode. We built the entire Alamo. It’s going to be a fun show to watch, it’s got a whole new feel, like I mentioned. We’re completely covered in dirt and it just looks really cool. Along with that, for my character, we learn a lot more about him in the episode. The Alamo is a battle, so it’s a war and we’re stuck in it. Wyatt, being the soldier that he is, we see a lot of him in the Alamo. We learn about his vulnerabilities, he kind of fesses up some information about where he’s at emotionally and how he’s feeling with certain things. Lucy overhears some stuff and I think we see how it starts to affect them together. Also, it gives you more insight into Wyatt, why he is the way he is and why he thinks the way he thinks.

We’ve got some amazing guest stars coming, we’ve got Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. It’s a fun action adventure. I don’t think it’s telling you too much to say it picks up a day or two before the big siege on the Alamo happens, so the entire episode you have this weighing over you with the Mexican army about to come over the walls. There’s an intensity to the episode–it’ll be fun, but I think it’ll be intense.

Are you looking forward to seeing the gritty battle at the Alamo? Sound off in the comments below.

Timeless airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Global and NBC.

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