Is who you present yourself as on Twitter and Facebook really who you are? That’s just one of the big themes surrounding Showcase’s new series Travelers.
Created by Brad Wright, the mind behind the Stargate franchise, and starring Eric McCormack (Will & Grace), Travelers tells the story of five beings from the future who send their minds back in time to take over host bodies on the verge of death. After preventing themsevles from dying, they use information from their historical archives, which we know better as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to take over each person’s identity. Their goal is to prevent a cataclysmic future. Unfotunately, problems immediately arise when they realize no one truly is who they claim to be online.
We spoke with Wright and McCormack at the show’s world premiere at Fan Expo, where they discussed the inspiration behind the concept of Travelers and how the show is “top to bottom” Canadian.
The TV Junkies: How did you come up with the concept of Travelers?
Brad Wright: The very first grain of an idea began with just the idea of social media. The notion that in the last 10 or 15 years we’ve projected an image of ourselves out there on a daily basis. We’re constantly putting out information about ourselves; who we are, what we do and who we interact with. The computer age is going to make that a permanent record, it’s always going to be there. It struck me that people from the future could look at that record and think that’s how we really are. It began, in a way, mostly from the idea that we get it wrong. We don’t put our real selves out there, we put who we want to the world to see out there. That’s where it began, and it turned into Travelers.
Eric McCormack: What’s cool about it is that we’ve become so aware that any historical record from, forgive me, the Bible, through anything that was written is never going to be 100 percent accurate. No one was actually there writing things down. So we make the mistake of thinking that with the new technology this is going to be way more accurate, and it’s as inaccurate or less so because we do have the freedom to create whoever we want to be online. Also not just the freedom, but the cowardice to not be who we are at all on Twitter to lash out at the world and fight from behind this technological shield.
TTVJ: We meet all of the original hosts in the premiere, until they are taken over by the Travelers. How is the process of acting as one character, and then taking on a new persona that’s partly mimicking the previous one?
EM: It was a discussion for us. You want to make an impression in the pilot, but at the same time that guy is going to go away, and it’s the other guy I’ll be playing. For some of the characters there’s a very definite difference between who they were in the future and whose bodies they arrive in. For me, less so. The differences were more subtle. I tried to make him just a bit more of, well, not an asshole, but someone—
EM: Curmudgeonry, yeah! So that the leader is going to be someone who’s a little more inspirational.
BW: But both people had a sense of humor and both had leadership qualities, because they were in a position of leadership. We actually reference the fact that they’re similar later on in the series.
TTVJ: From the start of the pilot we see that the show delves into some serious subject matter, including drug addiction and domestic abuse. Are these subjects that will be explored throughout the series?
BW: I would say that there’s no issue that we will hesitate to explore, but we don’t drive story or anything by the issue first. We wanted to create unique characters that each had a powerful burden that they would always have to deal with as their 21st century selves. The Traveler from the future coming and finding out that the person they’re pretending to be was actually a mentally handicapped person—that’s a big burden. MacLaren’s character knew he had the burden of living in a relationship with a wife of 11 years and an FBI partner who knew him like the back of his hand. That’s a big burden too just because of how much of a challenge that is.
TTVJ: The show is 100 percent Canadian, which is fantastic. Was that something you wanted to do going into hiring and casting process?
BW: My rule is that I look here first. We weren’t originally set up to be a 10/10 Canadian show, and we’re not now. I didn’t approach Eric because he’s Canadian, I approached him because he was the voice I heard in my head when I was typing the character, which sounds a little creepy, I know. [laughs] I like to write that way, I like to write with an actor in mind. When you look here first and find people first and pull it off that is a testament to Canadian talent and the casting process.
EM: By the time I came into it I said to Brad, ‘have you started looking?’ and he said, ‘we started looking and we may be done,’ because these incredible young people came into the room, all of them with some experience, but still in their early twenties and each of them brought something incredible. I think the five of them are so great. The fact that you can start here and end here, not have to go, ‘well there’s that one character, we’re going to have to go to LA for her,’ is amazing.
BW: It was luck too, it wasn’t dictated by the structure of how we approached it. [The show is Canadian] right from top to bottom, with the exception of the director of our pilot, who is from Sherlock, Nick Hurran.
EM: How could we say no?
BW: All of our directors, all of our writers are Canadian. In fact, this series was developed at the Canadian Film Centre, just prior to doing this. A great batch of young Canadian writers too, so yeah, proudly so.
TTVJ: I also read that Amanda Tapping is going to direct an episode, which I’m sure will be amazing.
EM: Indeed. And, in fact, it’s the last one, so you’re going to have to watch the other 10 in between.
TTVJ: Brad, you mentioned that you imagined Eric McCormack for the role, so how did that initial conversation go?
EM: I’d already read it, so I was already excited and virtually on board. The first thing we said to each other was, ‘no assholes.’
BW: [laughs] That’s true!
EM: We don’t work with assholes, everyone’s got to be great, from top to bottom, the cast, the crew. He’s worked too long on shows that he created to put up with nonsense and, quite frankly, the first day of Will & Grace we all looked at each other and said, ‘let’s be nice to each other, let’s be nice to the guest stars.’ We’ve all worked in toxic atmospheres and that was not this.
BW: It was so much fun, and it was a lot of hard work. The thing is, when you’re working as hard as you have to work to make a television show, you should enjoy going to work. You should like everyone who’s there and be their champion too.
TTVJ: What message do you have for people thinking about checking out the show?
EM: If viewers are interested in watching the show, that’s awesome. I’m more interested in talking to the people who aren’t interested. They are wrong-headed on this. [laughs] I think there are a lot of people out there that hear “science fiction” and still go, ‘I don’t know what that is and I don’t want to watch that.’ This is not that. I’m not a big sci-fi fan. This is not sci-fi in a traditional way, this is a very dark and interesting character drama that has a sci-fi launch. Really, it’s a character thing and it’s exciting.
BW: It’s mainly about the character. We were even surprised ourselves as we went through the season how we realized where the show lives, and works, is more in the characters and the interactions with “21sters,” which is what we call them.
Will you be watching for the arrival of the Travelers? Sound off in the comments below.
Travelers premieres Monday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.