An Interview with Timeless Star Malcolm Barrett

We’re in the thick of fall TV premieres, and Timeless makes its debut tonight. I hopped on the phone earlier today with star Malcolm Barrett to talk about his character, Rufus, his role within this time travelling trio, and how falling in love in the present can be risky when a change to history could undo it all.

Read our interview with Malcolm Barrett below, and watch Timeless tonight at 10pm ET/PT on Global TV in Canada, and at 10/9c on NBC in the US.

What was it about this role and this show that made you want to be a part of it?

The writer/producers Eric [Kripke] and Shawn [Ryan]. I’ve known their work for a while — on Terriers and Supernatural and The Shield — so I was a big fan. On top of that, I’m a big sci-fi geek, a big fan of Doctor Who and Back to the Future and all those things.  The icing on this was being an African-American character in the sci-fi world. Very rarely do you see it, particularly in a time travel series because there are so many issues to deal with. What’s great about having such adept writers is that they run straight towards it instead of away from it.

In the pilot, there’s a scene where Rufus teases how America is going to change for African-Americans in the future, and I couldn’t help but cheer. Are there other upcoming storylines that you’re excited for the audience to see?

There’s going to be some very cool storylines, but one of my favorites coming up is probably a White House/Nixon episode. I don’t know how much I can give away. There you see Rufus in a very different environment and a couple different shades of him that will be pretty interesting.

There are some sparks between Rufus and the character Jiya (Claudia Doumit). How does possibly changing the past with every trip back in time affect getting into romantic relationships in the present time for these characters?

It’ll be interesting to see where we go. The funny thing about this show and why it’s so hard to talk about without giving away too much is that every episode has a different layer and a different secret. Relationships change, and going back in time definitely affects the relationships we have. I like Jiya and Rufus and their nerd camaraderie in the workplace. That’s a fun dynamic to play, particularly because Rufus is not ultra confident.

Speaking of confidence, in the pilot, it seems that time travel boosts his confidence a bit.

That’s kind of his thing. It’s impossible to go through these experiences and not be changed in some  way. For someone like Rufus that’s kind of an introvert and doesn’t really like to go outside or leave his desk, to actually travel back in time to so many different time periods, it’s definitely going to have a lasting effect on him. At heart, I still think he is who he is, and he has to deal with that struggle of wanting to be this person that stays home and lives a very normal life, and clearly having no option but to do the opposite.

If you had to describe it, what role does Rufus play in this time travelling trio?

He plays a couple of different roles. For one, he’s the pilot. He’s the one who gets everyone to and fro. He’s also an engineer, so they rely a lot on his resourcefulness. Wyatt (Matt Lanter) is resourceful when it comes to action and strategy, and Lucy (Abigail Spencer) is resourceful in regards to knowing history. Rufus knows how to use technology and is always able to think outside of the box in terms of figuring out what they can use at their disposal. He’s Murdock from the A-Team. They all balance each other out and give their own perspective. Eric [Kripke] always talks about fate versus free will. It’s very interesting because all three of us have very specific reasons for why we debate about fate versus free will, what we want to take control of, and when we think it’s right and when it’s not. I think the characters that [Kripke] chose have very different perspectives and that’s why it’s so interesting to see them coming together.

In the pilot, Wyatt quickly forms an attachment to one of the historical characters that they meet. Does something like this happen for Rufus at some point?

In the second episode [about] the assassination of Lincoln, there’s an exchange between Rufus and the character of Nicholas Biddle — who’s a Union soldier — and oddly enough, they come into play and butt heads at certain points. So Rufus actually experiencing the direct aftermath, or the precursor to the aftermath of winning the Civil War, he has an immediate attachment and connection both to the soldier and to the historical significance of the moment. It very much influences the decisions that he makes as  a result.

You’ve mentioned in other interviews that Rufus may know more about what’s happening than he lets on. How much is that aspect explored in the first season?

With [Timeless], nothing is what it seems, and everyone has at least one secret. There’s a secret that Rufus has to keep from his team. Rufus is essentially a spy — not just for Mason but as an extension, Rittenhouse. It’ll be interesting to see how much Rufus actually knows about Rittenhouse, how much he knows about Mason Industries, how much he finds out and what it costs to learn the information he obtains.

Photo Courtesy of NBC

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