68th Primetime Emmy Awards - ArrivalsIt's a good point in the timeline to be Abigail Spencer.

The actress, who made her mark early on in daytime drama and primetime guest spots, has been riding a major Hollywood wave for the past few years: following a breakout stint on "Mad Men" as Sally Draper's schoolteacher and Don Draper's last extramarital fling while married to Betty, Spencer's profile has been on the rise in both film and TV, from big screen roles in a diverse array of movies including "Cowboys & Aliens," "This Is Where I Leave You," and "Oz the Great and Powerful" to small screen turns such as her recurring appearances on "Suits," "HawthoRNe," and "True Detective," not to mention her award-nominated star turn on the Sundance Channel drama "Rectify."

Now she's center stage as the star of her first major broadcast network drama, playing the most grounded character in creators Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan's fast-paced, high-concept sci-fi series "Timeless." As history professor Lucy Preston, she's drafted into service to help prevent a time-machine-stealing criminal (Goran Visnjic) from undoing crucial points in American history and preserving the timeline's integrity -- and dealing with the unintended fallout when they don't, including a ripple effects with radical effects on her relationship with her own mother.

If "Timeless" is all about critical moments in our collective history, Spencer -- as she reveals in conversation with Moviefone -- is enjoying a crucial moment in her own.

Moviefone: "Timeless" must be a really interesting change of pace from what you've been doing.

Abigail Spencer: That is a very accurate description! It is a change of pace. That is true! [Laughs]

Give me the adjustment, the learning curve -- all the fun stuff of shifting gears into a show like this.

Well, what's been beautiful about "Rectify" has been ... It's acting and writing, and we got to make it on our own time. Sundance Television gave us tons of room. We made the show Ray McKinnon wanted to make. We only did each 10 episodes a season. It's very kind of, like, chill. There was like a languid pace to it, even though in production it all moves quickly, and to jump to a time-traveling, action-packed dramatic and comedic series, it's a huge change of pace, but one I was looking for.

I don't want to keep doing the same thing. I don't want to repeat myself, and because there was so much I hadn't done before that was available to me in "Timeless," and through the character of Lucy. I mean, she could not be more different than Amantha, and the look and the style, the feel of the town, I was like, "This is great!"

And, also, in a world of roles and things that were coming my way, she got to be the hero -- I mean, I would say the happenstance hero: she doesn't necessarily want to be the hero, but I thought that was a really cool thing to explore and cool to play a woman like that on television right now.

That really touches on something I wanted to talk to you about: we're in this like fantastic period of these very active and empowered female heroines, but it's nice to see somebody who is taking the first step on the journey and doesn't come in fully formed as a real butt-kicker or somebody who 100% knows what they're doing.

Yeah. That was. That was very important to me. I said I do not want to play her as a hero yet. Like, she might have to rise to the occasion, but she's an ordinary historian who's like a history geek and a nerd, and she might be outspoken in her community, but she's only been a teacher, and I actually don't feel like Lucy's found her full calling yet.

So, if we can meet her in this fish out of water circumstance, someone who is not ready, but has to show up anyway, then we really have somewhere to go. Because, I just feel like, with anything in life -- you know, we grow, and we develop and we change through our experiences, and over time, and so I just wanted to make sure that we started her in a place where she was really, really good at history but -- and but really not fully formed in a lot of different areas, and they were so on board with that.

I mean, there's so many things that made the pilot that were not scripted: Lucy falling out of the time machine, Lucy almost bumping her head on the airplane while she's following Flynn, just various things that they really went with and the vulnerability that we were hoping to bring to her really tended to work, and it really felt like a good platform to start telling the story from.

I imagine this role is testing every skill you might ever want to call on as an actor.

Well, that's the thing, you will never be bored! And the writers brought me in and they just wanted to discuss, from an organic Lucy place, all the things that I want to do, like what are the things that I haven't done and I'd like to do and explore it through the show? Again, you have to keep it organic and true to character, so we have to lace and build those things in.

But, yeah, it's pretty amazing -- just simply from a fashion or an actor perspective, I look different in every single episode. Like, I fully get to take on every era, even though I'm still Lucy and I'm playing a contemporary woman, putting on that -- that time, I still get to do it, and that's a pretty fortunate opportunity for an actor. I mean, that's what you pray for, is to not repeat yourself and to keep the variety, and we're making a movie. We're making a new movie every episode, and it's quite challenging, and I applaud Shawn and Eric for doing something so bold and so big.

With all of the costumes that you've had so far, which one has left you like, "Oh, I could really get used to this era wardrobe!" And which was the "Oh man, women had it rough then!" kind of wardrobe?

You know, it's so interesting because every time -- like, one of the best days is when we start a new episode and nobody knows what I'm going to look like or what I'm going to wear, and I get to show up on set for the first time, and get that first reaction; that is the best.

Because I show up on set and everyone is like, "Oh, my gosh. This is your era. This is your look." And then I show up in 1865 and they're like, "Oh, this is your look ... this is you." And then I show up in 1944 Germany, and they're like, "No, this is your look. Yeah, this is you." And then I show up in 1972 Watergate, and they're like, "What? No -- this one. This one's it!"

So it's been really fun to explore because, obviously, getting my start on "Mad Men" and doing some period pieces, I really love going back in time from a fashion, wardrobe, and acting perspective. So it's a dream, and that's part of why they wanted me to do it, is they felt the same way. They're like, "We're looking for an actress who feels like they could live in any era, and kind of take on the look of that era." And I'm so grateful for that opportunity.

But, I will say, it seems like the '40s, and like that -- there's something there. Like, every time we kind of keep going around that era, it really feels like that might have been my time.

The show really captures two of the enduring appeals of time travel. One is the fantasy of visiting an era that you could never have lived in, and the other is correcting perceived mistakes. And, you get to do, in this show, a little of that. How do those fantasies play out in your head? What are the eras that you, in real life, sort of fantasize about living in? And what are the things that you'd like to go back and undo, or redo, if you had a chance?

It's so interesting, because what I think that the show also explores is "And should we change it?" If we had the power, should we change it, because do we know what the ramifications might be? It could be a lot worse, and that is what's at stake, and what's at play, and one of the big points of contention between the characters about the show.

Because I think Wyatt really wants to go back and change things. I mean, Rufus would really like to go back. He's like, "Wait a second. If I could go back in time, then why don't I change this one thing, so that like, couldn't we stop slavery before it ever happened?" You start to get into that mentality, but then Lucy's perspective is "But we don't know what would happen next. It could have been a lot worse."

And I don't have answers for that, and I don't claim to want that kind of responsibility, but I think it's just a really good discussion, and it's a discussion that we should be having. Because, really, what I hope "Timeless" can present from a wholesome, holistic family perspective -- because it really is a show that you can sit down and watch with your whole family -- is that discussion of, oh, that event happened in history. So, how can we change our future? Because history has happened, and now we've got to look at changing the future, and the only way that we can do that is to learn from our past and change our individual actions now.

And I think that might be the greater discussion about it, because I think about that for myself. You know, a lot of things have happened in my life that I, you know, tended to regret or would love to change, but once I do that, and then I think, "Well, maybe I wouldn't have my son," or "Maybe I wouldn't have met my best friend," or "Maybe I wouldn't have the life that I have now." There are things I'm very grateful for so it's just a really interesting discussion about is there predesign or is there free will?

Anybody who is working on a science fiction or fantasy show has to be able to wrap their head around the internal logic of the show. How are you doing with the time paradoxes, all the temporal quandaries and the techno-babble that you have to handle to play this character?

What's so interesting is I have Malcolm [Barrett], who plays Rufus, and whenever there's like a super-technical time travel techie nerd question, I'm like, "... and Malcolm will be answering this question, and I will listen to what he has to say."

I'm learning. I haven't really done a genre as specific as this. I mean, with "Cowboys & Aliens," but that was really a Western on some level. And I'm learning a lot, and I think that Eric and Shawn are creating a world that we will be able to follow the rules of history as they come about.

And what I think is very interesting is that the world that we start the show in is, per se, the world that we all know, and every time that they come from an adventure something has adjusted slightly to a new reality on some level. So what's cool is the history that Lucy knows so well will start to change because her knowledge of history will be from the original timeline, and I think things are going to get really interesting from there.

Many of us in our careers always want things to happen, probably faster than they actually are happening, but you are enjoying right now this great moment in your career. Tell me what it's like to kind of have gotten where you are, have the opportunities that you've had and the ones that are sort of laying out in front of you, because, really, it seems to be a nice career sweet spot at this particular moment.

Oh, thank you, that's so kind of you to say, and so interesting to hear because I always think of the adage, that, when you're standing in the middle of your dream, you can't see it because you're just working so hard. I started acting professionally when I was 17, so I have been doing this for a long time, and I was acting for 10 years before "Mad Men" came along, which really was the thing that shifted everything.

I can only say that I'm in just a tremendous amount of gratitude that I keep getting to work, and that I'm getting roles that I'm interested in. Talk about time travel. I'm just so lucky that the roles in television and film are coming along for me at this moment. It wouldn't have happened at other points in the past. So I just feel lucky that I kind of got this wave of wonderful roles and wonderful television to be a part of, and I'm so grateful.

I've worked with some really amazing people who have been just wonderful and supportive to me, and I think I'm just hoping that I don't mess it up. I'm like, "Don't mess it up for them!" And trying to stay curious and interested. I'm just hoping to stay very interested and keep working for things that ignite me, and try not to quit. You know, sometimes I think the thing to being good, or getting to a certain point at whatever you do is that you just didn't quit. You just stuck it out and didn't goof around, and then sometimes your talent and the opportunities will start to match up.

"Timeless" premieres tonight, October 3rd, on NBC.
Timeless
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When a mysterious criminal steals a secret state-of-the-art time machine, planning to use it to change past events to destroy America in the present, the only hope is a t... Read More

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