There's something a little meta already built into ABC's new time-travel series, "Time After Time": not only does it reach back to a cult-classic 1979 film for its foundation, it also takes the concept forward into a brand-new future.
The original "Time After Time" movie -- directed and adapted for the screen from Karl Alexander's novel by filmmaker Nicholas Meyer (the even more classic "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan") -- has endured as a perfect, precise example of inventive time-travel plotting and endearingly rendered historic characters come to life: in the film, pioneering 19th century sci-fi novelist and futurist H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell), author of "The Time Machine," actually devises his own working time travel device, which is hijacked by his friend and colleague, who turns out to be the now-legendary Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper (David Warner) and who finds a new, fertile hunting ground in 1979 San Francisco. The film emerged as a critical sensation and a modest commercial success, its reputation and stature only increasing in the decades to follow.
The film provides the basis for the series -- which debuts March 5th and stars Freddie Stroma as the time-displaced Wells and Josh Bowman as the Ripper -- as reimagined by super-fan Kevin Williamson ("Scream," "The Vampire Diaries"), who uses the basic premise for the pilot episode but immediately begins building out brand-new extensions to its mythology, as well as many subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the entirety of Wells's works.
Teaming with executive producer and director Marcos Siega, a veteran of "The Vampire Diaries" and a host of iconic music videos, Williamson reveals his plans to build a rich and complex world from the juicy set-up -- as well as why he loves the original so much.
Moviefone: By coincidence, I recently interviewed Nicholas Meyer about "Time After Time" for the Blu-ray edition, so it was really interesting to get his take on why the movie has survived.
Kevin Williamson: Because it's awesome! It's great, and he's a genius. That's why.
One of the things he thought, too, was that it's because time travel is the one type of travel that we haven't mastered in real life. So it's still so rich, and there are so many things that you can fantasize about with time travel.
Williamson: There's something dreamy about it. What our characters do in the course of the mythology of our show is there's certain characters that want to fix something. They have something empty, or they have something missing inside, and they'd like to just go back and fix this, then it'll make everything right, it'll make me complete. I'm talking about that one particular character who's ultimately our villain.
Maros Siega: But it's escapism as a genre. I think that's smart. It is the one thing we can't do.
Williamson: I do it all the time, I don't know about you. [Laughs]
The source material is this perfectly constructed movie, playing with those little paradoxes and fun time travel elements.
Williamson: We're very faithful to it. I hope we do Nicholas Meyer proud. I think we really honor his work. We try to.
What I enjoyed about your take was that you do all of those things in the pilot, and then we've got so much other things to do.
Williamson: "Then it begins ..."
When did it click, how do we go from this ingenious little story to a bigger world? How did you guys land on your path?
Williamson: For me, it was the very same way that I discovered the movie, is that I saw the movie, I went, Jack the Ripper, H. G. Wells, and then I read the book, then I started looking up H. G. Wells and read "The Time Machine" and "The Island of Doctor Moreau," watching all the movies and realized, "Oh, there's a whole world here."
So in the same way that the time travel launches the series in Episode 1, I wanted to take that same idea with a young H. G. Wells and tell all the stories, and tell all of his books. The same way that if you've read "The Time Machine," Nicholas Meyer has made a wink and a nod to a lot of moments in the book. H. G. Wells is very dense, but he explored a lot of themes.
I feel like Nicholas Meyer touched on a lot of them in his movie, [author] Karl Alexander also in the book. I thought we could do the same on a weekly basis with all the various other shows, all various other books. Long-winded answer to say that.
Did you see the same potential in this vast amount of Ripper lore that we have today? Did you want to look at that and say, "Let's take a little inspiration here and there"?
Williamson: We do. Like Nicholas Meyer did, we take upon the idea that he's a doctor and a surgeon. We also play with the idea of Jack the Ripper as he's defined in the traditional sense. We don't take any special mythology to it, but then we create a character arc for him, and a character journey for him that takes him to a very interesting place.
The very concept of the source material gives you permission to bring in historical characters. Tell me about the allure of that, because you've got the two at the center, but do you want to say "And here's where Abraham Lincoln comes into our story ... ?" Or is it better to have characters like Genesis Rodriguez's character, with whom you can go anywhere?
Williamson: Aren't other shows doing that, where they're doing period events?
Siega: Yeah, that's what it seems, and how we're not really a time travel show. Because when we time travel, it's very specific to our characters, and their journey, and their story, and not so much event-driven.
Williamson: We're a love story. We're a story of family, and people, relationships.
And those relationships are so important to driving everything, and you've got to find actors where the love story is as important as the "hate story" with these three characters. Tell me about finding that delicate mix: first in the writing, and then in the casting.
Williamson: The pilot is very faithful to the original movie and book, so I wanted to keep that intact. That was very important to me, because what I loved about the characters that Nicholas Meyer had created was this idea that if a man who believed in utopia, and came to modern day, and was profoundly disappointed. And meanwhile, his adversary thrives and falls right in step.
I really responded to those characters in a big way, and I wanted to do it in a modern context. So we tried to hold true to that. And then casting, the directing took over.
Siega: In the casting, you come right off page with the charismatic Jack the Ripper, and in meeting Josh, he walked in and embodied that, the same with Freddie. They're very much like their characters in real life. Freddie is a very sweet, wide-eyed, light, and Josh is cynical, and little dark, a little edgier. So we got really lucky with the cast. Then Genesis as Jane, that was a harder one to cast, but she's great. It really works. A lot of chemistry with the three of them.
From her past work, I would never have consciously equated Genesis with Mary Steenburgen, they're individuals, but there's a quirkiness they share that I really saw in the pilot.
Siega: That's good. I don't know that I saw that.
Williamson: You didn't see the movie.
Siega: I didn't watch the movie. Mostly because of execution. Kevin talks about it constantly -- he really, every conversation ...
Williamson: I have it memorized!
Siega: He actually still doesn't believe that I didn't watch the movie. I'm like, "I really, truly didn't." I was afraid of mimicking, copying, and I wanted it to have its own voice. He was so true to it and he loves it so much.
Have you seen it yet?
Siega: No, I haven't. I've read the book.
Williamson: You know the movie, so you know I took the bedroom scene, the bedroom scene is kind of the bar scene in our show.
Siega: And that I know because it's in the trailer. I did watch the trailer.
Williamson: So it was very important to me that we capture that scene, and I wanted those lines from the original movie. I just wanted those statements made, and I wanted to make sure. I thought, that scene was so important. I was like, "Watch the movie!"
In a way, Kevin, like "The Vampire Diaries," I feel like this project plays to your two great strengths. The "Dawson's Creek" side with the emotional beats, and the horror side you're known for from "Scream." Did you feel that way as you were working on it?
Williamson: I did! You know what I did think, it's a sort of return to "Vampire Diaries," which for the first two years is very mythology-driven. And yes, that's vampire mythology, but now we're in more of a science-fiction mythology. And it's five minutes in the future, but we are dealing with the good and bad of humanity as it relates to technology. That's what I thought "The Time Machine" by H. G. Wells was openly about. It was a social class struggle, to some degree, with your Morlocks and Eloi. Weena's showing up at some point. Do you know who she is?
Siega: I do! I read the book!
Williamson: But it's not in the form of Weena. She shows up as a homicide detective.
Siega: She was a little bit more Weena before we made the change.
Williamson: Yes, she was. You're absolutely right.
I'll close on giving you a choice, would you rather use time travel for your personal purposes, to go to an era that you always wanted to see, or to fix something that you think you might have done wrong? Like "I wish I could go back and do that over."
Williamson: Because I've lived so long in the rules of time travel, I think it's very important to know nothing was a mistake if you learn from it.
Siega: I agree. I feel like anything you've done, good or bad, had a reason.
Williamson: It is the fabric of what made you who you are. You have to own it.
Siega: We've been living in that reality in the show. It starts to make sense.
Williamson: That's part of the show, which is you just can't ...
Siega: So I would go back just to see.
If you're time travel tourists, where would you go?
Williamson: Time traveling tourist? Where do you go just for fun?
Siega: Dinosaurs! I do.
Williamson: That's so weird!
Siega: I feel like every other time would be smelly.
Williamson: That's so big and epic, and I always go small and intimate. I always go with, like, I want to meet my parents when they were teenagers -- things like that. I want to see how my dad grew up. I'd go that route -- but I don't know if that's true, if I'd actually do what Genesis said and go back and buy Apple [stock].
"Time After Time" premieres March 5th on ABC.