Eric McCormack talks ‘Travelers’: Putting a new spin on time travel

Click to play video: 'Corus Upfront: Eric McCormack on his new show ‘Travelers’'
Corus Upfront: Eric McCormack on his new show ‘Travelers’
Eric McCormack talks his new show, ‘Travelers.’ – Jun 9, 2016

Don’t worry — this isn’t the run-of-the-mill time-travel TV show you’re accustomed to. According to Toronto-born actor Eric McCormack, anyway.

Most people know McCormack from his time on Will & Grace, but Travelers isn’t as big a transition for him as one might think, especially after his role helming neuropsychiatry drama Perception (from 2012-15). This show, too, is a bit of a head game.

In Travelers, based hundreds of years into the future, the last surviving humans discover how to send consciousness through time, directly into people in the 21st century. The series follows these “travellers” (one of whom is McCormack) as they assume the lives of seemingly random people, while secretly working to save humanity from a terrible future. Armed only with history knowledge and an archive of social media profiles, the travellers discover that 21st century lives and relationships are just as challenging as their high-stakes missions.

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Global News spoke to McCormack about the show, which he calls a “modern-day espionage drama,” why it doesn’t follow the typical time-travel template, and whether or not that missing “l” in the American spelling of Travelers bugs him at all.

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Global News: Are you a big sci-fi guy?
Eric McCormack: Not a big sci-fi guy. And, in fact, if this had been a traditional sci-fi show, I may not have been tempted. But it’s not. It takes place now, the sci-fi element of it is almost hidden. It’s a secret, since none of the other people in 2016 know that these travellers have infiltrated. They can’t know that they’re here for good, that they’re here to fit stuff they don’t even realize is going to be our demise.

The first clip I’ve seen makes it seem very action-y.
Oh yes, that gives away some of the action side of it, but it’s not an action show first and foremost. I think the first episode is going to be very surprising for people, because it introduces how these people come into the bodies of people in 2016, and then we watch them just live and wait for their assignment. The lives they’re living are different and separate from each other, and they communicate through the “dark web.”

Which, in itself, is pretty fascinating.
It is fascinating! We’re definitely hoping Travelers attracts more than just solely the sci-fi audience, too. There are so many elements here. I think this will be a show that women like, because there’s a lot of unlikely romance in it between people who were in love 300 years from now, but they’re in different bodies. My character is in love with one of his fellow soldiers from the future — who now looks totally different and so do I — but he’s also starting to fall in love with his new “wife,” who he’s never met before but he has to show up and say “Hi, honey, I’m home!”

The conundrum is they’re not just here on a mission, they know they’re pretty much not going back to the future. They’re here to live as if you were sent back to 1926 and that was it. I love that aspect.

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In many time-travel shows, the time-travel element becomes overcomplicated over time and often bogs down shows. Do you think Travelers can maintain for the duration without becoming too convoluted?
We start convoluted, and get simpler. [Laughs] Every time-travel show has rules, and there’s a certain tradition to a lot of them. We break those rules, a lot of them, right off the top. For instance, the basic rule of “don’t f**k with anything” is the opposite. We’re here to touch things. We’re here to change things. We know when that plane crashes, we know when that person went nuts and shot six people, based on our historical knowledge and the logs of social media.
We don’t change all the bad stuff, but we know which significant things are going to lead to certain other things. We’ve done the algorithms, we’ve done the matrix, if we just change this [knocks table], that will change. Is that convoluted? Maybe. But in my opinion, the TV audience is only getting smarter, and networks have ignored that for so long, continuing to dumb things down. On Netflix and other streaming services, they’re taking risks that are based on “Come with us! Come with us!” and the audience does. What may have been convoluted 10 years ago is now expected.

I also think a lot of shows use the time-travel aspect as a gimmick.
There are other time-travel shows coming out this year, and all of them involve going somewhere exotic. The Hindenburg crash or whatever. This show isn’t like that. We don’t know what the world will be like 300 years from now. We don’t know anything about it, except what our characters hint at.

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In the future, there’s only one “l” in “Travelers,” apparently. Does that bother you as a Canadian?
[Laughs] In the future, things will truncate! No, in the age of Twitter we can’t be upset when words become shorter. But not all of it needs to be defended, either. My wife (who’s also a Canadian, from Edmonton) will constantly complain that it’s “zee,” not “zed.” I’ll just say, “You know what, honey? It’s ‘zee.’ It just is.” It’s a dumb argument to fight. Colour with “our.” It doesn’t upset me that much.
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You’d better be careful, there are a lot of Canadians [who could be reading this]. People get so upset.
[Laughs] I know they do! But don’t. [Laughs]

‘Travelers’ premieres on Monday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. on Showcase.


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