(l-r) Malcolm Barrett, Abigail Spencer and Matt Lanter in Timeless
Malcolm Barrett has been honing his craft as an actor for several decades, but his star began to rise high in the sky when he took on the roll of, Rufus, a scientist on the NBC time-travel, action, adventure, one-hour drama, Timeless, which airs on Mondays.
The well-rounded, award-winning native New Yorker who is also proficient in poetry, improvisation and stand up comedy, has appeared in several theatrical productions, films (King of the Jungle, Swimfan, and The Rhythm of the Saints) and on several television shows (Law & Order, The Sopranos, As the World Turns and The Beat), but none have given him the exposure he’s receiving on his latest endeavor.
The premise for Timeless goes something like this: 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 team of unexpected heroes composed of a scientist, a soldier and a history professor. The trio must use the stolen machine's prototype to journey back in time to critical events, being careful not to affect history themselves, while working to stay one step ahead of the villain who would unravel the timeline and understand the mystery driving his mission before it's too late.
The show, NBC’s #1-rated Monday drama, recently received a full season order.
“‘Timeless’ is a phenomenal new show that takes the audience emotionally to a completely different place and time each week,” said Jennifer Salke, president of NBC Entertainment. “We’re thrilled to be ordering additional episodes so that we can run the final six hours of the season in a row with no pre-emptions after the new year. Our hats are off to Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan for producing one of the most ambitious new shows anywhere on television.”
Timeless, which stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Barrett, Goran Višnjic, Paterson Joseph, Sakina Jaffrey and Claudia Doumit, averaged a 2.7 rating in adults 18-49 and 10.7 million viewers overall in live + 7, making it the top-rated Monday drama last season in 18-49.
Timeless was undefeated in its Monday 10-11 p.m. (ET) slot among the ABC, CBS and NBC dramas in “live plus same day” ratings through its first four weeks on the schedule.
I recently caught up with Barrett (MB) at an NBC cocktail hour, held at Estrella restaurant in Hollywood, to talk about the show and his career.
The intimate and sophisticated restaurant was the perfect laidback setting for a brief, casual conversation.
DD: What did you expect when you got to Hollywood and what did you get?
MB: I feel like I was always prepared for Hollywood. I feel like it was all that I thought it would be. I knew that as a young, smart black man, I was an outsider. I don't see that character a lot or as much as when I was growing up watching television. It’s few and far between to see an intelligent black man who is multi-layered and very aware of the black experience, who is somewhat “woke” as they say, but also being the hero and not just a tangential character.
DD: Sounds like you knew how to play the game when you got to Hollywood.
MB: I knew in order to get to where I am right now – I’d need to be clear about where the lines were drawn. I wasn’t surprised by Hollywood. It was everything I thought it would be. It was just as white, small, but also had the same amount of people pushing back and resisting and the same amount of colors in my real life.
DD: Are you encouraged or discouraged by your industry?
MB: I’m encouraged by every piece of positivity I see. I can’t use where we are as my only gauge. I have to use what the possibilities are. There are a lot of things discouraging, but when I see individuals creating good work and seeing it being celebrated in mainstream – that’s always encouraging.
DD: Do you have a favorite episode?
MB: Yes, the 80s episode is our funniest and our saddest. We go back in time to the future to stop the killer of Wyatt’s (Matt Lanter) wife. It was kind of a visual joke because you have the wardrobe, lots of colors, the hair. There was a comment about the A Team, which I do actually watch. I get to do inside jokes for the fans. The episode was also about how clueless Rufus is with this white chick from the 80s, who by the way is named Becky, which is like another inside joke. We are smooth like that.
DD: Has there been a time on your show when you’ve told the writers a black man wouldn’t say that? Do you have any input at all?
MB: They give us leeway. They listen. This is one of the most collaborative writing rooms I’ve ever been a part of - in terms of dialogue. There is dialogue that I will give notes about. They are open to notes on dialogue and character. All of us have done it.
DD: Anything specific?
MB: On the civil rights episode there was a line about “our history sucks.” Yeah, you want to save history, but our history sucks. I don’t remember how we phrased it on that day. I was careful. I didn’t want to be in the position like – “yeah, you want to save history, because, like, “great shit is going on for white folks.” But I also don’t want to put black history in a box – like it’s all negative, or that we haven’t accomplished anything.
DD: Your character is smart and thoughtful. He’s pivotal to the show.
MB: Because we’re traversing new territory, we’re all learning together. The good thing is that everyone is listening and thoughtful about where we’re going. We share a similar goal. The only reason I’m allowed to be thoughtful on this show is because the writers came to me with a premise of understanding the ups and downs of a black man going through history, but two, seeing what my personal take was.
Timeless is a production of Sony Pictures Television, Davis Entertainment, MiddKid Productions and Kripke Enterprises.