Before Sean Maguire returns as Robin Hood to ABC’s Once Upon a Time, he’ll be making another time-ly stop, as James Bond creator Ian Fleming on NBC’s time-travel drama Timeless. But stepping into Fleming’s shoes didn’t mean sitting at a desk, spinning spy stories; instead, Maguire’s Fleming is a spy himself, as the real Fleming had served in the British intelligence during World War II.
When the trio — Lucy (Abigail Spencer), Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), and Wyatt (Matt Lanter) — wind up in Nazi Germany, they’ll need Fleming’s help. Maguire spoke with EW about playing the real James Bond for the series’ fourth episode, and teases what to expect.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What drew you to the role?
SEAN MAGUIRE: It’s a rare one. I wasn’t going to do guest spots for a little bit because I’m trying to finish something that I’m writing, but then my manager said, “Look, this is Ian Fleming, and it’s on this really new, cool show,” and I was like, “Oh my God, Ian Fleming! Are you kidding?” So I was more than happy to give it a go. And I have to say, I just had such a wonderful time. I felt like a kid in a candy store. It was like going to Bond fantasy camp for two weeks.
How did this set compare to the others you’ve been on? The showrunners of Timeless have talked before about how much of a challenge it is to create a new era for every episode. It was epic. It’s an epic ask of this crew to create a completely new world every week. Normally with a show, you have your main sets and then you have to tweak them for your storylines, but with this they have to create an entirely new world and an entirely new time, and so I think a huge credit has to go to the production staff who just worked so tirelessly. You can see it obviously means a lot to them because the results have been phenomenal.
Now, about Ian Fleming. How much pressure did you feel going into the role? Well, the work is always a bit daunting because you’re inhabiting somebody new, and if it’s somebody iconic like Fleming, then yeah it’s a little more daunting… It’s the same with Robin Hood; you’re daunted on the first day but after that, you just go, “Right, I’ve made my choice,” and you learn to enjoy it. And with this one, I really, really did. I just thought he was charming and sort of fly-by-night and kind of, if facing death in the face, will go, “Well, let’s have a drink!” [Laughs.] I can understand that guy a bit. I’ve gotta say, full credit goes to Jim Barnes, the writer [of the episode], because not only was the script excellent, but he was on set the whole time and was willing to explain what a certain line meant. It just made the creative process so much more fulfilling for me as an actor.
So how did you research him? Were you reading biographies or watching Bond or…
No, I kind of stayed away from Bond because I know the Bond movies well and I’m a big fan, and Fleming was the godfather to all that… I researched as much as I could on him, and I found I had to make an adjustment with the way he talks… We’re in 1944, so it’s before any of the Bond films took place, and there is a vernacular. Fleming was sort of upper class, old guard MI-6, so he speaks incredibly posh, so much so [his accent] sort of sounds like affectations. I went to the casting people and said, “I think I’ll dial that back.” We want to see this guy as masculine and cool as possible, and if he’s like [puts on an over-the-top accent] “Helloooo there! How aaare you!” then you’re gonna go, “This is a pantomime character.” So [my performance] is a modified version of him, but one that hopefully captures his essence.
In the episode, we know that Lucy catches Fleming’s eye. How so, and what can we expect from that relationship? Look, he’s the kind of guy who knows that death could be around any corner, and if he sees a very attractive woman like the character Lucy, he just thinks, “Well, who knows what tomorrow brings? Let’s make the best of today!” Jim very cleverly wrote the character so that we could see the origins of where Bond came from, that kind of martini-drinking, woman-seducing kind of guy. Jim really captured that in Fleming.
On the flipside, who will we see Fleming butting heads with? Because he’s a Brit and the [time-traveling] team are Americans, you assume that we’re allies and we have the same objectives, but he’s a spy with his own objectives, so he might have a different agenda from what he initially set out to do. He says you could take him at his word, but he’s a spy. Also, the storyline for Rufus is he’s playing a bit of a double agent, and he’s intrigued to ask Fleming, “How does one reconcile lying to friends and people that trust you?” Fleming’s response is an interesting one.
Outside of the show, are your friends and family fans of Bond? How did they react to your casting? I think almost everyone I know is a fan of Bond, even if it’s one era over the other. They’re just good old-fashioned escapism, and my brothers and sisters and close friends have certainly been almost as giddy as I have been, so I kept sending them pictures from the set, like, “Look, I’m in a Nazi costume! This is really terrible, but kind of cool!” They’re really excited for me, too. They know it’s the role that’s kind of all my Christmases and birthdays at once.