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Exclusive Interview with Timeless’ Claudia Doumit

Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC
Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater/NBC

The 2016 fall television season is full of time travel. On The Flash, Barry Allen has fractured the timeline so many times it’s hard to know what is real anymore. On This is Us we bounce between then and now like the last season of Lost and on Frequency, Raimy and Frank are fighting crime in two different, but parallel timelines. Perhaps the most ambitious and daring of the pilot season is Timeless, airing on Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.

Timeless follows a trio of travelers who are tasked with chasing a bad guy, who has stolen a time machine, through history. Each week the mothership takes off into a different time and place, generally just before a significant historical event is about to occur. Wyatt, Lucy and pilot Rufus chase the mothership in a prototype, also designed and supported by folks at the lab at Mason Industries. One of those science-techie people who is the brains behind the operation is Jiya, played by Claudia Doumit.

Jiya has become a confidant of our heroine Lucy and has started doing research into mysterious changes to Lucy’s own history. I had a chance to chat with Ms. Doumit recently about her journey so far and what we can expect for her character this season. As an aside, Claudia is from Australia so go ahead and read this in your best accent and hopefully you’ll have as much fun as we did.

You are relatively new on the scene. Tell me how you came to be an actor.

I fell in love with acting at a very young age. I would do these performances for my parents. I’d jump up on the table and sing and basically just act out performances for them. One of my earliest memories of performing is putting on my mom’s Go Go boots when I was five and her red Chanel lipstick, which was off limits to me, but, you know, the show must go on, and this purple velvet dress I had. (laughs) I would bring the speakers out to the balcony where she would be sitting, and I would blast Abba’s Mama Mia every afternoon and sing it to her. God bless her for hanging in there and listening to a dance performance of Mama Mia.

But I really fell in love with acting when I was in high school. I initially started taking speech and drama classes. They were called speech and drama classes, and they were just co-curricular classes outside of the regularly scheduled class. It would just be an hour performing. It always fell during math class for me, so I thought that was a great way to get out of math. (laughs)

It worked out perfectly. I failed at math. I was terrible at math, but I excelled in acting, and I loved that. I just felt that it was more my style, my field, so I followed that. Then, when I was 17, I graduated high school, and I wanted to pursue acting, but I didn’t get into the acting school. I was very young, and everyone told me to experience the world and then come back and audition. My parents in the interim did, as most parents do, told me you need to get an education, you need to go to college, you need to do something.

I enrolled in the arts program at a university in Sydney, and I did just bullshit subjects. (laughs) They were the things that I was interested in. I took philosophy. I took bioethics. I took art history, and I loved it. I did that for a semester. Then the second semester I dropped out of the university without telling my parents.

They know now, right? If I put that on the internet, I’m not outing your or anything? (laughs)

(laughs) They know now, yeah. I dropped out of the university without telling them, without telling my parents, and I started taking acting classes in secret on the side. Every day instead of going to the university, I would go to the acting classes. Eventually, my timetables didn’t match up, and my mom found out.

She said, “Okay, if you’re serious about this, then let’s be serious about this.” I asked all my teachers and mentors, and everyone that I spoke to said if you’re serious about pursuing this, then you should go to London. You should go to Los Angeles. You should go to New York. Get out of here and go out there and pursue it. And that’s what I did. 

So, with the help and financial and emotional support of my parents, I moved out to L. A. when I was 19, and I got a manager. I did a two-year acting conservatory class at Stella Adler, and then four-and-a-half or five years later, I’m here!

That’s my story.

That’s really a great story. I know so many struggle for years once they get to Hollywood. It’s great to hear a good story with a great result.

I know people that I have crossed, and you hear those stories more often than not, and it’s nice to … I don’t know … Be on the other side of that now. Does that sound terrible? (laughs)

Not terrible at all. I think it’s inspiring to hear that it does happen and it is possible.

Yeah, I mean. It really does. It inspires you. It gives you the gusto and the courage to do it yourself because when you hear these stories, you think, okay, well if they did it, then maybe I can do it too.
The more stories like that we hear, the more courage you get.

So now you’re on Timeless. Tell me how that came about?

That came about during an intensely insane pilot season.

I think the day that I auditioned for Timeless; that was my second audition of the day. I had two auditions that day. I was coming from my previous audition, and I didn’t look at the breakdown, you know, the people attached to the project and who would be in the room.

Then I read the breakdown of the show, and I loved the premise, and I loved Jiya, the character. I really clicked with her, and I think she’s such a strong character, and I loved it, but walking into the room, I was kind of walking in blind, and I didn’t know what to expect. I remember right before I went into the room, I quickly looked on my phone to see who I was going to be with, just so I knew their name, and it said Eric Kripke in the email. And I was like Eric Kripke, Eric Kripke.?Why do I know that name? I was like screw it. Don’t think about it. Just do your damn audition. I went in there, and I did it, and I met him, and then I left. (laughs)

It was still on my mind, so the second I got in the car, I looked up Eric Kripke. I was like why the hell do I know this name? I realized I had just been in the audition room with the creator of Supernatural, which was a show that I fangirled hard over for five seasons, like all throughout high school, I think that show was just the show I loved, the show I was fascinated by and just was taken away with. Then it hit me, and I was like oh, at the end of the paddle credits it says created by Eric Kripke.

(laughs) I think it’s better sometimes going in completely unaware, so then you’re not nervous, right?

Oh God yes! Completely! If I had known, I would have been sweating and just blubbering and just maybe stealing an article of his clothing and being weird, but I waited until I got to my car to do all that. (laughs) Mostly when I went back in for the test, and the callback and I met Shawn Ryan as well, who’s brilliant, I had to give myself a pep talk to pep myself up and just said, “Claudia, just calm down. Be cool. Just be a cool, normal person in the room. You were a cool, reasonable person in the first audition, just be a cool, normal person now”. That’s what I tried to do, and I think that worked.

It must have worked, here we are. (laughs) So, now you’ve officially been picked up for a full season?

We got picked up … We got a full season order, and I was very happy about that. I was so excited. It’s great news. We get to shoot more amazing episodes. I think we all just feel lucky and really happy that audiences are responding positively to the show and people want to see more.

Jiya spends a lot of time at Mason Industries, do you ever get to travel to say…

Do I get to travel back in time? (laughs) The sets are built around the main studio. Sometimes I’ll go to Langley or Squamish or wherever, an hour away, but on the odd occasion, the sets will be just a five-minute drive away from the main studio.

Yes, that’s what I meant. Do you get to check out all the amazing sets?

Yes, and they’re incredible! I honestly don’t know how they get that done in such a short amount of time and with what they’re given. When you see the set, it is like stepping into a different time, and you’re just looking on in awe.

I think an important question on everybody’s mind is, what goes on in the lab while Wyatt, Lucy, and Rufus are out on these missions?

We’re anxiety-ridden. (laughs) No, we have to wait. We’re waiting. We are waiting however long for the time machine to make it back to the present safely. We basically live in the lab.

If you watch closely, you’ll see that our outfits don’t change because we have been at the lab for two days or three days straight, just waiting for the return because we always have to be there.

The rules of time travel are complicated. Can, or will, anyone else get to go on a mission?

I know, right? I think we all want to go in that time machine. Everyone who works at Mason Industries every week is like, I think. We should maybe … there should be another time machine that we should be in.

I remember also hearing about just how hectic the writer’s room was when they were discussing the rules of time travel. Like I feel every session there was another existential crisis. It’s so complicated.

It’s interesting because, in the first episode, we only saw the changes that happened in Lucy’s timeline, but nothing happens to anyone else. You’re kind of in charge of figuring out why. How is that going for you?

When I read the first episode and someone’s life changed, and then someone disappeared and the reasoning behind it – because Jiya, my character, was the one who figures it out and has to explain it. She’s like “Well, this is how it happened.” And me, as Claudia, I was like “okay, how did it happen?” (laughs) It took me like a solid 30 minutes to figure out the connection. I was like okay, this is how time travel works. (laughs)

So, how many episodes have you filmed so far and do you have a favorite at this point?

We have shot seven episodes. We’re shooting the eighth episode now. My favorite episode, which has aired obviously because I’m not going to give anything away…(laughs)

For different reasons … The Nazi Germany episode. I loved the cinematography on that. I think they did so many new things just visually with that episode that was stunning. For the character-driven episode, I really loved the one that just aired, The Alamo.

I think it just delved more into who the trio are as people. You know what I mean? Not just the job that they have. I think as the episodes go on, that happens more and more. As it progresses, each episode I love more and more because you find out more and more about who these people are and what their lives are. I really think The Alamo was just different in that regard, but it just kind of … I don’t know. It just showed a different side. It wasn’t all action. You know, explosions. I mean there was that. There was definitely action and explosions. It kind of got real for a second, which is nice to see. It’s nice to see that side.

A question from Twitter; a fan wants to know, in real life who among the cast ensemble is most like the character they play on Timeless?

Definitely not me because I am the least tech savvy person I know, which is funny.  (laughs)

The most like their character …Let’s see. I spend most of my time with Paterson and Sakina (Agent Christopher and Mason) because we’re all inside the lab. 

On the intellect side of things and the fascination with how everything works, I would say Paterson is like Mason in that way because you’ll be having a conversation with him and he’ll just be so intrigued by a particular topic or something, and he’ll want to delve more into it and find out more and just be … Or he’ll have a random piece of information that he would just love to share with you that you probably don’t know about and he opens your eyes up to it. I think in that regard, Paterson is very much like Mason in that way. He sees everything with wonderment like a child would and I think Mason kind of sees that too. He sees everything with wonderment. He’s fascinated by how everything works. 

Also, Malcolm’s funny. Malcolm’s hilarious. Everything that I try and do with him, if it’s serious, which it mostly is, he’ll try and make me laugh before the take. He’s kind of serious, but I think he’s mostly funny. He’s mostly a funny guy. 

Who else is like their character? I think we all connect to parts of our characters, though. I think that’s the beauty of it. We all find an understanding in how they tick, and we relate to it. I think that’s what makes it so easy for us to access those characters, our knowledge of them. I think we all have an idea. 

So, anything we should watch for in the coming episodes?

I don’t know. That’s a hard question. There will be more character development. You’ll find out more about these people’s lives. I can’t say anything else. (laughs)

What I think is interesting about Timeless is that each episode is so great as a standalone, but there is just enough of a thread of continuity to keep you hooked. Delving into the changes in Lucy’s history because of the changes they made to the story is so great.

That’s the most fascinating thing. Because with the Hindenburg episode, three people survived that weren’t supposed to survive and because of those people surviving, something happens in history and over time and then that causes Lucy’s sister not to exist in the timeline. It’s like what could happen with … it’s the butterfly effect. It’s what minor thing could happen that could change everything drastically in the present? It’s like you could step on a butterfly and the whole world changes.

 

Tune in tonight to see if we get to find out what else Jiya has discovered about Lucy’s past!

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