What’s the only thing better than playing James Bond? Playing the real-life spy who created him. Timeless is about to travel back in time to when famous spy and author Ian Fleming was the one introducing himself as “Fleming. Ian Fleming,” and Sean Maguire, the lucky actor who got the chance to portray the most famous secret agent in the world, still can’t believe he was able to take on one of his dream roles.
“It was pure joy,” Maguire tells Nerdist of joining Timeless as Ian Fleming. “Obviously there is a little bit of trepidation when you’re going to play an iconic character like that. But [even though] he’s an icon, not many people have seen Ian Fleming talk. It’s not like trying to impersonate Muhammad Ali, or somebody that everyone has seen walk and talk. I got to relax into it and realize that we were trying to capture the essence of where Bond came from.”
Maguire will appear in tonight’s episode, “Party at Castle Varlar,” wherein Lucy (Abigail Spencer), Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) time travel back to 1944 in Nazi Germany and unexpectedly run into Fleming while he’s on a mission. According to Maguire, Timeless‘ version of the James Bond author is even smoother than Bond himself.
“He’s suave in the face of danger,” he says. “‘Let’s just have a drink and flirt with a pretty lady before a dangerous mission.’ It’s all these little Bond-isms growing out of this man and his experiences. The script was extraordinary, so that just meant I got to have so much fun bringing it to life. It was like a couple of weeks at fantasy camp.”
And “of course” Maguire was a huge Bond fan before he got to take on the role of Bond’s creator. “Being a lad growing up in London, James Bond was pretty universally highly regarded,” Maguire says. “That made this just a joyful episode to jump on and do.” But when it came to perfecting his performance between Fleming, Maguire made sure he wasn’t just impersonating Fleming’s fictional creation of James Bond.
“The period dictates [some] physicality that [is] different than what I would attempt to do playing James Bond. And that would be intimidating,” Maguire says with a laugh. “Ian was actually an MI-6 spy in 1944 and he was an extremely upper class, well-spoken gentleman. Watching his interviews, I was just trying to play it like that. But I knew an American audience might feel like it’s almost too much or pantomimed so I dialed it back down just a bit to make it more accessible to a modern TV audience, and that in itself was something very different than what you’d if you were playing James Bond himself.”
When it came to finding the inspiration he needed to portray Fleming’s mannerisms and personality, Maguire credits the episode script itself as the best source material.
“Thanks to how it was written in the script, I didn’t have to try and guess where this was going or where that came from,” Maguire says. “Everything felt very organic and well-rooted in reality. It all just felt very fun and epic. It’s a big episode in terms of scope and the production crew on that show is just extraordinary in how they create a new universe every episode. So that really helps inform the character—when you’re in a Nazi uniform and you’re set in this opulent theater draped in swastikas, it gives you a sharp intake of breath. You do get this sensory feel and it informs the performance.”
And you can’t have an attractive, suave spy without some romantic intrigue: Fleming is going to find himself quite interested in Lucy herself when their paths cross. “With some actors, it’s just not difficult because they’re lovely and brilliant at their job, so it’s easy to get along with them, and Abigail is one of those kinds of actresses,” Maguire says of his onscreen chemistry with series star Spencer. “She was very gracious and gave you all of her performance even if she was off camera. That sort of generosity really makes a difference in trying to find the chemistry with another actor. Plus she is just terribly good so she made it very easy for me. And she’s very light on set. She’s fun and always singing and dancing and being goofy, so that made the whole experience just pleasant. When you have that off camera, that makes is easier to dive into these more intense scenes. And that’s really true of all of the cast, they’re all lovely folks.”
Are you excited to see Maguire take on history’s most famous spy? Tweet me your thoughts at @SydneyBucksbaum!
Timeless airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.