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Theo James struggled to keep 'Time Traveler's' identity straight

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Theo James struggled to keep 'Time Traveler's' identity straight
Theo James and Rose Leslie star in "The Time Traveler's Wife." Photo courtesy of HBO

LOS ANGELES, May 13 (UPI) -- Theo James said playing a time traveler in The Time Traveler's Wife, premiering Sunday on HBO, challenged him with portraying his character at different ages and times.

"It was a head [expletive] to put it lightly," James, 37, said on a recent Television Critics Association Zoom panel. "You made sure you kept on top of exactly where you're going and where you're coming from."

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The story follows his character, Henry, who cannot control time traveling due to a genetic disorder. He pops in and out of the past and the future, and appears to his love interest, Clare, an artist played by Rose Leslie.

On a given day of production, James may play Henry at multiple ages. James said he is used to filming movies and shows out of order, but his character is usually the same age throughout a film or TV season.

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"There were days when we could be shooting one year in the beginning of the day and an entirely different year at a different age at the end of the day," James said.

He said director David Nutter chose to film all of Henry's younger scenes before his older scenes. James said that helped him keep track of Henry's progress -- somewhat.

"It's quite hard to switch between those on a dime," James said. "You've got to live in that person from the moment you wake up."

James said his body language and speaking pattern changed when he was playing the older Henry.

"It sounds pretentious to say, but the way he walks and talks are just a little bit different with age, even if it's the same person," James said.

Sometimes, older and younger Henry cross paths and speak to each other. James said there were two different ways to portray two Henrys in a scene.

"Sometimes I was playing against nothing," James said. "Sometimes I was playing against a great scene partner that then would be taken out in post[-production]."

The Time Traveler's Wife also challenges the supporting cast to keep track of two versions of Henry. James said an upcoming episode complicates the timeline.

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"in Episode 4, there's a very funny and complex scene with two Henrys and then the entire cast over a dinner table," James said.

The show is based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. The film was adapted as a 2009 movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as Henry and Claire, respectively.

The book was published in 2003. James said he read it as a university student, having completed undergrad at University of Nottingham.

With several episodes and potentially multiple seasons, the HBO series has more time to explore the ramifications of time travel. James said Henry's encounters with Claire as an adult and a child provoke questions about whether time travel influenced their relationship.

"There are interesting questions of determinism, where you begin and where you end," James said. "Each decision they make, is it predetermined, or do they have an ability to control in which direction they go?"

Henry and Claire are Americans, and James and Leslie are Brits. James said he maintains his American accent when not shooting to avoid accidentally turning Henry into a Brit.

"I find I'm a natural mumbler, and I need to exercise my mouth," James said. "I need to be in the character a little bit from the moment, the beginning of the day."

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With time travel on the brain, James thought about where he'd like to go if he had Henry's powers. James said he'd like to visit an era when the population was smaller.

"Sometimes, I walk down the street or you're in a beautiful park, [and think] what would this place be like if there weren't so many people here?" James said. "Maybe I'd go back 50 years, smell the air. It probably smelled worse because there were less catalytic converters."

The Time Traveler's Wife airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO.

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