LEAVING THE PAST, MEETING THE FUTURE
In telling the story again, the filmmakers did make some changes to it, beginning with giving the time traveler a name: Alexander Hartdegen. Once he had a name, he had to have a face, which became that of award-winning Australian actor Guy Pearce. Interestingly, though purely coincidental, Rod Taylor, who starred in Pal's version, was also an Australian.
David Valdes recalls, "We were all fans of Guy's work in 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and 'L.A. Confidential,' but then Walter had begun to hear great reports about his performance in a film he had done called 'Memento.' It hadn't been released yet, but we were able to screen it, and we immediately knew Guy was our time traveler."
Guy Pearce reveals that he had had a fascination with time travel since seeing George Pal's "The Time Machine" as a kid, noting, "Time travel would be the most extreme sort of travel one could endure. It's the ultimate escape-rather than confronting life's trials, it's much easier for us, with the ability of our imaginations, to run off into fantasies of the future or memories of the past. What I was keen to get across was the idea that heading into the future for Alexander was a heightened and very tangible form of escape. I don't believe he knows what he's truly looking for when he hits the accelerator and watches the time dial rapidly move forward; he just feels he doesn't belong in the time he's in...something that infiltrates all of us at various points in our lives. Alexander, however, through the creation of his machine, has managed to turn what essentially doesn't exist-the past and the future-into a reality."
Simon Wells states, "Guy was the perfect choice to play Alexander because he emanates a kind of intellectualism; plus, it has to be said, he can also play the handsome Hollywood hero type. That combination made him someone who could take us from the sort of science geek at the beginning of the story to the full-on action star at the end, and make that transition in a believable way. Guy was very intent on creating an arc wherein you don't see a seminal moment when Alexander turns a corner, but rather there's a gradual development."
"Guy gave a whole new dimension to the character," adds Parkes. "When you first meet Alexander, he is a somewhat bookish, closed-down person who is very much living in a world of ideas. It is through this journey that he finds his true emotional place in the world and blossoms as a person. That was something Guy brought to the part and it's terrific."
The motivation for Alexander's journey is borne of a tragedy in his life, which is a story wrinkle unique to this telling of "The Time Machine." Logan explains, "In adapting the material for today's audiences, we felt it would be more exciting, more interesting, to create an emotional context for Alexander's building the time machine. We began to think about what would compel a man to go to such extraordinary lengths to break the boundaries of time."
Realizing that love is perhaps the strongest emotional motivation there is, Logan created the part of Emma, Alexander's beloved fiancée, played by Sienna Guillory. "Sienna is a rising young actress in England. When she came in, she just swept us off our feet," Wells says.
A calamity involving Emma drives Alexander to be consumed by a single mission: to invent a time machine and return to the day of the tragedy in a desperate effort to alter the past. For the next four years, he closes himself off from the rest of the world, much to the consternation of his best friend Philby, and his devoted housekeeper Mrs. Watchit.
The role of Philby is played by Mark Addy, who, Wells observes, "is the most amazingly warm and loveable actor. You instantly feel a connection to him and from the first moment believe he has a friendship with Alexander that goes back ten years, though in reality, he and Guy had never met before."
Cast in England, Phyllida Law, who plays Mrs. Watchit, had a rather atypical audition. Wells recounts, "She accidentally busted in on another actress' audition. She just opened the door and looked and said, 'Oh, I'm sorry,' and walked out again. David Valdes and I just turned to each other and said, 'That's our Mrs. Watchit, right there.'" Philby and Mrs. Watchit could never have conceived of the object of Alexander's obsession, much less that he would succeed...at least in building the time machine. But though he is able to go back and change the circumstances, he soon learns a terrible lesson-that the past is immutable. Perhaps, he surmises, the future holds the answers he seeks. Stepping back into the time machine, Alexander travels forward to the year 2030, where he meets Vox, a kind of computerized hologram, programmed to answer any question on any subject.
"Vox is the internet with sarcasm," Wells laughs. "He is played by Orlando Jones, who brought a great deal to the role and had a lot of fun doing it."
Driving home Wells' point, Jones jokes, "Vox is the compendium for all human knowledge. Essentially he knows everything, so there's not much separating Orlando Jones and Vox. Really though, it's been a pleasure, and I've enjoyed working with Simon a lot. His input was crucial to the character of Vox. Of course, if you don't like Vox on screen, it was all his fault, and if you love him, I will take all the credit."
Alexander's encounter with Vox only leaves him with more questions. But before he can return to his own time, a futuristic cataclysm propels him 800,000 years forward in time, where he finds himself among the cliff-dwelling people known as the Eloi. Two of the Eloi-Mara and her young brother Kalen-bring Alexander into their home and become Alexander's friends and teachers in this strange, new world.
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