‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’: Theo James on Henry’s Emotional Past

The Time Traveler's Wife Season 1 Theo James
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HBO

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 2 of The Time Traveler’s Wife.]

The Time Traveler’s Wife may be about Henry (Theo James) and Clare’s (Rose Leslie) love story, but the HBO show’s latest installment put a spotlight on his past in an emotional entry.

Along with the intrigue of Henry’s genetic quirk of time travel, his personal history includes a dark moment that is part of his present and future. As Clare longs to learn more about the man she’s fallen in love with, Henry is forced to open up about the dark chapter, revealing the tragic circumstances surrounding his mother Annette’s (Kate Siegel) death.

The Time Travelers Wife Season 1 Theo James and Rose Leslie

(Credit: HBO)

On Christmas day in 1988, a young Henry and his mother are heading to the airport to pick up his father when a car rear-ends theirs, pushing them into the truck parked in front of them. The force pushes a loose sheet of metal off of the truck’s bed and backward into the windshield, leading to a bloody end for Annette and a traumatizing moment for Henry.

But one of the side effects of Henry’s time-traveling is that he has the potential to land back at this moment anytime, where he’s forced to watch the violent scene unfold again and again. In order to open up and be vulnerable with Clare, Henry must be reminded of the moment once more, but her presence seems to anchor him in the present for the time being.

The Time Traveler's Wife Kate Siegel

(Credit: Macall Polay/HBO)

“It was a challenge because you want to do it justice, obviously, and the experience that he has is a pretty unique one,” James says of delving into Henry’s past. In order to get in touch with the emotional heights of the episode, the actor says, “you draw on your own things that have happened to you over time, but it’s pretty specific what happens to Henry.”

Annette’s death is consistent with the events shared in Audrey Niffenegger’s best-selling book on which the show is based and was scripted just as vividly according to James. “The nature of her death is shocking and violent and it should be because not only does it impress on the audience how key this moment is in his life but it also shows you why Henry is drawn to that moment and what has shaped him into the person that he’s now become.”

The Time Traveler's Wife Theo James

(Credit: HBO)

“I thought it showed, the service that Steven [Moffat]’s doing to the book, but also what you can do with a TV show that perhaps you can’t do in a book,” James adds, acknowledging the harsh reality of Annette’s horrifying demise. “As much as I love the book. I think that showing the violent graphic nature of her death really shows the audience how damaged this young kid has become.”

And he’s surely damaged as Henry forces his younger self to come to terms with the fact that the only time traveler he knows is himself. Thankfully, Clare’s presence in Henry’s life may be the thing to help him circumvent that horrible day as he reveals a tape recording from one of his opera-singing mom’s shows.

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He admits that listening to her can force him to relive her death, but as Clare pleads for Henry to stay, they keep listening until Annette’s performance bleeds into an audience Q&A. She begins the portion of the show by answering a question Clare has for her and was shared by a time-traveling Henry in the past.

Annette’s words are what convince the pair to dive into their romance without regret as the recording says, “get the hell on with it.” Stay tuned for what comes next in Henry and Clare’s unconventional love story as The Time Traveler’s Wife continues on HBO.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Season 1, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO