Theo James as Henry, the time traveler, and Rose Leslie as Claire, his wife
Whether you're an X-Files fan still singing the praises of episodes like "Ice" and "Beyond the Sea," a Sopranos connoisseur puzzling over the fever dream that was season six's "Join the Club," or a Game of Thrones devotee who shudders at the words "Red Wedding," you have David Nutter to thank for the memories.
More recently, Nutter — a three-time Emmy winner and seventime nominee — has been putting his stamp on an entire series. He's director–executive producer of The Time Traveler's Wife, the six-episode adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's bestselling 2003 novel, debuting May 15 on HBO and HBO Max.
Though supernatural phenomena are at the center of the story, it was the romance that sparked Nutter's interest. "I read the material and was captivated by it," he says, speaking between takes on the show's soundstage in Queens, New York. "It hits every note: humor, drama, pathos, intelligence. There are lots of LOLs as well as lots of tears."
Nutter originally dreamed of a music career. "When I was a boy, I wanted to be the next Barry Manilow and sing love songs to the girls," he says. As a voice major at the University of Miami, however, he decided he didn't have what it took. "So I said to myself: What can I do to affect people emotionally? I realized that as long as I do something I can fall in love with, I can make it special."
That ability has served him well, especially when launching new series. Between 1999 and 2011, Nutter directed sixteen consecutive pilots that were picked up, a staggering achievement.
His secret? "You have to get people to care." Fans of The X-Files, he recalls, would say, "'It's so weird and crazy and scary.' But it's a real world with people who are passionate about what they do. [Viewers] didn't always understand what Mulder and Scully were talking about, but they cared about what they did."
No wonder, then, that he's over the moon about The Time Traveler's Wife. "Every scene has an emotional journey that is important to make right. And the actors" — led by Rose Leslie as Claire and Theo James as Henry, her time-traveling spouse — "are fantastic in every way."
Nutter immersed himself in the production after a few brutal twists of fate. In 2019 his wife of thirty-two years succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Meanwhile, he's been battling Parkinson's disease. But this veteran director — known for his facility with performers — has found a silver lining.
"I think having this disease has made me a better director of actors," Nutter says. "I've learned more about myself emotionally, and that's made me surer of myself."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #5, 2022, under the title, "Appealing to Feeling."