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Tom Mison opens up about the romance and mysteries of 'Sleepy Hollow'

Tom Mison
Tom Mison

The Fox TV series "Sleepy Hollow" is a modern-day twist on Washington Irving’s classic. Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison) is resurrected and pulled two-and-a-half centuries through time to unravel a mystery that dates all the way back to the founding fathers. Revived alongside Ichabod is the infamous Headless Horseman who is on a murderous rampage in present-day Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod quickly realizes that stopping Headless is just the beginning, as the resurrected rider is but the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and only one of the many formidable foes that Ichabod must face to protect not only Sleepy Hollow, but the world. As Ichabod finds himself in 2013’s Sleepy Hollow, he discovers a town he no longer recognizes and grapples to understand. Teaming up with Lt. Abbie Mills (played by Nicole Beharie), a young cop who has her own supernatural experiences, the two embark on a mission to stop the evil that has awoken along with Ichabod and that now is seeping into this once-sleepy town.

Tom Mison
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Clues from the past enlighten mysteries in the present, as each episode features a flashback to Ichabod’s life in 1776. Ripe with untold stories from American history and cloaked in mythology, the divide between present and past becomes dangerously blurred. Lives are in the balance, including that of Ichabod’s late wife, Katrina (played by Katia Winter), who is trapped in a mysterious netherworld. In his pursuit to save her, Ichabod uncovers secrets about her, leaving him with countless questions. Not everyone believes Ichabod’s tales of 1776 and supernatural evils, especially the new head of Abbie’s police precinct, Captain Frank Irving (played by Orlando Jones). When faced with bizarre events he can’t explain, Capt. Irving reluctantly turns to Ichabod and Abbie to investigate.

Ichabod’s extensive first-hand knowledge of our country’s hidden history, coupled with Abbie’s superior profiling and modern threat assessment skills, make them a formidable duo. The complex pasts of the pair, from Ichabod’s inclusion in the powerful and secretive Freemasons Society to Abbie’s childhood visions, will help them solve the intricate puzzles of Sleepy Hollow in order to protect its – and the world’s – future. As history repeats itself, the oddly-linked pair will draw on the real stories and secrets this nation was founded on in their quest to stop an increasingly vicious cycle of evil. Here is what Mison said in a telephone conference call with journalists.

Ichabod Crane is very intelligent and a very proper man, and he balances out really well with Abbie, who’s kind of shown herself to be willing to bend the rules when necessary. Are there any circumstances that we’ll see Ichabod be willing to kind of bend the rules or act out?

Yes. I think without giving too much away, when things start to get very personal, when there are revelations that are personal attacks on Crane and his past, that’s when the rules start to fly out of the window, and he starts misbehaving a little bit more. Yes. I’m trying not to spoil it. I’m sorry.

Is that fun to play when he kind of gets to act out a bit?

Oh, it’s nice. Every chance to show a different side to Ichabod is great. As a very obvious example, the difference between Ichabod we see in the 18th century and the modern-day Ichabod. There are different sides to him, and equally the well behaved and the less well behaved; the more unhinged Ichabod. There’s plenty of that to come, and I’m trying desperately not to throw spoilers at you or I’ll be in a lot of trouble.

You can tease a little, right?

Yes. The personal and his past, revelations about his past. I think that’s as close as I can get, I’m afraid.

Is Ichabod ever going to wear modern clothes?

It was question number two. I was wondering how long it would be before that question comes up. I expected every question to be that. Yes. That will be mentioned very, very soon. You’ll see the question of clothes coming up. I think we quite liked giving him an iconic look, which I think everyone’s managed to achieve rather nicely. In terms of the character; he’s a long way from home, and 250 years away from home so anything that he can hold on to from his time, I think he certainly will. Any time you think of how much he stinks, just think of it as a big stinking security blanket that he carries around with him. Yes, that will be addressed shortly.

You’d think those clothes would be in tatters by now …

At least he gave them a wash. Last episode he gave them a wash in the sink. He’s considerate.

What’s been the most fun as you’re putting on this character as you were creating this character, and getting into him? Was it the cadence of the language or the clothes or growing your hair long?

I think it’s trying to work out how moody someone would be when they come out of the ground after 200 years. It’s been nice, as I said to the question before, finding the difference between Crane and his time and place, and Crane after all of this weird stuff has happened. It’s finding the balances, like the balances between that and the balance between Crane trying to hide his confusion at the world, and when it suddenly comes out.

There’s so much—there’s so many plates that need to be spun to keep Ichabod on track, and it’s hard work. It’s a really difficult part to play, but I think that’s what makes it so satisfying. There’s lots for me to sink my teeth into.

Did you have any trepidation about signing on to “Sleepy Hollow” because of the rather outrageous concept for the show?

I always like to have faith that an audience will suspend their disbelief if you present it to them in the right way. I find it peculiar when people scoff at one bold idea, and yet they’ll then turn over and watch a man travel through time in a police phone box. I think it’s just how you present the idea, and between ["Sleepy Hollow" executive producers] Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and Len Wiseman, their careers have been built on asking people to suspend their disbelief because I think once you do that, once you can get an audience to go with you on an idea then you can just go anywhere, and that’s where the fun stuff happens. No real trepidation, more faith in the great American public that they’ll join us, and luckily it seems to have paid off.

You were mentioning the difficult balance involved in the character, and that definitely seems true. One of the things that has been so much fun to watch is seeing what you do with Ichabod in terms of blending the comedy of his reactions to the contemporary world, and the drama that comes up from the older world. How do you think about that balance? Is it difficult to not get too far into the comedy? How do you sort of think about that when you’re approaching it?

Yes. The temptation could be to just go nuts on the comedy; not only for me but for the writers as well because there’s a wealth of things we can do with that. We worked out very early on, Len and I doing the pilot, that the only way you can really sell the comedy is to play it as straight as the serious stuff. Finding the balance between the confusion and those funny scenes and the more serious, “Oh my God, the apocalypse is coming” scenes.

The way to balance them is to play them with a very similar tone rather than separating them as this is now a tragic scene and this is a comic scene. Everything is very real for Ichabod, and so we just have to try and play everything straight, which I think was a really good thing to find and a bit of a saving grace in terms of performance. It also stops me from hamming it up.

Ichabod, he is a married man, though he certainly is in a very long-distance relationship right now. A lot of the audience is really quite fond of the chemistry between Ichabod and Abbie. Is there any chance that in the second half of the season we might see some romantic moments or flirtation between the two of them?

And there it is. There’s the Ichabod/Abbie question. We’ve had the clothes, and the Ichabod/Abbie. Where from here? I think there is certainly something magic between Ichabod and Abbie. They’re forced together whether they want to be or not. They’re forced into this relationship where they’re very different, and they wind each other up no end, but that’s when the sparks start flying, and when sparks start flying that’s when there’s room for everyone. They certainly have a connection, and if anything was to happen between them it would certainly be fiery.

We’ve seen Ichabod do battle with plastic, with the OnStar system, and with a coffee machine. What other technology is he going to confront in upcoming episodes?

Well, there’s everything. When we go into a new set it’s always nice to have a look around and wonder what Ichabod would be attracted to or repelled by, and what would be baffling and it’s kind of, everything. Everything’s new. Yes. There will be plenty more of that, and hopefully it will be just as fun as the stuff from before because, like I said before, there’s a wealth of stuff to mine into.

Are you a history buff and, if so, how much of a stickler are you for authenticity even in a premises as outrageous as this one is?

Yes. I’ve always been a history buff. It was one of the few subjects at school that really, really caught me. I think you’ll find a lot of actors will be interested in history because it sparks your imagination so much. When you enter a period of history your imagination just goes wild in creating the world, which is really what acting is.

Yes. It’s always a treat to have something that lets me explore a different period, and yes I do try to be a stickler as much as I can, but luckily the writers are as well. There are a few language things which luckily they’re very open when I say I think this is 12 years too late this word and they’re very happy to play around with it.

Even if 90 percent of the audience aren’t going to spot that certain turn of phrase as a bit out of date it’s still important to get a level of authenticity for us to play around in. I think if it wasn’t completely authentic then it wouldn’t really work very much, it would then just be a modern man with a weird costume instead of a man from another time. Yes. Everyone is very patient with me getting very anal about things.

What is it about your character Ichabod that you find the most fascinating? What would be something that the average person wouldn’t know about your character?

Everyone always goes to the fact that he would be lost in the modern world and everything is above him and baffling, but what I find really fascinating is that any room he walks into he’s probably the most intelligent person in that room, but no one will allow him to show that because everyone thinks he’s insane. I think the interesting thing is that he thinks everyone else is the maniac, whereas everyone thinks he is. That’s really fun. He knows that he’s cleverer than everyone else, but his manners won’t allow him to tell people to stop being stupid.

That’s great, but can you tell us anything that’s coming that you’re going to be confronting?

John Noble of Fox’s “Fringe” will become a very, very important character in the series, and you’ll see why because he’s a savior.

Working with John Noble on the show and some of the other recurring characters like bringing John Cho back and things like that, how has it been being able to kind of build a rapport with these really great character actors that are coming in and adding great dimension to the show?

It’s really nice. It’s great to have actors who are often cast against type. It’s surprising, the actors who are coming in for characters. I think very few people would imagine that John Cho would become the baddie, which we notice in the pilot. Clancy Brown, you don’t see him often as the father figure or the Obi-Wan Kenobi type. Orlando Jones, you wouldn’t immediately think of as casting as the highest ranking police officer, and I think actually a lot of people would be rather surprised at me being cast as Ichabod.

I think there are probably lots of people in England who wouldn’t have, casting people who wouldn’t have considered me for it. It’s one of the brilliant things of the show is that they cast the net wide, and they surprise you with their casting choices.

In terms of the nice place of knowing that “Sleepy Hollow” is coming back for a second season, have you had conversations with the showrunners or the writers yet so you can kind of prepare for that? Or do you prefer to just be in the moment and get the scripts as they come?

It’s nice to know when there are important revelations later on that should affect the entire character. It’s nice to know them early so then if there was suddenly a revelation that people would then think back to a few episodes before, and something different was being played. It’s important to know those big revelations. I’ve been told what they are, and shall remain silent.

Other than that, the smaller things in the episode, but I know the big story arcs and they’re quite remarkable, but episode by episode I quite like finding out when I get the script. It’s quite nice to be surprised and excited episode by episode in the same way that hopefully audiences are when they watch week by week. Yes. I like to keep a few things as a nice little treat each time I get a script landing on my doormat.

Your chemistry with Nicole Beharie is, like you said, magical. Was it right off the bat?

I think it was right off the bat. After I put myself on tape in London, I was then called over to Los Angeles to screen test, and it was a five-hour screen test. The first two were just me, Len Wiseman and the producers and the casting people, a big room of people, and we played around for a couple of hours and then Nicole, who had already been cast, came in and we read together and played with a few scenes for about three hours. Yes.
It was instant.

I think we’re very similar actors. We both like to play with what the other actor gives us, and we both like to be generous with each other. We know that the good stuff, and what everyone refers to as chemistry, is actually generosity. We like to be generous with each other mainly.

It’s nice to throw things at an actor and be excited and surprised by what they throw back, and so yes it was fairly instant, and we’d like exploring the scenes together rather than as two individuals. We like to do it as a team. And yes, she’s as wonderful off screen as she is on. It’s always a nice thing to find friends on a job, and I think I certainly have with her.

Is there any ad-libbing done or do you stick pretty closely to the script?

We tend to stick to the script. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of ad-libbing. I think there’s a story that the writers and the directors want to tell, and I don’t think it’s up to an actor to act or detract from that. It’s our job to tell their story in as imaginative a way as possible. I don’t think it’s our job to change their story even if it’s slightly like that. Any script change is always discussed with the writer beforehand, and there are a few. As we get to know our characters more and more, there are often a few things that we would like to explore. But no, we tend to stick to the script.

Have you been able to add your own touches to this role, or do all of Ichabod’s traits come from the script?

No, they come from long discussions from day one; from before we started shooting the pilot. As soon as I met Len and Alex and Bob Orci, we all kind of had similar ideas about what Ichabod should be, and this sort of story that we all think would be the most exciting, and yes, there’s constant discussions between me and the writers. They’re very open to my ideas, and I love all of theirs so yes, it’s kind of a balance. It’s a balance, and it’s changing a lot.

It’s so nice to be a part of something that runs for such a long time. Before this, I think the longest series I’ve done has been I think six episodes. Lots of mini-series I’ve done before, but never done something that stretches over 13 episodes. And now, with a second season added to that so it’s nice to find a very gradual evolution to the character, and, yes, that comes from both counts because we’ve got excellent writers.

What’s it been like working with John Noble?

It’s really remarkable. Our first scene together it’s just me and him sitting opposite each other at a table, and he came in and sat down and we did the scene, and I was quite surprised when someone shouted “cut” because I forgot that there were cameras and other people about the place because when you’re acting with someone like John you just completely lose yourself in it. He’s mesmerizing. He’s brilliant.

We know that Crane obviously has spied in the past. Are we going to see any of those kind of skills come to the present with their cases?

Oh, yes. Absolutely. Well, I think there are elements of that that run throughout. He can’t really reveal to anyone his true identity so he’s always playing that side of the spy in terms of cracking and finding clues. We will see a lot more of him as the spy in the 18th century, that’s for sure.

There are lots more flashbacks coming up when we get more and more involved in his life there, and also he’s very different to modern American law enforcement because you’ll notice he never uses a gun, for example. There’s one moment when the Hessians attack with automatic rifles. But apart from that he’s just relying on his wit.

Also, you mentioned how he’s usually or will always be the smartest person in the room. As time goes on, is Abbie going to more let him kind of take the lead and step forward?

I think she knows when to allow him to lead, and when to just pull on the leash hard, which he occasionally needs. I think they balance each other out a lot. We’ve seen how he encourages her to start having a bit more faith and believing in these weird things that happen, and she, in turn, is very good at balancing him out and saying, “Stop being an idiot” which in the context of the modern world he’s very capable of things.

Given the unusual premise of “Sleepy Hollow,” what is it that initially attracted you to the role?

The unusual premise. It was something that had so many elements to it, and the show as a whole throws in so many different styles and different genres, and Ichabod is caught up in the middle of that. I mean you don’t get parts like this very often. You don’t get shows like this very often. I can’t think of very many others that are like this. Also knowing that it’s a part that, as I said earlier, I don’t know whether I would have got it in England, and I knew that it would be hard work.

When this job came up there were other offers thrown at me that wouldn’t have been as much of a challenge, and I knew that if I took on Ichabod Crane in this incarnation of “Sleepy Hollow,” it’s going to be a tough job and it’s going to keep me on my toes and keep my imagination fired up. I mean, there’s nothing better than that. It’s good to work hard.

Is that your favorite aspect of the show now or is there something else that you have surprisingly found as something you love even more than that?

I’m sorry to be absolutely disgusting, but working with Nicole is such a treat. I think that’s something that for the rest of my career I’ll look back on this job and hold it in really high regard a bit largely thanks to Nicole. Ad it’s been my coat and boots, obviously.

For more info: "Sleepy Hollow" website

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