Sleepy Hollow’s Tom Mison on The Difficult Ichabod Crane
After a brief hiatus, Sleepy Hollow returns on Monday November 4th with a new episode of FOX’s hit time-travelling supernatural adventure.
This week, ScreenSpy and assembled press had the opportunity to hop on the phone with star Tom Mison to discuss the show’s supposedly ‘impausible’ premise, just how tough the character of Ichabod Crane is to play, co-star Nicole Beharie, and what other surprising revelations will rock fans over the coming season.
Mison laughs outright at what some critics are referring to as an ‘outrageous’ premise for the hit show. “I always like to have faith that the audience will suspend their disbelief if you present it to them in the right way,” he says, pointing out that he finds 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. [Show creators] Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Len Wiseman’s careers have been built on asking people to suspend their disbelief. Once you can do that, once you can get an audience to go with you on an idea then you can just go anywhere and that’s when the fun stuff happens. I had no real trepidation [on taking on the role] just faith in the great American public that they’ll join us, and luckily it seems to have paid off.”
In fact, Mison goes on to confess that it was the show’s premise that attracted him to the project in the first place.
“It was something that had so many elements to it. The show as a whole throws in so many different styles and genres, and Ichabod is caught up in the middle of that. You don’t get parts like this very often. You don’t get shows like this very often.”
But more than his love of the show and its premise, Mison admits that it’s “Working with Nicole [Beharie]” that tops his list of favorite aspects of the show. “It’s such a treat. I think that’s something that, for the rest of my career, I’ll look back on and hold in high regard. It’s thanks to Nicole – and the rest of cast and crew” he adds hurriedly, laughing.
Fans of the show have become accustomed to, and fallen in love with one of the most unusual characters on TV this Fall in Ichabod Crane, a cranky time-travelling History professor with a decidedly cool English reserve. We can’t help but wonder if the season ahead might see Ichabod losing some of that delicious starch?
“Without giving too much away, when things start to get very personal, when there are revelations that are personal attacks that are personal attacks on Crane and his past, that’s when the rules start to fly out the window, and he starts acting out a little bit more,” hints Mison.
“Every chance to show a different side to Ichabod is great. A very obvious example is the difference between the Ichabod we see in the 18th Century, and the modern day Ichabod, and equally the well behaved and the less well hinged Ichabod. There’s plenty of that to come.”
Mison admits to “Trying desperately not to give spoilers!” but goes on to tease that upcoming episodes will include major revelations on Ichabod’s past.
But revelations aside, when is our time-travelling historian going to change his Revolutionary outfit, if ever?
“I was wondering how long it was going to be before that question came up,” Mison exclaims. “Actually, I expected every question to be about that! So yes, the clothes issue will be mentioned very very soon. We quite liked having Ichabod in those clothes. It gives him a nice look. In terms of the character, he’s a long way from home and 250 years from home too, so anything he can hold onto from his time I think he certainly will. So any time you think about how much he must stink, just think of it instead as a big stinking security blanket that he carries around with him,” he laughs. “But yes, that will be addressed shortly. At least he gave them a wash,” he adds. “He’s considerate.”
Mison, who clearly loves the complexity of his character, also explains that playing Ichabod is surprisingly hard work. “It’s been nice finding the difference between Crane in his time and place, and Crane after all this weird stuff has happened. It’s about finding the balances – even if it’s just Crane trying to hide his confusion at the world. There are so many plates that need to be spun to keep Ichabod on track. It’s hard work. It’s a really difficult part to play but that’s what makes it so satisfying. There’s lots for me to sink my teeth into.”
“What I find fascinating about Ichabod 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. 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 he’s cleverer than everyone else, but his manners won’t allow him to tell people to stop being stupid.”
Just like Ichabod, Mison admits to being a history buff, a talent he can’t help but bring to his work on Sleepy Hollow. “I do try to be a stickler as much as I can, but luckily the writers are as well. There have been a few language things which luckily they’re very open when I say ‘I think this [phrase] is 12 years too late.’ And they’re very happy to play around with it. Even if 90 percent of the audience aren’t going to spot that a certain turn of phrase is a bit out of date it’s still important to get a level of authenticity for the actor to play around in. If it wasn’t completely authentic it wouldn’t really work. It would then just be a modern man in a weird costume instead of a man from another time. Everyone’s very patient with me getting very anal about things.”
“The temptation could be to just go nuts on the comedy,” he says, referencing Sleepy Hollow’s lighter moments. “Not just for me, but for the writers as well. There’s a wealth of things we could do with that. Len [Wiseman] and I worked out early on is that the only way you can really sell the comedy is to play it as straight as the serious stuff. The way to balance the funny scenes and the more serious ‘Oh my God, the Apocalypse is coming’ scenes is to present both with a very similar tone, rather than separating them into ‘this is a tragic scene’ and ‘this is a comic scene.’ Everything is very real for Ichabod, so we just have to try to play everything straight. This was a really good thing to find, and a saving grace in terms of performance. It also stops me from hamming it up,” he laughs.
Ichabod’s ‘long distance relationship’ with his wife Katrina, versus the possibility of a relationship with Nicole Beharie’s sassy modern counterpart, Detective Abbie Mills has caused endless speculation among fans, and we’re anxious to learn what Mison’s take is on this couple’s unusual partnership.
“And there it is!” Mison laughs. “We’ve had the Ichabod/Abbie question! We’ve had clothes and Ichabod Abbie. Where to from here?”
He reflects for a moment before answering. “I think there is certainly something magical between Ichabod and Abbie. They are forced together. Whether they want to be or not, they’re forced into this relationship. They’re very different to each other. And they wind each other up no end, but that’s when the sparks start flying. And when sparks start flying that’s when … well there’s room for everyone to ship them, I think is the term. They certainly have a connection, and if anything was to happen between them it would certainly be fiery,” he admits.
“I think she knows when to allow him to lead, and when to pull on the leash – hard – which he occasionally needs,” he says reflecting on Ichabod and Abbie’s dynamic. “They balance each other out a lot. We see how he encourages her to have a bit more faith and belief in these weird things that are happening 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 is very capable of being.”
Mison’s admiration of his on-screen partner extends to her off-screen alter ego, co-star Nicole Beharie, with whom Mison admits he shared an instant rapport “Right off the bat.”
“I remember when I was called to Los Angeles to screen-test. It was a five hour screen-test, and Nicole, who had already been cast came in for the final three hours. We read together and played with a few scenes and it was instant. We’re very similar actors. We like to play with what the other actor gives us. We both like to be generous with each other. We know that stuff that everyone refers to as ‘chemistry’ is actually generosity. It’s nice to throw things at an actor and be excited and surprised by what they throw back. We like exploring our scenes together rather than as two individuals. We like to do it as a team. She’s as wonderful off screen as she is on. It’s always a nice thing to find friends on a job and I certainly have with her.”
Where to from here, Sleepy Hollow fans? Mison teases more flashbacks, more on Ichabod’s past, a new recurring character in Fringe alum John Noble, and some big revelations in the pipeline. As for those confounding modern day conveniences? We can expect Ichabod to continue to be suitably irritated and confused by 21st Century life.
“Everything’s new,” explains Mison. “Whenever we go to a new set, it’s nice to have a little look around and wonder what Ichabod might be attracted to, or repelled by, and what would be baffling … and it’s kind of everything. Everything’s new. So yes, there will be plenty more of that. And hopefully it will be just as fun as the stuff from before.”
Catch Sleepy Hollow’s return Monday November 4 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX, and keep up to date with the show through our dedicated Sleepy Hollow Twitter @SleepyHollowSpy — all Sleepy Hollow, all the time!