Overnight Nicole Beharie has become a household face. Her portrayal as Lt. Abbie Mills on FOX’s breakout hit Sleepy Hollow has not only been heralded as defying the mold, but been consistently praised by critics.
Her performances week after week being lauded, rightfully, as one of the best of the television season should come as no surprise. The actress is a Julliard graduate, and has delivered awe-inspiring performances with her roles in 42, Shame and American Violet.
Today Screen Spy had the opportunity to talk with Nicole Beharie about becoming Abbie, what it was like working with her cast mates, and what’s in store for fans in the series finale, which is set to air this Monday.
Becoming Lt. Grace Abigail Mills has certainly been a process, but Beharie knew very little about what was coming for the character, and the plot in general, as the episodes rolled out. In fact, she took a more reactive approach to the unfurling story. “They gave us sort of an outline of the options to know where it’s going. I just basically asked them for any information that I needed to know that Abbie would’ve known. But as far as what was going to happen with each demonic entity, or each monster, or each level of fighting the apocalypse — I didn’t really want to know that. I wanted to discover it as we moved along.”
The final results of the season seem to have surprised Beharie as much as viewers. “I couldn’t have imagined for the most part what we ended up doing with what we were starting with. And I have to say from looking at the pilot to now, the finale – it’s drastically different. I feel like Abbie has grown so much and changed so much. It’s a drastically different world that we’re living in now and I love that everything is changing.”
Speaking of growth and change, Abbie has changed quite a bit from the pilot. How Abbie came to be, even before the pilot, was largely influenced by the actress herself. “I read the script and I kinda thought it was outlandish, but a lot of fun. I had other auditions that I put first priority though because I didn’t feel like they’d cast me in this role. This doesn’t seem like something I’d be cast in. I’m short, I’m black,” she laughs. “You know, ‘That’s kinda not gonna happen.’”
“It sort of came back around and I ended up going and meeting the creative team and fell in love. They were telling me everything about their vision of the show – basically it was a pilot at the time – what they thought and how they saw Abbie. But they sort of gave me that path to interpret her as I felt.”
When she says they allowed room for interpretation, she means it. Her approach was mindful though, and it’s something the producers were clearly fond of. “I think that there’s a certain way that things could have been played. And I was just kinda like ‘Look. She’s gruff. She wants to get out of town. She’s not really too concerned about what anybody thinks because she’s had a hard life. And she has secrets. I think she should have secrets and she’s got quite a few secrets.”
One thing that’s not much of a secret is Beharie’s chemistry with her fellow actors, in particular her co-lead Tom Mison. Their screen relationship runs the range of emotions and is often considered the heart of the show. And it might seem that, in the same way Ichabod and Abbie were destined to work together, the chemistry between these two – there since the audition process – helped destine them to play opposite each other. Even if Mison wasn’t what Beharie was expecting. “I thought he was gonna be gangly and nerdy. I had a vision of [Ichabod] and then Tom walked in and I was like ‘What the hell is going on?'” she laughs. “It was great. He kind of kept me on my toes. We played a little bit.”
That fun chemistry isn’t reserved only for her fellow lead. She also has an uncanny ability to invest us in her sibling storyline, which she plays out along side actress Lyndie Greenwood.
If you look up complicated in the dictionary, you’ll probably see Abbie and Jenny’s picture. Still, the emotional tug and pull of the sisters’ bond is what makes it so dynamic. Beharie loves this about the on screen siblings, and especially appreciates working with Greenwood.
“We had a ball working on the season finale. We actually did things together where by the end of it we were a bit like ‘Damn, we gotta wait a few more months to do this again.’ She’s really lovely to be with. I’m really fortunate that the writers are creating such complex backstory for us all.”
Abbie is pretty dynamic as a character, but so is the sibling relationship, allowing both women to be emotionally soft and physically hard at the same time. On doing tender moments versus action sequences with Greenwood, Beharie says she appreciates them both. “There’s so many different levels and dynamics, so I think that it’s just an amazing gift for an actor to have tender moments in something that would just be considered a procedural. And you think, ‘Oh, it’s a procedural,” but then next you know there’s like a supernatural element.”
“Then there’s conspiracy theory, then there’s a history lesson,” Beharie continues, “So it really works every muscle in your creative body, as well as your physical body. So I don’t really have a preference.” She notes the actions sequences were a bit of a different challenge though. “I will say I haven’t had as much experience doing the action stuff, so when I do get the opportunity I really get a kick out of it.”
Outside of this relationship, one of Abbie’s greatest strengths is her ability to grow. Her development from week to week is part of what has made her such an enigmatic character to watch. When Screen Spy asked Beharie about her character’s growth from the pilot through the finale, she noted that not many things were the same.
“The only thing I think is the same is that she knows she has a larger purpose. In the premiere she knew she had a bigger purpose, but didn’t know what it was which is why she thought she had to get out of town. I think that’s the only thing that’s the same.” She continues, “Her mind has been completely blown open. She’s done things she couldn’t have ever imagined and she’s seen things and is like, ‘What’s going on in this world?’ She’s understanding that what there is or what you thought there was is not all there is. She’s no longer cynical about what she’s doing. She’s in it.”
Abbie’s approach to life certainly has an impact on her approach to romance. The lieutenant creates an interesting new standard, however, for female characters. Where male characters get to have action and romance, female characters are often forced into one or the other. In doing so, they become tropes or shells that are not as fully developed as their male counterparts. This is not the case with Lt. Mills.
In fact, you could say she has a nice balance between action and romance. Abbie always has her gun at her side (frequently using it) and has the most love interests on the show. The series has hinted at a potential romantic plot line between Mills and fellow Sleepy Hollow police officer, Luke Morales, in addition to having (unreciprocated) interest from former partner and friend Andy Brooks. There’s even a large fan following rooting for a romantic relationship between Abbie and co-witness Ichabod.
Love, however, doesn’t seem too high on Abbie’s to-do list. With Luke, Andy… or Ichabod. Beharie believes it’s with good reason. “I know Abbie personally isn’t really thinking that way. I think they have a massive job, a massive undertaking – trying to save the world. They move so fast on the show, by the time you have a moment to blink or bat your lashes, there’s something dragging you through a portal of doom or something. There isn’t time for romance,” Beharie says.
That doesn’t mean romance is entirely out of the question. “I do think there’s potential that Abbie can have some things going on. She’s finding her power and I think there could be relationships there.” On whether something might kindle between her and her most likely romantic prospect, Morales, she doesn’t quite know what’s in store.
“I’m not really sure to be totally honest. I think that there may be more in season 2. But right now with the season finale, we have a lot of massive fish to fry. And I think there might be something going on with Luke. That’s all I can say.”
Speaking of the finale, when asked about whether she had a favorite moment in the final thrill ride, Beharie made an intriguing choice. “I think that John Cho and I have some really interesting moments in the finale.” Beyond that, she can’t give much away.
“I feel like the finale in and of itself is a tease,” Beharie says. “I can’t really tease a tease. All I can really say is that it’s drastically different from where we started, where we’re going.”
Sleepy Hollow’s season finale airs Monday, January 20th at 8:00 – 10:00 PM ET/PT on FOX.