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Tom Mison of 'Sleepy Hollow' on clothes, chemistry & Ichabod Crane

By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol

RedEye

4:41 PM CST, November 3, 2013

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Ichabod Crane has battled an evil Headless Horseman and been baffled by an electric coffee maker in Fox's freshman fantasy hit "Sleepy Hollow."

Yet one of the big topics on social media is the 18th century clothing he continues to wear weeks after waking in present-day Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., from a 250-year slumber induced by his witch wife.

"At least he gave them a wash in the sink," joked Tom Mison, who plays Washington Irving's classic character with a twist. "He's considerate."

During a conference call last week, the British actor told me his character's "iconic" wardrobe would be addressed soon, but that fans can consider it Crane's "big stinking security blanket."

"He's a long way from home--250 years away from home--so anything that he can hold on to from his time, I think he certainly will," Mison said.

Crane can be forgiven his lack of fashion awareness. He has more pressing things on his mind, like trying to figure out modern conveniences such as OnStar systems, not to mention investigating a supernatural conspiracy that stretches back to the Revolutionary War.

Crane and his police partner, Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), seek the help of the mysterious Henry Parrish in "The Sin Eater," airing at 8 p.m. Monday on Fox.

Parrish, played by former "Fringe" actor John Noble, "will become a very important character in the series," Mison said. "He's a savior."

Until "Sleepy Hollow," Mison's biggest appearance on U.S. television was a role in the HBO miniseries "Parade's End." Mison said he's grateful for the role, adding that many British casting directors probably would not have considered him for it.

He's also happy to be working with Beharie, with whom he has become friends.

"For the rest of my career I'll look back on this job and hold it in really high regard largely thanks to Nicole," he said, "and my coat and boots, obviously."

Mison answered more questions from writers about his chemistry with Beharie, working with Noble and what's coming for Ichabod Crane.

Will we see Ichabod 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...
The personal and his past, revelations about his past--I think that's as close as I can get, I'm afraid.

I have the most pressing question of the day, maybe. Is Ichabod ever going to wear modern clothes?
It was question No. 2. 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 having Ichabod in—give him an iconic look, which I think everyone's managed to achieve rather nicely.

What's been the most fun as you were creating this character? 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 in 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 [are] 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 a lot for me to sink my teeth into.

The show has a premise that even its fans agree is somewhat implausible. Did you have any trepidation about signing on because of that 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 Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and Len Wiseman, their careers have been built on asking people to suspend their disbelief. 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.

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?
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.

A lot of the audience is 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 magical 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 to "'ship" them I think is the term. They certainly have a connection, and if there was—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.

Are you a history buff and, if so, how much of a stickler are you for authenticity even in a premise 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.

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. 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 [isn'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.

How has it been being able to build a rapport with these really great character actors like Noble and John Cho who come on the show?
It's really nice. It's great to have actors who are often cast against type. It's surprising ... 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 the highest-ranking police officer.

I think actually a lot of people would be rather surprised at me being cast as Ichabod. I think there are probably lots of casting people in England 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.

Do you want to know what's coming for him so you can kind of prepare for that if you had to, or at the end of this season, 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. The smaller things in the episodes [I may not know], but I know the big story arcs and they're quite remarkable.

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.

You and Nicole Beharie have great chemistry. I'm wondering if that was right off the bat and if you've built a friendship?
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.

So yes it was fairly instant and we liked 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, or do you stick pretty closely to the script?
Not really. 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. Nicole and I often—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.

I was wondering if you've 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. Yes, that comes from both counts because we've got excellent writers.

What it's like working with John Noble?
It's really remarkable. Our first scene together is 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. I rather liked it. Yes.

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

You mentioned how he's usually or will always be the smartest person in the room. As time goes on, is Abbie going to let him take the lead?
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, 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. There's nothing better than that. It's good to work hard.

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