“Sleepy Hollow,” a re-imagining of Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” will ring familiar to audiences who’ve gotten used to creative tweaking. This time around, Ichabod Crane is a hot guy (Tom Mison) instead of a geek, the Revolutionary War wasn’t just about expats fighting the Brits for freedom, and there are witches and curses and Biblical horsemen of the Apocalypse in addition to the Headless Horseman. The debut episode also surprises with an unexpected murder, which co-executive producer Len Wiseman explained, “We wanted to keep you off balance a little bit. We wanted to make sure you were never sure which characters were gonna get it.”
Given that “Sleepy Hollow” follows in the stuff-you-know-getting-messed-with vein of “Once Upon A Time” and new shows like “Reign” and “Atlantis,” executive producer Mark Goffman explained the trend. “You can see scifi has hit a stumbling block in the summer stuff we saw… Obviously , the success of the fantasy of stuff recently has whet the appetite of people. [We’re taking the ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ story and] revising it in a way that’s really new and fresh, and this really capitalizes on that well. It’s re-conceived in such a way, everything you know about how our country is founded is completely blown apart.”
Wiseman put it a little more simply: “We really wanted it to be fun. Just finding the right tone of horror and suspense with the fantasy element.”
Fans of the Rolling Stones may be surprised to hear “Sympathy for the Devil” in the pilot episode. When asked how they could afford such a recognizable song for a new show, Wiseman joked, “We have no money for the the episodes now,” then added, “We’ve been very supported by the studio.”
Mison added, “I balance it out by being very cheap.”
Co-creator/executive producer Roberto Orci commented on the mash-up of stories on the show, saying that, “This idea gave us a chance to make the story modern day, plus link it to the Bible…A lot of people assume the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are part of the story [by Washington Irving], but it’s only 17 pages.”
The producers also mentioned that one twist will be watching how the Headless Horseman adjusts to a world with modern weapons, and showing how he expressed emotion without a face — at least, until he finds his head. One scene the producers considered for the pilot which didn’t make the cut was an idea they’d like to revisit. “What would an interrogation scene look like with the Headless Horseman?” co-creator/executive producer Alex Kurtzman asked.
“The other three horsemen are set up to be just as fun and just as daunting as this guy,” Wiseman said. “We find out the headless horseman is actually a mistake. He was Death, who Ichabod killed on the battlefield. But once he gets his head back, he’s part of that bigger picture.”
Of course, the revelation that the Headless Horseman is actually Death brought up a lot of questions, none of which were answered particularly well by the panel. When asked how people continued to die during the 250 years Death was buried, Goffman said, “It’s people who die at the hand of their design rather than people dying naturally.” As to whether or not anyone in the last 250 years had a natural death was not answered.
The panel was more excited to discuss some of the big picture (and less supernatural) ideas which will be tackled by the show. When Ichabod awakens to the weird modern world, Goffman suggested, “They started a revolution over a four percent tax rate, and what is it now?”
When the producers tried to ask the cast what they think will be most interesting to explore about the modern world, Jones piped up, “We’re still reeling from the news we could die at any point.”
But the stars were open to talking about their characters. “For me, it’s the challenge of accepting pieces of it — how does your character move forward and how much is revealed? That completely pulled me into that project. I would still say there is skepticism, of course. We have a long way to go,” Nicole Beharie (Abbie) said.
Mison, discussing whether his transition to American TV gave him something to draw on with Crane’s befuddled character, he said, “I’m genuinely left baffled. Even more than it being different from British television, this seems different from any television. this is much more like being on a film set. At the moment, we in England are looking over here and seeing amazing television being made.
As far as whether the show will be more about the mythology or more about stand alone episodes, Kurtzman said, “Our goal is… you can have stand alone episodes, but what’s most important, what people watch for, is the emotional continuity.”
Still, there are some questions that have yet to be answered — even internally. “I don’t know if I’m good or bad right now,” Jones said.
“I’m looking forward to trying to rescue my wife from her Victorian netherworld, which is not something I’ve done in my career… I can’t wait to find out how you bring someone back from the afterlife,” Mison said.
As to some of the mashing up of the classic story, Orci said, “The Ichabod and Headless Horsman characters we know so well, we really wanted to show a different version of Crane… as someone who’s tied into the apocalypse, that he’s tied into a greater war. The professor in him is almost the Clark Kent to who he is. He was brought in by Washington and brought into this secret order. He has this professor element to him… but it was almost his cover, his day job.”
But the good news is that the Headless Horseman will remain headless — at least for a while. “In some ways he’s such an iconic character, if you give him back his had too early, it would be no fun,” Kurtzman said. “There are flashbacks in our show, so we’re going to find out who he was before his head was cut off.”
“He needs his head for a specific reason, too,” Wiseman hinted.
“But no time soon will he get his head back,” Kurtsman said.
Will you be watching “Sleepy Hollow”?