Interview: Matt Barr on his still-mysterious ‘Sleepy Hollow’ rogue

WILMINGTON, NC. I sit down with Matt Barr on the “Sleepy Hollow” set in Wilmington, NC in late August without really knowing much about the actor's character, Noah Hawley. 

I know he's got Han Solo rogue swagger and a holstered firearm, but little else. The reports when Barr was cast described his character as a bounty hunter and then he was later described as an arms dealer, two descriptions with a potentially wide gulf between them. 

Nearly two months later, I've “acted” in a scene with Barr — possibly appearing in Episode 8, until they decide to cut me out for reasons that I certainly won't begrudge — and watched two episodes featuring Hawley and I'm still not sure I know all that much more. 

Hawley first popped up in the season's third episode and he returned in the fourth, both times on the trail of the same artifact Crane and Abbie were looking for, which isn't unsuspicious, though we have no reason to distrust him, at least not yet. We're aware he has some backstory with Lyndie Greenwood's Jenny, but that hasn't been dealt with much.

In fact, my going-in-blind interview from the set still provides some background that maybe we haven't spotted this far, which you either will or won't view as spoilers. 

We also discussed the “Harper's Island” and “Hellcats” veteran's return to Wilmington, where he previous terrorized Peyton on “One Tree Hill.”

Check out the full Q&A below…

HitFix: We've heard different things about Hawley from the beginning. There was the bounty hunter description,  which was what we first heard and then sort of then there was an arms dealer. How would you describe what this guy is and how he fits into the universe?

Matt Barr: He's definitely a jack-of-all-trades. I think he's a professional adventurer, so everything falls under that umbrella. But he specializes in special relics and treasures and things.

HitFix: Well, is he Indiana Jones or is he Belloq or one of the other bad guys who wanted to sell the relics, who Indiana Jones was trying to stop?

Matt Barr: He's just trying to make an honest living here. Some of the things he does they're trivial, but at the end of the day he's not hurting anybody. He's not trying to hurt anybody and he's making an honest living. The thing with Hawley is, though, even though on the surface it would seem like he's out for a quick buck, I think what he does he really does for the juice, the adventure of it. I think that's what drives his business really.

HitFix: Does he have the interest in sort of the history of the antiquities or it's what he can get out of both?

Matt Barr: He does. You wouldn't guess it based on the superficial aspects of him, but he's a very educated guy and kind of well-versed in all kinds of history and the supernatural armaments, things of that nature.

HitFix: Tom was talking about how sort of one of the core things about Ichabod is that he always sort of thinks of himself as the smartest person in the room. Is your character as smart? Does he think he's as smart or does he not worry about that?

Matt Barr: Hawley either knows he's the smartest guy in the room or he's a good enough bullsh**er that that he can bullsh** his way around it. But it's a funny dynamic between he and Crane because they definitely– it's a battle of wits with those two guys.

HitFix: Well, when they're in the same room, who is the smartest guy in the room?

Matt Barr: That's true.

HitFix: So what's the answer?

Matt Barr: Well, it's definitely Hawley. Yeah. I mean Hawley has got the gun, so of course he's the smartest guy in the room.

HitFix: Does he use the gun?

Matt Barr: Sure. Sure.

HitFix: To what end?

Matt Barr: Well, you know, there's a few ways to kill a demon. One of them is a silver bullet blessed by the archdiocese of Halifax. That works sometimes. Just a little holy water. All in a normal days work, right?

HitFix: So he does sort of have an understanding of his supernatural world. He's not just on the American History side of things, he knows what everything means in the bigger world.

Matt Barr: He has an understanding in terms of… Let me rephrase that. I was going to say he has a literal understanding but not a *literal* understanding of the world. There's a quote that sums him up well. “Not everyone who sells Christmas trees believes in Santa Claus,” and I think that sums up Hawley.

HitFix: But I assume since he's coming into this world that he's about to get to meet Santa Claus?

Matt Barr: Sure. Exactly. Abbie and Crane aren't too good on Hawley's health. Every time he seems to crash into these guys, there's another hazardly experience lying behind door number two or three. So now that we're into episode eight. Hawley's become a bit of a believer.

HitFix: Now obviously you can't have a past with Crane per se because Crane doesn't have a recent past, does this guy have a past with any of the characters in the immediate sphere on the show?

Matt Barr: Yeah. I guess the few degrees of separation is Hawley has crossed paths with Jenny before. And so even though he's a nomad, he kind of comes in and out of town on the docks and he and Jenny have connected and they have a little romance that's kind of been an on and off thing. But they're so like-minded. I feel like he and Jenny are kind of the same salt. So I get that chemistry there but…

HitFix: So how much were you told about this guy and what the role was the entire season when you auditioned, when you first sat down?

Matt Barr: All I knew was he was a kind of archetypal Han Solo-type character and he was going to join the Scooby Doo gang a bit with Abbie and Crane and that there was going to be some chemistry that was going to evolve with he and Abbie. And then we're still sort of thing that unfold, even in episode eight.

HitFix: Well, have there been sort of secrets that you've been told gradually about him or…?

Matt Barr: A couple.

HitFix: Because everyone's got a past of course.

Matt Barr: Sure. Sure. They haven't fed me a lot, but I've made up some of my own for Hawley. So we'll see if that ever comes out.

HitFix: And what do you base that on? What are your own constructions of the character based on?

Matt Barr: I guess based on some of the great characters I watched growing up. I keep thinking of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I'm a little rooted there.

HitFix: Okay. Which one are you working with then, or a little of each?

Matt Barr: He's a blend of both.

HitFix: Now, Butch had Sundance, Han has Chewie, does Hawley have a sidekick, a partner, a person?

Matt Barr: Hawley's got his gun I guess. That's the problem with Hawley, he needs somebody doesn't he? See, that's why he's helping out Crane and Abbie, he's just lonely is the truth. He just wants some friends I think.

HitFix: Well, you've mentioned sort of the security, his gun now a couple of times, tell me about his gun and it did you get to choose it?

Matt Barr: Me personally? I didn't but this sucker is beautiful. And again, silver bullets blessed with holy water, it's a hell of a revolver. And for some reason when you have that thing on you, you walk taller. So I love coming to work.

HitFix: Did you watch the first season of Sleepy Hollow?

Matt Barr: I did. Yeah. Not until I got this job though.

HitFix: And what was your reaction to sort of this crazy world that this show has constructed?

Matt Barr: As far out there as it is, it still has a kind of nice blend of being grounded in some kind of reality. So even for me as the actor I can kind of buy into what we're doing and the writers do a nice job kind of balancing that dynamic. And it sure is fun as hell thinking that, you know, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse could take over and I think there's some demons out there that lurk around the corners.

HitFix: You've been in Hollywood. You know there are…

Matt Barr: There you go. Exactly.

HitFix: How much do you sort of have to understand this world in order to play in this environment? Like how much do you have to sort of be able to pretend that you understand the logic of the mythology of all of it and how much can you just read what's on the script and go for the ride?

Matt Barr: You know, you could probably BS your way through some of that, but I think especially with a guy like Hawley, who's so well read and familiar with again – so well read with the supernatural world but again not through experience but through studying — I think that sorta filters its way through in subtle little things that the characters do, just the way that they kind of own the material and the dialogue and all the artifacts too and things like that. And to me it's more fun to kind of by into it as the actor. It's fun. Why not? Because then you kind of go along with the ride, one with the character and two with the audience.

HitFix: And have you done any research on your own on sort of revolutionary conspiracies or just the American history that maybe you didn't know, et cetera?

Matt Barr: No. I did find out that North Carolina, where we shoot, is the most haunted state in the US. And a lot of these demons and the monsters, whether it's the Wendigo or some of the thing that we talk about, the Serpent's Tears gun, they're based in real mythology. I thought the writers created these but these are real things that have been around for many, many, many years and have sort of been perpetuated from generation to generation so it's cool.

HitFix: Obviously everyone is going to be sort of wondering where Hawley is going to fit into all the sort of love triangles and quadrangles and whatever on the show. So where does he fit into? Who's he causing trouble for romantically?

Matt Barr: Well, it might be both of the Mills sisters, but I call that a win/win for Hawley. So I'm happy either way. Can't lose.

HitFix: Have you sort of dipped your toe yet into sort of the online fandom around the show at all?

Matt Barr: No, I haven't.

HitFix: Okay. So you haven't sort of seen how people are going to react to the idea of someone getting between…

Matt Barr: I guess not. But you're either Team Jacob or Team Edward, Right?

HitFix: And which are you?

Matt Barr: I'm team The Hot Girl. [He laughs.]

HitFix: That makes sense. Now, being back in Wilmington do you have “One Tree Hill” flashbacks when you were here?

Matt Barr: Sure. Yeah. Absolutely.

HitFix: Is it the same or have things changed as sort of the filming infrastructure has build up? Has it lost its charm?

Matt Barr: No, not at all. It feels the same. I was hoping it would. We have a lot of the same crew and the same technicians. It does, it feels like even though it's been eight years doing this, it feels like just yesterday.

HitFix: What do you sort of think back on when you think back on that character from that show, because that was sort of a fun character.

Matt Barr: It was great. I think of: One, wearing that tattoo, the fake tattoo. I would wear it out on the town when we got off work and it was funny the looks I got with that. And two, I remember head butting the actress Hilarie Burton once and like she flew like 18 feet. Like that would never happen. It was one of these like Michael Bay wirework moments where she like flew across the room and I always thought that was so freaking hilarious, the magic of the movies.

HitFix: So, do you enjoy playing sort of more the rogue or do you enjoy playing the psycho like you got to do on “One Tree Hill”?

Matt Barr: The perfect balance would be a little bit of both. Maybe every rogue has a little bit of psycho in him, but I don't know. I grew up watching Indiana Jones so this is pretty fun.

HitFix: I mean that's my read on this character from what I've heard is that he sort of is like the guys Indiana Jones is trying to stop, so how quickly does he become sort of clearly a good guy or do you think he's not necessarily clearly a good guy at all?

Matt Barr: I think people's soul – I think you can kind of see it – there's what they say and there's what they do. And I think you can tell in Hawley's actions. But then again, everyone holds a secret and that's just true about everyone. So at the end of the day it's amazing what people will do when they're backed up in a corner.

See Also...

*** Interview: 'Sleepy Hollow' co-star Katia Winter on getting to know Katrina in Season 2

*** Interview: 'Sleepy Hollow' star John Noble on Season 2 and what drives War, Henry and Jeremy?
*** Interview: Nicole Beharie on 'Sleepy Hollow' Season 2 and North Carolina summer heat
*** Tom Mison on 'Sleepy Hollow' Season 2 and an odd 'Silence of the Lambs' comparison
*** 'Sleepy Hollow' star Orlando Jones on Captain Irving's legal woes and interacting with fans

“Sleepy Hollow” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on FOX.