Interview: Nicole Beharie on ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Season 2 and North Carolina summer heat

WILMINGTON, NC. I sit down with “Sleepy Hollow” star Nicole Beharie at the end of a long day on the FOX series' North Carolina set and a cumulative sympathy has set in.

I'd talked to Tom Mison about his heavy coat.

I'd chatted with Katia Winter as she scratched at welts acquired on a night shooting in the woods.

I'd spoken to EP Ken Olin in the air-conditioned production offices as he explained the difficulties facing the stars in the muggy Southern environment.

And I experienced the tiniest taste of the “Sleepy Hollow” experience as an extra in an airless bar that started off comfortable and became rather less-so as the takes began to add up.

Normally, network TV shows are in production from the late summer through the early spring, but part of the reward for its early Season 2 pickup meant that “Sleepy Hollow” got to resume production in the late spring and plow through the entirety of the North Carolina summer. 

Perhaps that's why as late afternoon rolled around and Nicole Beharie sat down, my inquisitive instincts didn't go to the plight Abbie Mills found herself in at the end of Season 1. Yes, finding yourself in Purgatory after an act of self-sacrifice involving your time-traveling partner and his witchy wife is uncomfortable, but is it any worse than finding yourself in August in North Carolina in a leather jacket because you're pretending it's actually autumn in New York?

As with my interview with Tom Mison, a lot of my conversation with Beharie is predicated on the rather safe assumption that at some point — they were on Episode 8 when I was there — Abbie is extricated or extricates herself from where we left her in the finale. I don't know how. I don't know when. Beharie didn't say. 

She does, however, discuss how Ichabod's lie involving the map to Purgatory creates some trust issues and hints at the fresh dynamics brought up by new characters Sheriff Leena Reyes (Sakina Jaffrey) and Nick Hawley (Matt Barr). 

Beharie also discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both the heat and the early ramp-up to Season 2 production and how comfortable she is or isn't feeling in her second season as a TV regular. 

Season 2 of “Sleepy Hollow” finally begins this Monday, September 22 at 9 p.m. on FOX.

Full interview below…

HitFix: It was *really* warm today, and it seems like you guys are doing this every day. How comfortable have you been with sort of the extra work you guys have done in the summer this year?

Nicole Beharie: [Laughs.] I love you. That is such a practical and aware and thoughtful question. Thank, you because no one's ever going to notice that, because they're watching it in the comfort of their living rooms — In the fall, at that! — so they're never going to know how hot it is and how humid. It's miserable. It's actually miserable, but I think it serves us because we get to be, like we're much more tired and we really have to push through in order to like tell the story. Tom, God bless him, is in a coat and I'm always like in leather jackets, jeans, hoodies that whole thing, so we're both in there sweating our asses off basically.

HitFix: Yeah. We got to be in a scene downstairs.

Nicole Beharie:  I know! I heard about that. Did you have a good time?

HitFix: It was fun, but it was so hot by the end.

Nicole Beharie: Yeah. Because you can have the AC on for sound.

HitFix: And then Katia was sitting across from me for her interview and apparently she was out in the woods yesterday and she was just scratching the entire time just bug bites, bug bites, bug bites, have you had of that fun?

Nicole Beharie: I had a week where I was covered in what we call chiggers. They have chiggers here and I'm actually still scarred from it. But the other good thing about being here, on the flipside with the heat, is there's a beach so I go tanning so you don't really see the bug bites because of the tan. So there you go.

HitFix: So good sides bad sides, it all comes together. 

Nicole Beharie: Yeah! It's all good. 

HitFix: Beyond the heat and bugs, what has it been like sort of the accelerated summer process? Do you not know any different so it seems normal enough to you? The amount of work that you guys have done early this year? Or does it feel sort of…?

Nicole Beharie: It feels like the right thing to do. I mean I don't really have any qualms about it. It's better to get ahead. Last year we were kind of falling behind. We were like shooting things and then it would be on the air while we're still working on it almost. So I think that this is the right way to do it and unfortunately it is very warm but I think because of that we can provide better storytelling and better quality, better VFX, everything. We just have more time to like go over things so that the audience is pleased. And we've also been able to also go back, after episodes had been cut, and tweak. 

HitFix: That's a luxury.

Nicole Beharie: That's wonderful! And I think everyone's going to feel it. I think people will be much happier.

HitFix: But is that the sort of thing where you sort of retain in your mind things that you sort of file away that you want to go back to do or is it just the directors when they look at…?

Nicole Beharie: No, we don't get any say on like, “Oh, by the way… That one scene in 20-whatever we have to go back and…” No. But when there are things that may have been off there are discussions that are had and we'll sort of go back and address them. And I have found I think that the VFX, especially like the effects, are so much better because there's more time and the lighting and just a lot of really aesthetic things. It was already an aesthetically pleasing the show but now I think it's even better.

HitFix: From where we left things with Abbie, it seems to suggest, at least in theory, the first episode is going to be an introspective episode because it seems like the first episode back theoretically ought to be Abbie sort of going into herself to some degree. Did it feel that way to you as well? Did it feel like it's sort of inward?

Nicole Beharie: Yeah, but I don't think that's what it is. No. I think you'll be surprised though.

HitFix: Can you tease at all about what it is?

Nicole Beharie: Well, the first episode is… I mean, I love that you said that because that's what you would think Purgatory would be, but everything you think Purgatory would be is a not. So there you go. That's all I can say. Cagey.

HitFix: Does that mean that you still sort of have an appetite for sort of the more introspective Abbie episodes? Because I feel that there are a lot of things from her backstory that we don't have.

Nicole Beharie: I do actually. It was just released last week that Aunjanue Ellis is going to be playing Abbie's mother in the show and I personally still don't know where that's going. I haven't read those scripts yet. I don't know. I'm sort of waiting to hear because it we have heard a lot about what's happening in Crane's story. Why he's a witness is very clear. Why Abbie is a witness is not clear, I think, to everybody. She's cold, is she going to fight or whatever? But what's going on in the history that sort of makes sense? And hopefully we address that a little bit more this year.

HitFix: Well, how much do you feel like you know that we haven't seen? What have the writers let you in on?

Nicole Beharie: Well, I'm not going to tell you that. [Laughs.]

HitFix: Sure. But you can tell me a quantity? How about that?

Nicole Beharie: There's quite a bit. The first thing I can mention is that there's more going on. Her mother was mentally ill and left them and we will discover that there's more going on there in this supernatural realm.

HitFix: And we also got to see sort of Little Abbie last season. Did you get to work at all, just meet at all with Little You?

Nicole Beharie: Awwww. I did get to work with those ladies; the Little Abbie and Little Jenny and they are really a treat. They're really sweet. Those actresses are just like, they're so excited to be there. I don't know if we're going to get back into that again but we're definitely going back into her history and the family life, not necessarily like the flashback dollhouse thing.

HitFix: I just wasn't sure how much Little Abbie we were going to get going…

Nicole Beharie: [Laughs.] I don't know. I don't know. Like I said I'm sort of working script by script so I haven't even read all the new stuff that's coming out.

HitFix: So, Ichabod's lies/betrayal about the map. How big of a deal does that seem to you, let's go with “To Nicole.”

Nicole Beharie: I think it's pretty big. I think it's huge. I think is huge. It's a massive issue and there's a lot of negotiating who we are as partners this year, this season. How much can you trust him and his wife and son and all these people? How solid of a unit are they when he's done something before to betray her that however it could be looked at as helping to fight the war, the apocalypse, but it also put her in a very dangerous situation. So they are fighting a larger battle and then within that battle they're having to look over their shoulder every now and then I think and figure out who they are to one another.

HitFix: Well, when you sort of the see something like that do you look at it from the perspective of, “Okay it's a betrayal of trust” or do you look at it from the perspective of “OK it helped sort of save the world” or that was what the purpose of it was?

Nicole Beharie: You can't have one without the other. It's both. It really is.

HitFix: Now, there are some new characters this season. What new sides of Abbie, for example is the new boss going to bring out?

Nicole Beharie: Well, there's a history there. The new boss, Leena Reyes, our new sheriff is actually, she has a history with Abbie's mother. So that brings out a whole can of worms that Abbie wasn't expecting; she was just thinking, “Get on the good side of this lady whatever so we can access to the town, to the files and guns or whatever.” But now she realizes that there's a lot of information that she hadn't any awareness of. And I think there's an intimacy there that I think people will be surprised by. It's subtle but it's kind of interesting. And Hawley, the arms dealer… Everyone keeps going straight to the romantic thing and I don't know, I think it's just because she's a fighter and she's not trying to be romantic so everyone's like, “That's what we want to see, we want to see the other side” and it's like, “Yeah maybe one day, but right now we're fighting an Apocalypse” and she's not like Crane where Crane is married and longing for his wife, she has this other thing and this whole like family history that she's trying to sort out. But the thing that I think is really striking about Hawley is she likes that there's another person that's sort-of on the team or could potentially be on the team that is modern and a little bit gruffer and a little less precious and very honest. So she really, really likes that about him.

HitFix: But he seems to have a past of some sort with Jenny…

Nicole Beharie: Yeah, Jenny gets around.

HitFix: But that seems to suggest yet another love triangle… Even if it's not actually happening sort of for people to fantasize about I guess.

Nicole Beharie: Yeah. They just like making things complicated. This is the most complicated, convoluted show on the planet so why not? Why not add another little mix in there?

HitFix: But it also sounds as if there's complication non-romantic just from the presence of Katrina in this world.

Nicole Beharie: Or even from Crane. I think Crane feels threatened by Hawley's presence. There's another man that's around that's like helping out, that knows things, knows more about the modern world and thinks about his time.

HitFix: When I talked with Tom I asked him sort of what the core of Ichabod was, you know, regardless of the chaos that's happening around him what is the thing that defines Ichabod? And he said that it was sort of Ichabod has to think he's the smartest person in the room at all time. What would you say that the similar core is with Abbie?

Nicole Beharie: She has to feel like she's the most honest, truthful. Or she's always looking for the truth, like always trying to figure out what the real deal is with each person she's talking to.

HitFix: And so when did you sort of latch onto that?

Nicole Beharie: Initially. Immediately. From the beginning. And actually there's a scene in the pilot where he starts talking about what he saw and she turns around and is like, “That person is telling the truth,” but then you see she can't say it out loud but it's always like because there's what we present and then what the truth is and I think that's sort of the war that is happening, like the supernatural thing that's happening with the demons and all that stuff and they edifice that everyone has. Sort of she's able or tries her best to see past that so that she can fight the best she can.

HitFix: Now when we first met Abbie she was sort of on the verge of making a transition to the FBI and that was sort of what she thought was her destiny. Do you feel like this is sort of what her destiny really is? 

Nicole Beharie: She's trying to figure it out. At the end of the finale last year, at the end of last season she took it on. She said, “This is our destiny. We're the witness.”  So yes. How do you do it? I don't know. I'm trying to figure that out. How do you do it? What does that mean now? I think joining the FBI would have been a lot more cut-and-dry and there is somebody else who's paved the way but right now it's just the two of them figuring it out in real time. So yeah.

HitFix: Now you talked about it in terms of getting things started early and sort of the advantage that's had in terms of production, but for you personally how does Season 2 of being a TV regular feel different? How have you settled into this?

Nicole Beharie: I haven't settled. I actually think the minute that I start to feel like, “Oh we got this thing,” then something is wrong, especially with this kind of show. So we just keep adjusting and changing. I do discover new things and because they're writing interesting characters and adding new people, the only thing that is familiar is like the crew and the fact that we know our crew, we know sort of how we all work together. But there's nothing particularly that feels like, “Oh I'm just at the job doing the same thing,” because every day is really different. It's not like a sitcom; it's not a kitchen sink situation.

HitFix: So you feel like that's a product of this particular show?

Nicole Beharie: Yeah. I don't think you could settle into this show.

HitFix: And is that an advantage to it or do you like being settled? Some people like being a little bit unsettled, other people are perfectly happy to get comfortable.

Nicole Beharie: I have my days. Some days it would be nice to just wake up and just say some funny lines and go home and not have to like cry and run through the woods and do this and like fight a monster all in one day. But that's not the situation I'm in and I kind of feel like I have grown as just like a human being — I'm just being really honest with you — as a human being by being able to adapt and adjust and know that like you can't ever rest on your laurels, you have to sort of wake up; you actually have to be present. You know? You have to be present.

See Also…
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” premieres on Monday, September 22 at 9 p.m. on FOX.