2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Q&A: Nicole Beharie dishes on ‘Sleepy Hollow’

Published: January 23, 2014, 3:48 pm, by Terry Terrones

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Last Friday I sat in on a Fox conference call with “Sleepy Hollow” star Nicole Beharie, who plays Lt. Abbie Mills. Here’s a transcript of the conversation.   

Q:  Sleepy Hollow has become such a fan favorite very quickly.  What do you think it is about the show that has drawn in so many viewers?

Nicole: I think the show has managed to strike a nerve with so many people.  I think the success of the show is about the audience.  People are open and ready to take that kind of journey and are looking for the sort of fantastic, but mysterious drama.  I think that the show has a lot of different elements to it and demographics that definitely open it up to a much broader audience.

But, I think it’s really all about the audience because it is kind of outlandish. We’re all over the place, and you never know which way we’re going to turn.  It’s really the audience’s engagement with us and they’re sort of coming along with the contract that makes the whole thing live.

Q:  When you started early on in the show, how much of the plotline did you know in advance?  Did you know how it was going to go throughout the season or were you really surprised as you went along?

Nicole: They gave an outline of the option to know where it’s going.  I just basically asked at the beginning for any information that I needed to know that Abbie would have known like when they’re uncovering gradually things about her past and things like that.  I wanted to know that.  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 know that.  I wanted to discover it as we moved along.  I think each writer brought something new.

So, even when we had an idea of what the next episode was going to be, we had no idea how it would actually come to fruition.  Yes, I didn’t really know.  We had sort of an outline.  But, I couldn’t have imagined for the most part by any means what we ended up doing, what we were starting with.

And, I have to say from looking at the pilot to now, to the finale, it’s drastically different.  I know after Abbie has grown so much and changed so much.  It’s a drastically different world that we’re living in now.  I love that that everything keeps changing and evolving.

Q:  Are we going see more of Abbie/Luke and kind of learn more about what went on with them?

Nicole: I’m not really sure to be totally honest.  I think that there may be more into the two.  But, now with the season finale, we have a lot of massive fish to fry.  But, I think there may be something going on with Luke.  That’s all I can say.

Q:  What have been your biggest challenges as an actress on the show?

Nicole: It just happened so fast.  I think we finished a week and a half ago, like two weeks ago and now it’s out there.  As we were shooting, we started in like late July/August and we’ve just been going ever since because we didn’t have much time in between shooting and the air dates.  So, it was just kind of like keeping up with it and staying energetic and really committing to some of the bigger, crazier moments has been a lot of fun.  I think a lot of people are like acting’s so hard.  It’s actually a blast, like that’s a lot of fun.  It’s just the sort of quick pace.  I’ve done a lot of film work and it’s just a little bit slower, you know?

Q: There’s a lot of pain for the characters in these last two episodes.  I just was wondering do you feel like the writers are setting Season 2 to kind of feel like a departure or are moving into a new direction or what can you kind of tease us in terms of what to look forward to next year?

Nicole: I feel like the finale in and of itself is the tease.  I feel like you just have to watch it.  I can’t really tease the tease, you know what I mean?  Of the season, I think all I can say is it’s drastically different from where we started, where we’re going.  I don’t think anyone will expect what we uncover.  I know, that’s horrible.

Q:  Do you feel like Abbie and Ichabod are still on the same side by the end or are we going to see maybe a rift between the two of them?

Nicole: I definitely think that there are challenges along the way for every character.  I think in the last episode you saw there was a little bit of questioning and even the episode with where they captured the Horseman.  They have their issues.  But, I think for the most part they are on the same side, yes.  We’ve seen that throughout.  I don’t think that part has changed.

But, there are a lot of tests coming up.  I’ll say that.  So, with tests come those sort of challenges and definitions of what your character, not just the actual acting character, but the character’s character, who they are and what they really stand for, and how much they can actually withstand.  I think we see some of that, and that’s challenging.  If I might add, Tom is really good at all that emotional stuff, too.  It’s beautiful … work in the finale.  It’s really good.

Q:  A lot of people think that Ichabod and Abbie should be together, but Ichabod’s still waiting for his wife.  So, if you were a viewer and if you weren’t a part of this at all, you’re just kind of watching this, would you root for Ichabod and Abbie or Ichabod and Katrina, because they’re in a weird spot?

Nicole: It’s hard for me to separate myself as if I weren’t.  I’m not a viewer.  I do this thing every day.  I’m highly invested, you know what I mean?

I will say those are questions made for really interesting viewing and seeing everyone’s comments and things.  I actually hadn’t really seen people thinking that Ichabod and Abbie would become an item.  I know they have chemistry, but God only knows what happens in the future.

I know Abbie personally isn’t really thinking that way.  I think that they have a massive job of massive undertaking.  Trying to save the world is a pretty big deal, and try to keep it clean and basically out of trouble.  Flourishing in the modern world is enough.  But, you know, who knows?

Q: Do you think that a romance on the show – so far, there’s been none, which makes sense.  They’re fighting demons.  You can’t really think about kissing someone when you’re fighting a demon, but –

Nicole: Right, exactly.  It’s like Sandman shows up and you’re like, “Thanks for saving me!”  Now, it’s like make out.  It’s like no.  And, 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 the next portal of doom.  So, it’s like there really isn’t a time for that.  I think he’s been longing for his wife and Abbie cares about him and wants him to be happy.

But, I think there’s potential that Abbie could have some things going on.  I thinks she’s finding her power.  So, I think with that there may be relationships in the future ….

Q: I wanted to find out maybe if you could tell us a little bit about the audition process for your role and what that was like for you?

Nicole: Okay, my audition.  I liked the script and I thought it was outlandish, but fun.  I thought it was intriguing.  So, it was like, “Okay, I don’t know about this.  We’ll see how this goes.”  I had other auditions that I put … of a first priority zone, because I didn’t feel they would cast me in this.

For some reason, I was just like this doesn’t seem like something I would be cast in.  I’m short.  I’m black.  It’s like that’s kind of like not going to happen.  It’s just not something that we’ve seen before.  So, I was like, “Yeah, sure.  Maybe I’ll go and do this.  But, first let me do these other ones that seem like more practical.”

Then, it came back around and I just ended up going in for a meeting with the creative team and fell in love with Alex Kurtzman and Len Wiseman, Heather Kadin.  These people are really special, you know, so ….  And, they were telling me everything about their vision of the show and basically, it was a pilot at the time, what they foresaw and how they saw Abbie.

I was like, “Look, it has to be like this, da, da.”  They were like, “We’re with you.  We’re with you.”  Keep it dry, have fun.  They gave me that path to interpret her as I felt.  Then, I went in for a cast, a test read.  I think it was the very next day I found out I got the job and then had to do a chemistry read with Tom, and that was ….

Yes, because you have no idea who the person would be because I had only read the Washington Irving piece.  So, I was sort of expecting, even though I read our pilot, our pilot didn’t necessarily mean it was going to be like some attractive, tall Englishman.  I thought he was going to be gangly and nerdy and all this stuff.  I was like, “Okay, I’m going to meet this guy.”  And, I had a vision of him and then Tom walks in.

I was like, “What the hell is going on?  What’s this?”  But, it was great.  He kept me on my toes and we kind of played a little bit.  I think neither one of us really knew what was going to happen for them, but it’s history now.  So, it was great.

Q:  You mentioned that John Noble is going to be appearing in the season finale.  I know you guys have worked together before.  I just wanted to find out maybe a little bit about working with John, what that was like on the show so far for you?

Nicole: Oh, it’s fantastic.  It was like one of my favorite things.  He’s been on Fringe for a while and he’s just like such a breath of fresh air and the voice of reason.  We haven’t done a great deal of television, Tom and I, so he’s just been giving us pointers about what it means to be on a series and … in shows, to sort of finding your legs.  I feel like the timing, him appearing in the world of Sleepy Hollow and just on the set is perfect because we are just starting to really, in my opinion, we’re really starting to find our legs and things are starting to feel really good in these last three episodes.

So, what better than to have a pro like the kindest, easiest actor to be around?  I mean he really brings it, too.  He really brings it and just keeps the stakes alive and everyone in a really creative place.  So, I think we’re really lucky to have him.

Q:  You’re saying that they gave you, when you auditioned, some leeway to play Abbie your own way.  I was just wondering how did your version differ from their vision of her.

Nicole: I think the cool thing is that they were open.  I think that they just wanted to find something that felt real perhaps, but that could also live in the supernatural storytelling version of the show.  So, I guess that’s what I mean.  I think that there are certain ways that things could have been played, you know.  Girls on TV, they want to sex it up.  They want them to look good and all that kind of stuff.

But, I was just kind of like, “Look, she’s gruff.  She wants to get out of town.  She’s not really too concerned about what anybody thinks because she had like a hard life and she has secrets.”  I think she should have secrets and does have quite a few secrets.  We’ve only, I think in Season 1 sort of chipped some of that off, a little bit of it.  But, I think that there’s potential for more there.  I said with that there’s a certain ground that we can sort of have.

So, there is comedy, but it comes out in a really sort of dry, dry way.  Even her cynicism in the beginning, I think people at first were a bit like, “Does she like him?  Is she being a b-i-t-c-h?”  It’s like no, it’s just what anyone would do.  It was like “You’re crazy.  I’m committing you.”  So, to play that straight, I think, could have been a risk.  But, I think it also helps ground things and it made it better for it actually.

Q:  What kind of chemistry do you think you have with Lyndie Greenwood, who plays Jenny?  

Nicole: I think we have great chemistry.  I think we have great, great chemistry and I think it’s only getting stronger.  We had a ball working on the finale.  We actually did a few things together where by the end of it we were a bit like, “Damn!  We’ve got to wait a few more months to do this again.  It’s starting to get good.”  So, I’m looking forward to us doing it again.  Yes, we’re just having a great time.  She’s really lovely to be with, to be around.

I’m really fortunate that the writers are creating such a complex backstory for us, for us all.  They’re not just creating complicated emotional themes; it’s going somewhere … that’s going somewhere.  So, there’s a payoff eventually and I think that that’s so worth it. And, you know, you don’t really see, I think, any … really see sister relationships that are on television, like even sibling relationships period that are complicated really.  It’s either like a comedy and they just kind of tease each other and they’re a little different.  But, for it to be so complicated and for them to have to work together and everything, it’s really interesting, you know.

Q:  Abbie’s seen and gone through a lot of things since the pilot.  How is the Abbie we see in Monday’s finale different or even the same from the person we met thirteen episodes ago?

Nicole: The sameness – the only things I think are the same are that she knows that she had a larger purpose.  I think in the finale she knew that she had another purpose, but didn’t know what it was.  That’s why she wanted to get out of town.  I think that’s the only thing that’s the same basically.  She knows she has a purpose and she has to sort of serve it.

The rest of it is like her mind is completely blown open.  She’s done so many things that she could never imagine, seen things that what’s going on in this world sort of underneath our day to day life.  It’s like understanding what you were or what you thought you knew is not actually all that there is.  It’s like a huge thing.  I think it’s a huge theme in the show.

She’s basically given over to that now, like she’s not cynical.  She is cautious, but she is no longer cynical about what they’re doing.  She’s in it now.  I think now it’s just about serving that purpose.

I feel like everything has changed, including the ensemble.  I think she started in a cop uniform and then we were in the jeans and now it’s like yoga clothes, and it’s like she’s getting more and more comfortable in her skin and thinking outside the box.  She was just very narrow about the resources that she was willing to use to get answers.  Now, you see her breaking into homes and break the rules and all sorts of things ….

Q:  This has been a huge year for African Americans in television and film, with yourself and Kerry Washington being featured in prime time roles.  As well as your former colleague, Steve McQueen’s recent award season success, what are your thoughts on these barriers being broken down?

Nicole: I think it’s a fantastic time.  I feel really lucky to be an actress during this time when people are sort of opening up to having more diversity in their home and just being interested in a lot of different stories.  The one thing I really love about our show is that even though I think it’s one of the most diverse shows on television, not even ethnically, but gender wise.  We don’t even talk about it.  We don’t make it an issue.

That being said, Steve McQueen is amazing and I’m so happy that he’s been doing well.  Actually, we’re staying in the same hotel right now.  I bumped into him.  I think we’re doing Arsenio tonight at the same time.  So, it’s like the world is getting smaller.  It’s just really nice to see other people that you love and that have opened up opportunities for you doing well.  Yes.

Q: The show can get pretty dark and some of the story lines, at least to me, have been kind of creepy.  Are any of those kind of things, is there anything on the show that you guys have explored that maybe creeps you out a bit?

Nicole: For the last episode, the possessions like having something take over your person; because the other ones have been like monsters, you know.  But, the possession thing kind of freaks me out.  You can go on YouTube and see.  I don’t know if they’re real or fake, but you can see videos of like some small Argentinian town or like the video of a possession that someone has – I don’t know whether it’s mental illness or what it could be, but I don’t really want to be around it in real life, like “Nicole wants nothing to do with that.”

My family is West Indian on my mother’s side and they have a lot of stories about that kind of thing.  They call them … the ghosts.  They call them … and like there’s a lot of at least over Christmas you can sit down and talk about basically ghost stories, but indigenous ghost stories that have been in the family for years and years and years.  It always used to scare me, and possession was one of those things that would come up like somebody, some spirit would take over someone and do something and then they would forget about it.  I’ve always been really kind of freaked out about that.

Q:  I was just wondering what do you think of all the revisionist kind of history that you feature on the show.  That seems to be kind of an entertaining factor for the audience.

Nicole: I just think it’s nifty.  The writers are so imaginative.  It just makes for a lot of fun. A lot of people know these stories, some people don’t.  It just gives a little twist to things that we already know, just like we’ve basically done with the Washington Irving story, turning it into something new, or the history of George Washington, or Jefferson, for example.  Just getting a different perspective on it and having a little bit of fun I think is pretty juicy.  And, there’s a lot of mileage in it like you’re going to see in the finale the things that we discover about Washington are definitely worth it.  They may not be true, but then again, it’s fiction.  Who knows if it isn’t true?