Sleepy Hollow co-creators Alex Kurtzman and Len Wiseman, executive producer Heather Kadin and supervising producer Phillip Iscove turned out at New York Comic Con along with the supernatural drama's stars Tom Mison (Ichabod Crane), Nicole Beharie (Lt. Abbie Mills), Orlando Jones (Capt. Frank Irving) and Katia Winter (Katrina Crane) to show never-before-seen footage and answer questions from fans about the hit new series, which has already been renewed for a second season.
Inspired by the Washington Irving classic, Sleepy Hollow pits legendary foes Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman against each other in a modern setting. Having been resurrected 200 years after their first fatal battle, each finds himself in a world he doesn't understand, and with very different aims: While the Horseman is on a quest to bring about the end of the world, Crane is setting out to save it. Sharing the load of this incredible destiny is local police Lt. Abbie Mills, who first tripped upon the evil they now face when she was just a girl.
The panel kicked off by plunging the audience into darkness. Then the theater's massive monitors were flooded with the series' dramatic opening. The audience cheered as it ended, and out came Kurtzman and company to show a clip from Episode 2, in which Crane races through a dark wood lit only by flashes of lightning. The Four Horsemen bear down on Crane, who fights a batch of enchanted vines that wind around him. But just as these villains reach him, he’s pulled beneath the ground, landing safely in a hidden cavern.
The producers said the vines were all CG, which means during the shoot Mison was flailing and fighting against objects that weren't actually there. "It's what I trained for," the actor joked.
Mison told the crowd about the first time he read the pilot script. "I instantly had to read it again, because I thought, 'No. Really?' I didn't think anyone had the balls to make a show like this,” he said. “And then it was turned out it was true. So I just couldn't not be in it, really.”
The producers recalled how Mison came to be cast, explaining that Crane was originally conceived as to be an American character rather than British. However, they ran into problems in casting. "We just couldn't find an actor who didn't feel like he was from the Valley, frankly," Kurtzman said. "If we go British, what would be particularly interesting about it is if he fought for the Americans. … What's that story? So that became a very compelling story right away." He noted it was Kadin who suggested Mison. “Tom came into the room and he blew the doors off the place,” Kurtzman continued, “and we knew we had our Ichabod."
Next they screened a scene in which Mills has a dream where she watches herself being interrogated by Crane, then is forced to confront the Sandman. Asked what it was like shooting this sequence, Beharie admitted it made her physically ill.
"That day I actually got sick. … I think it somehow permeated my soul and really became a part of who I am and a part of my being,” she said. “But that day I was a little freaked out by what we are doing. And I actually got fairly ill dealing with the Sandman." However, she said, "The man who plays the Sandman is this really sweet yogi. He is. He's really ace. He does this thing where he blows all the air out of him so you can see his ribs … right before we shoot."
Wiseman discussed how the design of the Sandman evolved, saying, "It was based on the eyes. … You know the legend has always been that the Sandman takes the sand puts it in the children's eye [to make them fall asleep], and ours is the horrific twist on that. So it started on his eyes. I liked the idea of it spilling from his own eyes, and then gathering up that power from … and then spreading it to the eyes of others."
He also addressed the emphasis on practical effects versus visual effects, adding, "I really wanted it to stay as a practical creature too, something that can actually be achieved. I miss practical creatures both in movies and in television. You don't see it a lot. So that's the starting point. What can we actually do practically? What can we achieve? It makes the designs a little bit harder because you don't have the access to everything visual effects-wise. But you can still make some really great, amazing characters. So we want to keep doing that."
Next came a clip in which Crane is waxing poetically about love to someone, who is ultimately revealed to be a weeping NorthStar representative named Yolanda. As the lights came back up, Mison joked with the producers, "I was wondering whether Yolanda could be a regular a bit like Ziggy in Quantum Leap. Every time there's a problem, Crane can just push a button and there's this weeping lady. "
The crowd laughed, and the conversation turned to the show's sharp thread of humor that weaves around some of its darker moments. "I think when you go into a show like this, the first thing people say is, 'That sounds insane.' And we love that. That's a huge challenge for us,” Weisman said. “That means there is something about it that hasn't been seen before. And that excites us, the challenge of that excites us. But the key to this world is if you keep it grounded in this emotional reality, it will feel authentic but it has to be funny. We know how crazy our show is. We know we are one molecule away from insane every second, and that's the balance we're constantly holding.
"But the balance of tone, too," he added. "We really wanted to take the mythology serious, but the ways to uncover it going to be a lot of fun. … It's so crazy that if everything about it taken too earnestly too serious, then I think you lose something."
Speaking to the challenge of playing Crane, Mison said, "When you get really really nice moments like that (meaning the NorthStar scene) the flouncing tart in me just wants to ham it up. That's the biggest challenge is not indulging too much in these really, really funny scripts we're given." He added, "It's important for me … to remember the more serious side of Crane, and let the jokes that are written come through. It's a fine balance."
Another popular topic is the bubbling chemistry between Crane and Mills (or Ichabbie, as fans have already dubbed them), and the love triangle created by the entrance of Crane's wife Katrina. "There's undoubtedly a connection with Lt. Abigail Mills," Mison said of Crane. "Go easy," Jones interrupted, "Your wife is sitting at the table!"
"Don't get too happy," Winter responded with a smile.
Mison continued, "But then in the back of his mind, he is like 'Oh my god I have and wife and she's witch. I am in so much trouble!" He added, "I can’t wait to see the reaction of a 200-year-old witch to a new girl taking her husband."
Winter spoke up for her character, saying, "I think you guys haven't had the chance to actually see our connection [meaning Mr. and Mrs. Crane's], and I think you're going to in upcoming episodes because there is a lot of chemistry there." Then Beharie interjected, teasing, "You better bring it, girl!" The audience responded with cheers. "It's just that Katrina hasn't been featured as much," Winter pressed on. "I can't wait for you to hear more from her and her backstory."
As to what audiences can look forward to in the rest of the first season and the recently announced Season 2, the producers promise more demons, witch lore and Freemason mythology, and some seriously chilling choices. Talking about a call he had with Kurtzman, Mison said, "I got off the phone and every hair was standing on end, so you are all in for a massive treat."
The panel ended with a presentation from eight minutes of an episode that will air on Nov. 4, after a few weeks where the show will be bumped because of Major League Baseball. Before the clip began, Kurtzman warned the audience it wasn't a final product. Being a rough cut, it lacked sound design, color correct, visual effects or additional dialogue recording. And so it began:
Mills and Crane are at a local baseball game, the former screaming at the umpire about a bad call. Crane chastises her, pointing out the official is only doing his job. Mills responds with a speech about how baseball represents "the spirit of democracy," in its tradition, its emphasis on teamwork and its lack of discrimination. Inspired, Crane heckles the umpire, too. "Feels good. Exercise your God-given right to free speech!" Mills says, promising to take him to a Mets game. "I look forward to you expanding my horizons," he replies. With that, and a bow from Crane that spurred women in the audience to squeal, they part.
Crane goes to the grave of his wife, and is promptly downed by a tranquilizer dart. As he blacks out, a blurry figure in a business suit runs toward him. Mills is driving home when she is sucked into a vision: She finds herself in an old, battered house, where a tub sits, a music box plays and a spooky stroller rolls by an open door. She slowly approaches it, while in the foreground a toy of George Washington dangles in a noose. The stroller doesn’t hold a baby, but rather what appears to be worms. Then the Horseman is there! Mills runs, trying to find an escape from him and the house. Shutting herself in a room where all the furniture is draped in white sheets and lit by numerous candles, she discovers four women sitting in a circle wearing black veils over their faces.
A book's page turns, drawing her attention. When Mills turns back around, the women are gone. Then Katrina appears to her, introduces herself, and explains, "This is an echo of the home I once shared with my husband." Katrina warns her that the Horseman will return, and only Mills and Crane can stop him. But first, Mills must rescue the kidnapped Crane, and be sanctified by sundown, or else all is lost. She makes mention a sin-eater, and the theme begins.
The crowd cheered as the lights came back up, but was left wondering what a sin-eater is in the world of Sleepy Hollow. Asked directly, Kurtzman refused to say, suggesting we tune in to find out. However, he did share, "As part of conceiving this season, we figured out a way to springboard into next season. So, there's a lot of things that are going to be set up now that will become substantive next year. The most important thing for us right now is to really concentrate on this season and make every episode great, and know that we have this wonderful road map that we're all painting together. We are just unbelievably excited."
And with that, the Sleepy Hollow panel ended, accompanied by one last round of applause, hoots and cheers.
Sleepy Hollow airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.