Faced with the prospect of taking Washington Irving’s iconic character Ichabod Crane into the 21st century, Alex Kurtzman knew there was one thing he must resolutely avoid.
“We’ve done a lot of time-travel movies,” he says, referring to himself and his writing/producing partner Robert Orci, “and we’re like, ‘Please, don’t make us do time travel. It’s too much.’ ”
Starting Mondayon Fox, Kurtzman and Orci’s latest project, “Sleepy Hollow,” takes Crane and his nemesis, the Headless Horseman, and Crane’s love Katrina, from Irving’s original 1820 story, puts them out of commission for about two-and-a-half centuries and then resurrects them in the modern-day suburban New York town.
British actor Tom Mison stars as Crane, who’s been transformed into a two-fisted English emigrant who participates in the Revolutionary War.
But when Crane beheads a fearsome soldier and loses his life (apparently) in the bargain, he is hidden in the earth. Then he and the now-Headless Horseman rise again in the present to find the world in peril from a metaphysical war, and he may be the only hope to stop it.
“We loved the idea of digging into the myth,” says Kurtzman, who’s sitting at a restaurant table in Beverly Hills with Mison and Jones. “Halloween is my personal favorite holiday.
“I loved the idea of doing a show where every episode felt like it was Halloween, and then digging into the possibility of a man who had been stopped, suspended at a moment in time where America had not yet been formed, only to come into it all these years later and see what it had become.
“That was really exciting, too, the idea that the mysteries of the present are informed by his experiences in the past.”
Ichabod soon realizes that the Headless Horseman is wreaking havoc, and the whole situation is bound up in the biblical Book of Revelation, the Freemasons and a version of Purgatory, where his late wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), is trapped.
Luckily, Crane winds up in a partnership with local police Detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), who has had her share of supernatural experiences. That includes losing her mentor and father figure, Sheriff August Corbin (Clancy Brown), to the Horseman.
“With Abbie,” says Mison, “we realized quite early on that we had a mutual aim. We both are asking similar questions, and we both need the answers. So, they’re thrust together. She has a past that she needs to keep secret, and she quickly realizes Ichabod is the only one who could ever think she’s anything beyond crazy.
“And vice-versa, she’s the only one who has seen the Headless Horseman, so she actually believes Ichabod. So, they’re forced into this partnership, and it just so happens they work rather well together.”
On the other side, Abbie’s boss, police Capt. Frank Irving (Orlando Jones), prefers his explanations to be grounded in the real world.
Says Mison, “Hovering over Abbie is this chap” — he indicates Jones — “who is the guy who keeps forcing doubt into her head, whereas Ichabod is trying to help her find the truth. He’s pushing doubt into her head.”
“I’m using very specific tools to do it,” says Jones, “which is the truth. It really is problematic to explain to someone that there is a gentleman running around chopping people’s heads off with a blade over 500 degrees.
“So, I’m forcing doubt in her head but also trying to tell her that if she expects to continue down this path, there are rules to how she plays the game. It’s just unclear which side of that fence I’m really on at this juncture.”
And when is a Headless Horseman not just a headless horseman?
“What if,” says Kurtzman, “he was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? That would certainly open up a lot of doors for us. So, I think we got excited by that.”
As for the Freemasons, Kurtzman says, “George Washington was, in fact, a Mason. They all were at the time. Clearly, they were keeping a lot of secrets, and those secrets have endured over time.
“Certainly our show’s not the first to touch on the subject. So, the idea is that you’re combining those two mythologies, and you’re saying that the war you read about in the textbooks was really only half the battle.
“In fact, there was a separate war going on, a war between good and evil, and that the Revolutionary War was really just a small piece of that much, much larger puzzle. You look at the Book of Revelation, and you talk about a seven-year period of tribulation that will determine whether or not humanity is saved or lost.
“That’s already seven years of storytelling. Forget about if the Devil loses at the end, he’s going to come back and want more. So, we can go on and on.”