Man Out of Time: An Interview with Tom Mison

Tom Mison has spent over 15 years on the stage and screen, but he’s best known to American audiences as Ichabod Crane in the series Sleepy Hollow. He took time out of his lunch break while filming Season 3 to talk with the Daily Dragon. Sleepy Hollow returns on Fox on October 1.


Daily Dragon (DD): The show is obviously very popular, you’re in the middle of filming Season 3 right now, and this is your first big, American TV series. How have things changed for you? Are you more likely to get recognized out on the street, or are things pretty much still the same?

Tom Mison (TM): Things feel pretty much the same, actually. The last two seasons I was in that really long wig, which kept me well hidden. But now this season, the wig’s gone. Ichabod’s had a bit of a trim. And so we’ll have to wait and see whether I get—weirdly, the only place I ever get spotted is in the supermarket. Always. Always. But never anywhere else. It means that going to the supermarket and buying my groceries is now incredibly intimidating. I have to go through an hour of hair and makeup…

DD: [laughing] That’s excellent. With the wig and the beard, especially, you don’t look like yourself. You look like your character.

TM: One of the nice things about being able to put on a wig and grow a big beard is that you really, as soon as the wig goes on, you feel a change. You feel—suddenly it doesn’t feel like Tom any more. And people don’t look at you in the same way. If you come in first thing in the morning, it’s half past five, you’re exhausted, and it might be difficult to get into it, that is something that can instantly remind you of what you’re supposed to be doing, and remind you of the character and the approach you’re supposed to be taking. What I particularly liked about us losing the wig today and having a different hairstyle is it’s a nice challenge to find Ichabod in the morning without that. I don’t have this crutch of the wig to support me all the time. We had long discussions about the hair because this season the first episode takes place nine months after the finale. Actually, it might be a little bit more; it might be closer to a year. So time’s passed and it was a really good way to show that there has been a change in Ichabod. Immediately. From the offset. So that we don’t need to dwell too much on “Oh do [you] remember when this happened five months ago” and do you remember this character moment. It’s kind of there on screen instantly. This is a different man.

DD: Oh, I can’t wait to see it.

TM: It’s great. It’s pretty great. But still, the hair is long enough and out of place enough so that Ichabod doesn’t quite sink into a crowd completely.

DD: That leads in perfectly to my next question about the process of getting into Ichabod, what is that like? So, you don’t have the hair to rely on any more, but does it come from the wardrobe? He is so out of his own time and he is unique. He’s the only individual known to us from that time period. So for you, how do you let Ichabod inhabit your body, so to speak?

TM: One of the benefits of doing a show over a long period of time is that the more you do it, the easier it is to climb into his skin. That’s always the fun challenge of starting a job and finding a character. With Ichabod particularly, sometimes you read the lines and you can hear the voice and you can picture the character really clearly. And some maybe, you know, not so well written scripts or the parts that don’t really fit you, it takes a lot more work to find it. From the very first time I read the Pilot, I heard the voice and saw Ichabod in front of me. So the fun challenge at the beginning, as with every new job, is finding a way to climb into the skin. What is now, is that I’m well-adjusted to being in Ichabod’s skin and now we all get a chance—the writers, the directors, and myself—to really see what we can do within that, to really test the limits of the character.

DD: He’s like an old friend now.

TM: Well, I mean, he’s not treated me well enough to be a friend. Maybe if he sat down a bit and didn’t talk so much I’d like him more. Maybe if he had me spending my evenings doing something other than learning lines, then we’d be best friends. Maybe if he took a holiday! If he went somewhere exotic… until then, I hate him.

DD: Fair enough! One of the things that I really like that the writers did in the first season and continued through the second season is that he’s baffled by the modern technology but he didn’t persist in that. He’s very adaptable. What do you think was the hardest modern technology for Ichabod to adapt to?

TM: I think all of it. Everything. Everything’s weird! Just imagine it, if we’d never seen a coffee machine. How weird is a coffee machine for someone who used to light a stove and boil the water and put it in a French press or something? You’ve got a machine, you press a button, and you’ve got coffee. I mean, espresso pods! The pods, not even the machine, just the pods the coffee comes in! Everything is insanity! And I think if it wasn’t someone as close to arrogance as Ichabod they’d just collapse. But he has such pride that he can’t allow people to see that he’s struggling. So he forces himself to adapt. And of course it helps with his background as a spy, it helps to cover the fact that I think for perhaps the entire first season his inner monologue was just a very high-pitched scream.

DD: Ichabod is brilliant, which is one of the wonderful twists from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, where he’s kind of a bumbling country professor. One of my favorite things about your Ichabod is that he’s brilliant and a scholar and mathematician, a code breaker, an artist, he’s got eidetic memory, he’s got all these superpowers, really. Is there anything Ichabod can’t do?

TM: [laughing] Wow, is there anything he can’t do? Well it seems as though he—I think we’re still yet to see Ichabod completely relax with someone and allow himself to just be. Even with Abbie who he has a connection with unlike anyone else, I think he, to use a phrase, he has a pole shoved so far up his arse that it’s going to take a lot of pulling to get it out and for him to relax. I never really like Ichabod, when he sits, his back touching the back of the chair. He’s always, when someone’s around, he’ll be very, very proper. That’s just something that’s ingrained in him from a very young age. So I think probably if there is something he can’t do it would be relax.

DD: I’m going to turn from Sleepy Hollow for just a moment. One of the first things I saw you in was your short film Steve, with Keira Knightly and Colin Firth. That’s a very disturbing story. Can you talk a little bit about your character, Man, and what you think happened after the camera’s gone off and Steve’s had his monologue about you will do this, and you will do that, and we’ll have a lovely time?

TM: Everyone dies. I remembered Rupert [Friend] talking about that a lot. He read a book of short stories and—his friend, a really, really brilliant artist called Ed Atkins did some illustration for it—one of them just so took Rupert that he turned it into Steve. We’d made a short film together before then, we wrote—and Keira [was in it] called The Continuing and Lamentable Saga of the Suicide Brothers, which is available on iTunes, very reasonable price—and we were really, really into the medium of short films. That one seemed perfect for Rupert. He really wanted to explore manners. And I loved that it was aggressive good manners. That Steve was so adamant that this is what you do, these are the social rules that we have to follow. You invite me in, we have a cup of tea, I comment on how nice it is and on and on. And it’s just rules that neighbors might do if someone happens to pop ‘round but they’re just followed so violently stringently.

In fact, the episode we’re shooting at the moment of this, it’s the first time we see Ichabod with children. He talks to a class of nine-year-olds and then has to try and get information about a monster from a nine-year-old girl.  And I quite liked finding him being aggressively child-friendly. When you mentioned the differences between this Ichabod and the Ichabod in the book, one of the things I loved about the book—which is a book that I hate. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that because it’s “a classic.” One thing from the book that I really liked is how he clearly hates children. He used to smack his students, which doesn’t seem like—that’s not very heroic. And I’m so pleased we got to explore that. I haven’t smacked any children.

DD: Good!

TM: But his hatred of children, attempting to be very nice and ending up being aggressive, it’s funny that you mention Steve because I was thinking about it when I was reading this episode.

DD: It so deeply disturbed me when I watched it that I actually had to stop for a moment and remember that it was just a movie.

TM: The great thing about getting Colin to do it is that you don’t ever see him in those sort of parts. There’s an excellent—you can probably find it on YouTube—just after Harold Pinter died, the National Theatre in London had a big gala performance of monologues and duologues from Pinter’s work. They had some incredible actors reading them, and Colin read something from, I think it’s The Caretaker, which is so completely unlike anything you’ve seen him do before. I think he’s such a remarkable actor and when he was playing Steve, sitting in front of him when he does that was terrifying.

DD: As a woman that’s like your base fear, that suddenly a man is going to turn on you. You’re never 100% sure of what’s going to happen when you’re interacting with an unknown.

TM: And then it’s the Man’s fear that he can’t protect his wife against this intruder! He’s really brilliant. Because he’s one of the nicest men in the world—I think everyone who’s ever met him will vouch for that—and was genuinely intimidating.

DD: I’m a big Shakespeare geek.

TM: Oh, good!

DD: And I know you’ve played several Shakespearean roles. Do you have a favorite, either one that you’ve done or one that you’d like to do?

TM: I’ve already played Hal in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, which is one of the best, especially when you put the two plays together. I think Part 2 particularly is the best, his best. It’s so brilliant.

DD: Especially at the end when he turns on Falstaff, when he finally says “How ill white hairs become a fool and jester” and Falstaff just can’t believe his ears.

TM: I know! We were very lucky. We had a guy called Desmond Barrit playing Falstaff. It was just one of the best performances I’d ever seen.  He was so brilliant, and it was impossible not to fall in love with him. Which I think you have to do with Falstaff. You have to see that he is disgusting and incredibly selfish and cowardly, but you want to be with him. You want to go sit in the tavern with him and have a drink. You want him to love you. He managed to nail all those parts of the character, and so it was heartbreaking when he was denied. And of course there’s a few lines after the royal procession moves on and Falstaff is left at the end trying to convince his friends that no, no, it’s alright, it was a joke.

DD: He’ll come to me privately. He has to seem this way.

TM: Exactly! That’s been my favorite, hands down, because that’s one of the best parts ever written. I love Love’s Labour’s Lost. I think Berowne is Hamlet without all of the whining. It’s also one of the most romantic—some of the most romantic passages that Shakespeare wrote. Much more than the sonnets. There’s a great bit about “A lover’s eye would gaze an eagle blind, a lover’s ear would hear the lowest sound.” Then the brilliant one, “Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible than are the tender horns of cockled snails.” I think it’s so beautiful and I’d love to do Love’s Labour’s Lost and play Berowne, and Richard III I think is one of his best comedies.

DD: Are you planning any new projects or maybe a return to the stage sometime soon?

TM: I’d really love to! The two hiatuses that we’ve had, it’s been really, really—it’s bummed me out a lot because I’ve had to turn down a lot of really good work because it clashed with the start of the next series. And that goes against every fiber of an actor’s being, to say no. There were some really exciting things there. I desperately miss the theatre. This is the longest time I’ve gone without doing a play. There’s one that my theatre company in London, that I’m involved with, a company called simple8, we have a show planned for the beginning of next year in London, which I might—we devised and wrote it—and I might go be in that if I can.

DD: Sleepy Hollow is obviously a very terrifying show. Even as a horror fan, I’ve had my moments. What is it that frightens you?

TM: The best horror film that I’ve seen lately has to be The Babadook. Have you seen it?

DD: No, I haven’t. I’m too scared!

TM: That was—that’s really frightening. That’s really frightening. That’s a director who so masterfully played with what you expect to happen. And that’s what’s scary, when you’re just waiting. You know that something really, really awful is going to happen, and that’s what I can’t deal with. The anticipation.

DD: The suspense.

TM: Yeah.

DD: I think that suspense and the fear of the unknown is the worst thing, when people play with that in their horror.

TM: Exactly. When you know there’s something just around the corner.

DD: And I think that Sleepy Hollow does that.

TM: Oh, yeah! Yeah. Sleepy Hollow does that quite a lot; particularly we used to do it a lot with the Headless Horseman. It wasn’t just—there were lots of jumps. He leaps out and makes the audience jump, but also just when you know that he’s coming. That always got me very excited.

DD: And how they did the Horseman was so great. He was genuinely terrifying.

TM: It was really good.

DD: So at the end of Season 2, in the finale it was so great to see Abbie and Ichabod switch positions, and now Abbie is in Ichabod’s time. There’s all these familiar beats to it if you remember the Pilot, and we got to see how Abbie deals with being a fish out of water. How does that experience change their relationship moving forward?

TM: Well, Ichabod has no recollection of Abbie being back because of the spell being reversed. So for Ichabod he can keep bumbling through things quite happily. But there have been a few moments where Nicole [Beharie] on set has said, “But I’ve seen you in your natural habitat.” So it certainly changes how she sees Ichabod. I don’t want to put words in her mouth but I imagine for Abbie it would be quite a surprise to see exactly how much power and responsibility—rather than power—how much responsibility Ichabod had.

DD: And authority, too.

TM: And authority, yeah. Which makes you understand why he’s so pissy all the time.

DD: I heard you describe him once as a “ferocious arsehole.”

TM: He is a ferocious arsehole. I’ll stand by that. He’s capable of it.

DD: Now Katrina’s gone, and Henry’s gone, and the Horseman’s gone and we feel like we’ve  averted the apocalypse, is there anything you can tell us about what comes next for our witnesses in Season 3?

TM: I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s revealed at the very beginning of the first episode. [SPOILER ALERT] Immediately afterwards Ichabod just disappeared. He ran away—ran away without a word. And Abbie went back to Quantico to finish her FBI training. When we rejoin them this season, Abbie is working for the FBI and when we see them meet, it’s the first time they’ve seen each other for about nine months, or in fact had any contact with each other.

DD: At one point you had a fairly active Twitter account and now you don’t. So I was wondering what some of the challenges you faced with social media in general were?

TM: The account has been deactivated, though not deleted. It’s such an easy distraction, and I will follow distractions. My attention span is quite short. When I was working I felt like it was becoming a bit too much of a distraction. And I was only really using it to blather on about lefty politics which no one was particularly interested in. I don’t think anyone’s missing me.

DD: And Game of Thrones!

TM: Game of Thrones, my god. Maybe I’ll go back on when Game of Thrones returns. We can all gasp in amazement that Jon Snow isn’t dead.

DD: Yes! Thank you so much for being so generous with your time! It’s been a pleasure.

Author of the article

Max sees to the needs of her kitty overlords; polices the grammar on all kinds of published material including signage, menus, and food packaging; and cuddles with her wife while watching her favorite shows (Our Flag Means Death, Killjoys, Sense8, and Doctor Who among them). She continues to be far too excited to be working for the Daily Dragon.