Don’t Lose Your Head – Sleepy Hollow’s Neil Jackson at MCM Birmingham Comic Con

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Galloping into Birmingham for his second MCM Comic Con appearance, Sleepy Hollow‘s Headless Horseman Neil Jackson spoke to the press about his experiences of working on the hit TV show. British-born Jackson plays Abraham Van Brunt, former friend and love rival of the series’ hero, Ichabod Crane, who was killed and turned into the embodiment of Death, the First Horseman of the Apocalypse, before being reawakened 200 years later to bring about the end of the world.

Blending history and humour, fantasy and fear factor, Sleepy Hollow has been a huge success both in the US and in Britain. Speaking of his first encounter with the show, Jackson said that for him it “ticked all the boxes”:

“It’s got action, drama, romance, amazing creatures, spookiness, horror and suspense. As a fan it’s everything you could want in a drama, and as an actor it’s just a pleasure to have the part.”

Unsurprisingly, fans were excited to meet and greet the stars of the show at the convention, and for the actors, coming face-to-face with their audience can also be a rewarding experience.

“It’s amazing to see the dedication and passion people have for the show,” said Jackson. “While you’re shooting, of course you do your best, but you have no idea of the connection that people are feeling with the show. Here, you get to meet people who really appreciate what you’re doing. It’s very humbling speaking to people who know more about your character than you do.”

neil1Beginning as little more than a mysterious, mythical entity, the character of the Horseman undergoes significant development as the series progresses, with episodes exploring Ichabod Crane’s military past. According to Jackson, this was as much a surprise to him as it was to viewers.

“When I first came on board, I didn’t know anything. I was just asked to do one episode where I had a few short scenes about the Headless Horseman’s backstory,” he said. “Then they called me up last year and said they’d figured out a way to bring the character back and asked if I wanted to do it.

“What they’ve done this year which I think is fascinating is to give a human face to the Headless Horseman. Having Abraham on screen talking about his own fears, passions, troubles and everything else has humanised someone who was previously an inhuman character, and it means that people are connecting with Abraham and feeling conflicted about him.”

For Jackson, playing such a complex and troubled character is one of the best things about working on Sleepy Hollow:

“I play a lot of baddies and they’re often very straightforward villains: you don’t get to see their softer side or even get much of a sense of their motivations and desires,” he explained. “In reality though, I don’t think anyone is 100% bad. People never think that what they’re doing is evil, so it’s been really fun to explore this character who is ostensibly a villain with a sense of sympathy and making people understand that it’s not his choice to be the way he is. I’m always treading a fine line between making him really scary and making him feel more human.”

This duality is something he would like to see developed further in future episodes, perhaps ultimately with the offer of some kind of redemption for Abraham.

“As a man, he just wants to reclaim the life that he had with Katrina, but as the Horseman of Death, he obviously wants to burn the world down and run around with an axe like a madman. I would love to see an even greater exploration of that divide, to see if they could maybe find a way of dividing the two personas into separate entities. That said, I think he’s always gonna be a little bit screwed up, just because of what he’s been through. I mean if you’d had your head cut off and been turned into the Horseman of Death and woken up 200 years later, you’re probably never going to be completely normal. Maybe with a few therapy sessions…”

In addition to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and various Biblical references, Sleepy Hollow is packed full of all sorts of monsters, demons and creatures of the night. Aside from his own character, Jackson’s favourite mythical entity so far has been the reimagined version of the Pied Piper in Season Two’s fourth episode, “Go Where I Send Thee”.

neil2“I love the way they wove the Pied Piper story into the world of Sleepy Hollow, and the guy they brought in to play him was phenomenal – a really physically amazing stunt man,” he said. “I think that’s what the show does brilliantly – melding real history with fantasy through all these great stories, and doing it in such a way that it feels plausible: you believe this world could actually exist.”

But it’s not just the stories that help create a sense of verisimilitude: for Jackson, simply getting into costume for each day of shooting has offered insights into the history behind them.

“We have to wear these really heavy, thick, woollen jackets, and they’re itchy as hell, especially shooting in Wilmington. One day, it got up to 42 degrees with 100% humidity, and I was wearing a woollen hat, a wig and one of those jackets – it was awful! So then you try to imagine wearing that crawling through trenches and covered in mud, living in an encampment day in, day out. It gives you a whole different perspective. At least I could go back to the Ramada Inn and sit in the bath afterwards.”

Both the period setting and the apocalyptic storylines necessitate a lot of fight scenes. One might think these would be difficult, particularly in such cumbersome clothing, but Jackson said that he enjoys performing action sequences.

“I used to be a boxer so I love all the physical stuff. Essentially it’s a dance, so you’re only as good as your dance partner. The great thing about Tom is that he moves incredibly well, so fighting with him is great.”

With part 2 of Season 2 having started in the UK this week, and a brand new season now in the works, speculation about where things might go next is rife. Asked for his opinion, Jackson remained enigmatic.

“I’ve got absolutely no idea. They continually pull the rug out from underneath us whenever we get a new script. In Britain you haven’t even had the full second season, and it’s in that that things really start to get shaken up, so knowing where they’re at at the end of Season 2, I couldn’t say. The one thing I know is that they’ve got a very, very firm idea of where they want to take the show.”

Sleepy Hollow airs on the Universal Channel on Thursdays at 9pm.

Photographs by Caitlin Jenkins.

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