Fans of the FOX supernatural drama series Sleepy Hollow have always maintained that the show did lead actress Nicole Beharie dirty. She never got the star treatment or push that co-lead Tom Mison received. And when her character tragically exited the series at the end of Season 3, it was never the same. In case you weren’t one of those fans who stuck with it through all the nonsense, Sleepy Hollow followed Mison’s Ichabod Crane, a revolutionary war soldier thrust into the modern world as he fought supernatural threats alongside Beharie’s sheriff’s Lt./FBI agent Abbie Mills. A big part of the show’s draw was the amazing on-screen chemistry between the two leads, but a new book reveals that it may have just been the product of really great acting.
According to an excerpt in The Hollywood Reporter from Maureen Ryan’s book, Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, the actors didn’t get along and “did not want to have a whole lot to do with each other.” Apparently, this was the real reason behind Crane’s signature bow, as Beharie and Mison didn’t want to hug each other. As much as the fans wanted it, this is the reason why the characters never became a couple. Showrunner Clifton Campbell told Ryan the actors “believed that the relationship between the characters should not evolve into a romantic relationship.” Two leads not getting along is actually pretty common in Hollywood, and normally wouldn’t be the subject of scandal. However, in this case, it looks like sides were taken, with Beharie being painted as “difficult,” despite the fact that there were issues with both actors.
Neither Mison or Beharie had been a lead on a TV series before, so there was a learning curve involved that led to issues for both. While sources in the book describe Mison as “a handful” with “his own set of issues,” Beharie was the one labeled “difficult. Some of them even stated, “I’ve always said that on any other show, he would’ve been the biggest problem.” Of course, why admit that your hero is the issue when you can just blame the Black actress. And we all know that once a Black woman becomes known as “difficult” she can never shake that assertion. Ryan also explains how early in the show’s run, “people with power” stated “they did not have ‘a good experience with Nicole.’” As you would expect, the book’s sources reveal that “It created a very us-against-her environment from day one.” This led to actress Lyndie Greenwood being introduced in Season 1 as Abbie’s sister Jenny, and as a possible replacement for Nicole. So these execs decided right from the start that Beharie was a little too much and set her up to fail. It seems clear that ehty never wanted her to succeed.
addition to ongoing issues with Beharie’s hair—something that seems to follow Black actresses to every set—there were also problems in the writers room. Ryan reveals how the series had three people of color in the room during season one, but then “returned for season two with an all-white, male team outside a ‘sole woman of color.’” For a series where one of the leads is a Black woman, and her family, as well as its history, plays a central role in the overall arc, this is very telling. It signals that producers have decided that Abbie’s story is never going to be as important as Crane’s.
The high turnover of writers, producers and showrunners was also a serious issue for Sleepy Hollow, as the “creative floundering” of those in charge is seen as a major reason behind the show’s dysfunctional, toxic workplace. Ryan describes Campbell as “‘unproductively’ emotional and defensive at times when Black writers made suggestions around elements of the scripts, potential unconscious bias being addressed by HR in terms of script assignments, and fans criticizing the show for its treatment of Beharie’s character.”
Sleepy Hollow was a unique, interesting show that didn’t fit in with the rest of the TV schedule. It’s a real shame that the powers that be couldn’t check their racism and misogyny long enough to let Nicole Beharie and Abbie Mills lead them to a classic hit.