Exclusive Interview: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman on ‘Sleepy Hollow’

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have been behind the most lucrative franchises and TV shows in the sci-fi realm of the last decade. They wrote the first two Transformers and Star Trek movies (they also recently signed up for a third Star Trek movie), co-created the long-running “Fringe” and wrote on “Alias,” “Xena” and “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” 

Their latest series is “Sleepy Hollow,” in which Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is transported to modern day, with the Headless Horseman (Richard Cetrone) still chasing him. Ichabod teams up with police officer Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) who works under Captain Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) to figure out what’s going on. All the while, Ichabod’s wife Katrina (Katia Winter) comes to him in dreams. 

We sat down with Orci and Kurtzman at the Television Critics Association press tour to get to the bottom of “Sleepy Hollow.”


CraveOnline: Was there ever at any point talk of doing a straight period version of “Sleepy Hollow?”

Alex Kurtzman: No, I don’t think that would’ve interested us.

Roberto Orci: [Creator] Phil [Iscove]’s first notion walking in was “modern day Sleepy Hollow” and that’s what hooked us all in. We knew that was going to be the only way to do it in a way that had never been done before.

Was the existence of other modern day fairy tale shows a problem at any point?

Alex Kurtzman: It wasn’t as much a problem as it was something we really were conscious of. What we didn’t want to do was just another “of something else.” So we spent a lot of time thinking about okay, what are they not doing that we can do and what is unique about “Sleepy Hollow” in the specifics of our story? The show that you’re seeing now is reflective of a lot of that thinking.

Roberto Orci: And our show is embedded in this world, not in some fantasy world necessarily. It’s still people like us reacting the way we would in a situation that’s insane. 

How much did you want to play the humor of the fish out of water, like Ichabod discovering Starbucks?

Alex Kurtzman: It’s important to know when we can go to the things like that. We actually wrote a million jokes that ended up not in it because you’re walking a line. The key is, is it a genuine reaction in the scene? Would Ichabod really make those observations or are we just going for a laugh? You can’t do a fish out of water without doing some of it.

What we wanted to avoid was [picking up a cell phone]: What is this and how is someone inside of it and I don’t understand? All of that stuff, we wanted to avoid. The other thing is that the stakes are so high and the clock is ticking so fast on the show that there isn’t a ton of time to stop and make those observations, so they kind of have to happen on the fly. That is also something that I think will hopefully allow us to get away with the humor, because if we just stopped and made the whole scene about that, I think people would start to feel like it got very self-conscious.

Roberto Orci: The humor comes from all of them because in a way they’re all fish out of water. Though Crane has woken up in the modern day he’s not used to, he’s also brought with him his world that Irving is not used to. When you get things like, “What the hell is going on in this town? It’s supposed to be a quaint town with rosebushes.” He’s as much out of water there as Crane is in a sense because he’s confronting the past. 

Could there be a romance between Ichabod and Abbie?

Alex Kurtzman: Ichabod is a married man and Ichabod has a lot to discover about the truth of his wife and that’s a big part of the drive of the season. First of all, where is she, how do I get to her, she’s got answers to a million questions I have.

Roberto Orci: Why did she lie to me? Was it for my own good?

Alex Kurtzman: The flip side to all of that is those answers will affect his relationship with Abbie in that Abbie and Crane spend every waking minute together because they’ve been put together by some higher power. They are, despite their differences, very uniquely connected to each other. I think we are open to things happening organically if they move that way organically, but he’s a married man. 

But I think you said no to a Peter and Olivia romance at the beginning of “Fringe” too.

Alex Kurtzman: We did. 

Was that a misdirect or did you discover that along the way?

Alex Kurtzman: I think we took the same philosophy there which was let’s see what happens. Let’s see where our stories take us organically. Let’s not force something that doesn’t feel right. 

Will you be using Katrina in dreams to give a lot of information throughout the series?

Roberto Orci: Actually, we are going to see her a lot and one of Crane’s goals is to find out the reality of what is her situation. How can I possibly bring her back to me? Sometimes information but then she herself will fall into the situation that all of our characters are in which is trying to figure out what the heck is going on. It will be as much an evolving story for her. We don’t want her to just be the woman that has all the answers in the mirror. It’s got to be more than that. Their story has to be alive, so it’ll be a little bit of both. 

How does Ichabod adjust to modern dress?

Alex Kurtzman: One thing I think we felt strongly about is that he loves his coat, for example. He really does. It’s a very characteristic thing and it happens also to be an incredibly cool looking coat. So yes, he may not be walking around in wool pants in the summertime tucked into his boots always, but he will never fully let go of what he had and I think he holds onto that with a real sense of pride because that is where he came from. He wants to remember that.