John Noble talks going full villain on 'Sleepy Hollow'
On tonight’s episode of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Abbie (Nicole Beharie) will tangle with a demonic take on the Pied Piper. Presumably, our heroes will best the beast before the hour is over. But even if they do, they’ll still have to tangle with season two’s true Big Bad: Henry Parrish, a.k.a. the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse, a.k.a. Ichabod and Katrina’s long-lost son. As played by John Noble, he’s a deliciously wicked foil for the two Witnesses—especially when he’s slinking around Sleepy Hollow pretending to be an innocent lawyer.
EW caught up with Noble on Sleepy Hollow‘s North Carolina set, where he told us all about how he and Mison tangle when the cameras are off—and the particular dangers of shooting this spooky show. (Think terrible heat and poisonous spiders.)
EW: How’s your day going so far?
John Noble: We’re having a fabulous day out here in Fredericks Manor. We love this location. It’s an old rice plantation that actually stopped functioning as a rice plantation after the Civil War. The house itself is so old, too. So it’s really exciting to come out here for a change. Apart from the mosquitos and the ticks. [Laughs]
Yeah, Katia [Winter, who plays Katrina] was just telling me that somebody was bitten by a black widow on set.
Yeah. It wasn’t on this set, it was on another set. But yeah, one of the makeup girls got bitten. Apparently, it was a very bad night. I wasn’t there. [Laughs]
This season on the show, you’re basically playing a different character. Would you say that?
Certainly—they’re all part of the same character. But in a sense, he got his first wish, which was to take revenge on his parents. And that was the [season one] finale, and that was a really powerful ending. So we had to reboot. And in this season, he’s the servant of Moloch, because it was Moloch that rescued him. Now he’s going through the motions of [carrying out] Moloch’s plans to manifest on Earth. So he sits back lie a puppet master, and he operates by pulling the strings around the town, creating havoc very quietly. There’s all a master plan to this, by the way. He sits back and he watches it all collapse. So it’s very interesting—it’s a master manipulator role in the first half of season two. And it has a really extraordinary ending, which I can’t talk about at the end of the first half of the season. So that could then lead us to another reboot, into another iteration of the character, I imagine. I don’t know yet.
How does your experience on Sleepy compare to your experience on Fringe?
Fringe was much more intense for me, because I was playing one of the three leads on that. In a sense, this was a much easier task for me, because I’m not in every scene. I had to get used to that, by the way. I was sort of thinking, “What do I do now?”
What are you doing with your downtime?
What do I do? Well, I realized when we were in Vancouver that I actually had to create some hobbies. So there I started to paint again, which I hadn’t done for many years, and to play musical instruments again, which I have done on and off all my life. And when I got here, I’ve done the same thing. Also, my wife’s here with me. We can spend a whole day just talking to each other, and often do. [Laughs] She’s a far more advanced soul than me, so I’ve been learning things from her for about 45 years.
What are you most excited for people to see from Henry this year?
I think it’s slightly unusual for people to see me as an outright villain. With the other characters [I’ve played], there’s always been an element of something else—and I tried to get that in here. But I can’t force it. So it’s just little moments. If you’re watching closely, you’ll see moments of humanity, which he resists. It was very different in season 1; he played the master actor in that one.
Is it fun for you, playing a straight-up villain?
Sure. [Laughs] Everyone loves playing villains. But it’s also interesting to try to find whatever humanity’s ticking away underneath the surface.
Do you think Henry can be redeemed?
I think everyone can be redeemed. I think there has to be hope of that. Look, watching a character that is just going down the drain isn’t very interesting. There’s no surprise; there’s no possibility. And so I’ve always believed and always played that he can be redeemed. That his humanity can win the day. And so I have that in my subtext. I think there will be some form of redemption—at least some very serious attempt at redemption, then.
So that’ll be the third version of the character: Redeemed Henry.
Yeah. Well, I’m kind of used to that. When I did Fringe, I finished up having 13 different versions of [Walter] through flashbacks and different places. It makes life very interesting as an actor.
Are you hoping Henry sticks around Sleepy Hollow for awhile?
He seems to have become quite a part of the plot. It wasn’t my original plan, but I think that there’s certainly some good exploration to be done for the rest of this year and certainly next year. Then we’ll just see where it goes.
You knew from the beginning that Henry was Crane and Katrina’s son, right? So didn’t you know he’d end up playing a larger role?
I knew he was [Jeremy Crane] when Alex Kurtzman rang me. I mean, he had me as soon as he said “It’s Alex Kurtzman,” because I think he’s just divine. I admire him and Roberto Orci so much. But he did outline to me what the storyline was. So I did know. And the other actors actually confessed that they’d forgotten that I was going to turn out to be really evil. Which is fun too.
In season one, virtually all of your scenes were with Tom and Nicole. Now it’s like you have your own separate set.
Yeah—I’ve done a couple scenes with them, but virtually nothing. And that kind of works for the story, because Henry has backed away from their presence. He’s not there to help them anymore. So I’ve done some wonderful scenes with Katia and Neil [Jackson, who plays Abraham]. And that in itself has been a joy, to work with those guys. But I guess the time will come where Tom and I will have to have some big scenes.
I’m only guessing, but I would say so. There has to be that. I mean, Henry’s already resolving a lot of stuff with his mother.
So Crane is next.
I suspect. Tom and I are both really looking forward to that. We love working together.
Why do you love working with Tom?
He’s a fine actor. He’s also a very charming fellow. And we also have a shared experience—we both have stage backgrounds. And he’s English and I’m Australian, so there’s always a bantering going on. I mean, I’ve worked in England. I love it there. But the basic thing is, we fight about rugby and cricket, and our appreciation of the royal family. All sorts of things.
That the Americans don’t care about.
Not at all. That’s fun. It’s like having a reference point.
Do you think that Tom is like his character in real life?
Gee, that’s an interesting question. It seems to me that Tom’s a very sensitive man. He’s a little bit otherworldly, really. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. He’s also a magnificent looking man. [He’s] the absolute perfect fit to play that resurrected Englishman, and he plays it to a T. The way that he and Abbie have their misunderstandings about language and manners and things is hilarious. I still think it’s the best part of the show, frankly.
What about you—do you get any humor this year?
Oh, I think no. [Laughs loudly] What Henry thinks is funny is not very funny. But I enjoy myself.