The panel facilitator begins thanking the crowd, indicating the end of the panel and the veterans rush the stage with the fans who catch on quick right on their heels.
If you’ve never been to a PaleyFest panel or other fan-centered event, at this point you’re confused for a few milliseconds. You might even ask yourself what you missed – what do they know that you don’t? Then you realize everyone is clamoring for autographs, a chance at close-up time with the object of their affection. This is how you separate the vets from the noobs.
Fans lineup along the front of the stage in congested layers, arms up, waving various paraphernalia while the actors take their places at the edge of the stage in an effort to show their appreciation in the form of autographs, fleeting conversation and awkwardly posed selfies.
This part isn’t a requirement or guarantee, some stay for it and some don’t. Time constraints are assumed. Everyone participating is working as fast and furiously as humanly possible to connect with as many people as humanly possible before the clock expires and a man in a dark suit, adorned with an earpiece begins pulling people away and shutting down the process.
Nicole Beharie is the first one with pen to paper and the last one to leave the stage. Lyndie Greenwood makes her exit only moments before.
The 31st annual PaleyFest (The Paley Center for Media) played host to the cast of Fox hit Sleepy Hollow on Wednesday evening at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Among those present were series leads Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones and Tom Mison, newly upgraded season two series regular, Lyndie Greenwood and recurring star John Cho.
Noticeably absent was the other newly upgraded series regular, John Noble. The show’s executive producers, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman, Heather Kadin and Mark Goffman anchored the panel as well.
The panel kicked off with a clip of the jaw-dropping season finale followed by an introduction of panel participants. The facilitator asked the usual questions seeking any information the show runners could provide on season two, including potential new characters, Ichabod’s newly dysfunctional family and getting hoodwinked by his own son, Jones’ Frank Irving going to jail to protect his recently possessed daughter – you know, the usual stuff.
There was no way of getting through a panel with a room full of fangirls and fanboys without discussing shipping. Mison admitted that in the beginning he didn’t even know shipping was a thing. A Google search provided him with a little more than he bargained for when he ran across fan art that wasn’t exactly PG-13.
While there’s no denying the chemistry between Beharie and Mison or Abbie and Ichabod, show exec, Heather Kadin attributed the strong and apparent chemistry to the “honest and powerful friendship” between both Beharie and Mison and Abbie and Ichabod.
Beharie echoed the sentiments of Kadin, stating once again that she loves Abbie’s relationship with her newfound bestie as-is. Hesitantly, as if expecting disapproval, she stated that in regards to fans shipping the pair so fervently based on the chemistry they see: “people see what they want to see happen.”
As if on cue, the crowd voiced their disapproval in a low groan and while Beharie gave an apologetic grimace at the crowd’s reaction, she didn’t shy away from her stance on the matter. In previous interviews Mison has stated, in mild dismissal of Ichabbie, that his character is married. His facial expressions reverse-mirrored Beharie’s leading us to believe he might be here for the Ichabbie ship after all. Either that or he’s trolling the fans something terrible.
One thing Beharie and Mison did agree on was their favorite episode. When asked, the panel bounced between a handful of the same episodes from season one, with “Midnight Ride” being both Beharie and Mison’s favorite. Other favorites included the pilot episode for Cho and Jones as well as “Sin Eater” for Beharie as a second choice.
Then the questions got interesting and the answers did too. When asked whom they might cast for the other horsemen, a mention of veteran actor, Idris Elba garnered a visual exhibition of approval from Beharie and some additional verbal co-signs from the crowd. Clint Eastwood was another great name-drop from Greenwood.
The fans had several great questions as well. One fan wanted to know which show the panel would choose for a crossover episode. The answers ranged from the upcoming series Salem to Love Boat. It was Beharie’s suggestion, with a disclaimer that it was not in jest, of the HBO classic The Wire that left most of the audience a bit puzzled. A few fans voiced their approval – presumably the few members of the audience familiar with the show.
Beharie’s answer, though perhaps unexpected wasn’t entirely surprising. Neither was the fact that she ended her very first answer by noting, “by the way it’s really great to see so many women in the audience.” Her praise of Lyndie Greenwood was no surprise either.
On working with Greenwood and the dynamic of the Mills sisters, Beharie said, “For me it’s been a huge gift.” She spoke on getting closer to the actor who plays her character’s sister, as well as building chemistry. She noted that getting close enough to an actor to give an honest portrayal of that type of dynamic requires “a lot of vulnerability – “ the kind of “you would see in a movie where you have a ton of time.”
“So the fact that we were able to get so close and get so raw right away is a testament to who she is,” she added. Greenwood, who appeared genuinely touched by the sentiments, added that she felt welcomed by Beharie.
In an industry where most of the actors of color are competing for the same few roles it’s easy to operate in a spirit of competition. Instead, one of the things most notable about this rookie actor is the way and how often she champions for others, especially women and people of color.
If you’ve been following Beharie’s career at all then her answers, comments, infamous facial expressions, nor actions from Wednesday night’s panel could have surprised you. Her face was telling in her approval of the answer one of the series’ executives gave in response to the question of if the remarkable diversity among the cast was intentional or happenstance. (Ultimately he said it was both – they wanted a cast that was more than capable of telling the stories and tackling the issues that come as a reflection of “our changing world” and not just having diversity for the sake of having diversity.)
Among those unsurprising actions was Beharie’s decision to politely ignore the member of security who kept trying to pull her off stage while she was signing autographs and connecting with fans. Pointing to a crowd of hopeful and eager admirers she gently and firmly told the member of security that she had already promised the group she would come back to them. She stayed true to her word.
When the same security member sternly and repeatedly told fans to have their pens ready to make the process faster, she was patient, even giving fans a heads up if their sharpies were running dry. When the fans requested selfies she did her best to comply, despite the super chic pencil skirt and black patent pumps that restricted her movement. She made quick and pleasant conversation as she signed her name and smiled for pictures.
Beharie is in fine company with the über talented cast of Sleepy Hollow, her own acting chops on full display in every project on her resume. Gauging talent is subjective and open to debate – though a side-eye is deserved for anyone how dare question her talent.
Undeniable is the whole of Beharie’s artistry and her willingness to be a vocal advocate of visibility, diversity and empowerment. Signing on to smaller indie projects she believes in that don’t quite have the budget to pay her what she’s worth is Beharie putting her money where her mouth is.
The Sleepy Hollow panel at this year’s PaleyFest was just another prime exhibition of those qualities.
With the cult following of this breakout hit and critic ratings not too far off one could safely bet this remixed and flipped version of Washington Irving’s classic will be around for a while. It’s an even safer bet to say Nicole Beharie will be around, relevant, and doing much bigger things for as long as she wants to.