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Hardly a 'Sleepy' Shoot

Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow is a much tougher town than the one in Washington Irving's classic 1820 tale. Not only is the story more gruesome—heads literally do roll—but even the filming of this movie wasn't always a walk along the Hudson, what with cast members breaking fingers, being stuffed into corsets, and getting dragged on the ground.

And for director Burton, well, forget the Headless Horseman. He had to battle the Motion Picture Association of America.

"I was very upset that it got an 'R' rating," Burton said on Halloween morning, his hair wild, his eyes hidden behind shades (for the record, he is neither in costume nor outdoors). "I mean, it's violent, but I tried to keep it in the fantasy/fairytale world—you know, like an old Grimm fairy tale. They went for it in those old stories. They didn't shy away from things but they didn't go out of their way to make it controversial. We just tried to do this story."

The problem was, unlike Irving's original The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, in which schoolteacher Ichabod Crane meets a non-graphic fate at the hooves of the mysterious Headless Horseman, Burton's equestrian actually rides around lopping off the heads of Hudson Valley villagers. Pretty, it ain't. Scary, it is.

"I mean, we had trouble getting the image of the Headless Horseman onto the poster," says Burton of another M.P.A.A. battle. "They said no. We had to make it really small." The M.P.A.A.'s jurisdiction, though, doesn’t reach to posters for TV movies, which would explain the poster for the recent The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. "This will show you the perversity," Burton gripes. "A couple of weeks ago I'm out and there's this knock-off giant poster of a Headless Horseman, and I'm thinking, okay, there's this TV network that's able to put on a giant Headless Horseman and we have trouble getting on a little Headless Horseman. Where's the logic in any of this? It makes me extremely angry and it's extremely scary that it's that illogical out there."

During the actual shoot, though, Burton found himself in friendlier territory. For the third time—the first two being Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood—Burton's teamed with actor Johnny Depp, who plays Ichabod Crane. "He's great for me because he's so willing to try anything," Burton says. "I like actors who transform and he's a major transformer. He doesn't care how he looks. I think Johnny wanted to have a big nose and the big ears, you know, the whole Ichabod. And I think he was disappointed that we said no to that."

Depp has gotten over it. Says the actor (who's wearing

Paramount Pictures
skull rings—and not because it's Halloween), "I think Tim would have explored that possibility…But Paramount, the executives, weren't particularly enthusiastic about that, which is understandable...It's a more interesting choice to not go with the prosthetics. Me, I'm a real sucker for that kind of stuff. I like covering up and I like hiding. All those things really help in creating a character."

The lack of the full Ichabod, though, was hardly the biggest challenge for Depp. In fact, of all they've done together, Burton thinks Depp may have had his roughest time in this film. "Dragging him through the leaves all day the day before Christmas might have been tough on him," Burton says. "But he was so good at it."

Depp, however, found another scene much tougher. "I'm not even sure it's still in the film, but there was one particular scene in Sleepy Hollow where I'm explaining a part of the story and it was the most surreal dialogue. It was the weirdest thing I've ever had to say in my life, and I've said a lot of weird things in movies and not in movies. The line went something like, 'The Widow Winship came many a day with a basket of eggs for Van Garrett, whom I understand, had hens to spare.' Well, I was doing the scene and I was trying to say this line and suddenly off camera I hear this 'kkkhhhh kkkhhhh' and then suddenly it's like 'baaa haaaa!' and it's Tim and he's cackling like a banshee. So of course, I fall over laughing. So normally a scene that would have taken us like, 20 minutes to shoot took us like two and a half hours. We just kept howling with laughter."

Also facing hardship was actor Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers). Despite months of rehearsing a stick/scythe/sword battle scene with Depp and Horseman Ray Park (The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul), Van Dien had a bit of a tough break. The actor recalls, "We're going into battle and right away, first scene, first shot, crack, my finger breaks. I figure if I say anything right now, my part's going to get cut in half. And it's not that big to begin with. So I didn't say anything. I went through the rest of the fight scene. I stood up and my finger turned black. I reset it myself. It was just a really clean break, so I cracked it right back in."

Fear not, though, for the safety of costar Christina Ricci, who plays Ichabod's love interest, Katrina. While she may appear to have a rough go in a couple of scenes, "Mostly, it was my stunt double," the actress says. "I won't do anything even mildly life-threatening. About the hardest thing I had to do was run up stairs and make sure my skirt didn't catch."

For more on the film, see Sleepy Hollow's official Web site.>

Written by Rob Medich

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