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EXCLUSIVE: 'Sleepy Hollow' Star Janina Gavankar on Why She's Not Abbie 2.0: We're Not Trying to Replace Her

by Philiana Ng 8:00 AM PST, January 04, 2017
Photo: FOX

New setting, new cast, new look.

Sleepy Hollow returns on Friday for its fourth season, and there will be sweeping changes following the shocking death of Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). The supernatural drama moves the action from Sleepy Hollow, New York to Washington, D.C., introducing several key characters as a result, including new female lead Janina Gavankar, a genre regular who will play Homeland Security Agent Diana Thomas.

But don’t expect Abbie 2.0. As Gavankar -- who has a knack for joining shows in their fourth seasons (see: The L Word, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood) -- tells ET ahead of the premiere, Diana will be markedly different and most importantly, she isn’t meant to “replace Abbie.” “Even though Abbie’s not physically there, she’s still part of the fabric of the show,” Gavankar, 36, maintains.

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Grief will be a major undercurrent for the season, as Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Jenny Mills (Lyndie Greenwood) struggle to “move on in their lives and having to do so in a completely different environment,” Gavankar teases, adding, “There are a lot of great fish-out-of-water [episodes].” For more on the new season of Sleepy Hollow, the actress jumped on the phone with ET to give us the scoop.

ET: The first three seasons of Sleepy Hollow revolved heavily around Ichabod and Abbie, and now Abbie is no longer a presence on the show. How did you approach stepping in as the new female lead?

Janina Gavankar: The second I figured out that what this role really meant, I was immediately nervous and I talked to the executive producers and it was a very specific mandate that they were not trying to replace Abbie. That is proven in that the characters that remain, which are Ichabod and Jenny, are still reeling from her loss. The fact that she’s not there is a hole that will never be filled for the two of them. Throughout this entire season, they are grieving and trying to move on with their lives and it’s very hard for them. Even though Abbie’s not physically there, she’s still part of the fabric of the show.

But for you personally?

I’m totally nervous, are you kidding? I’m not an idiot. (Laughs.) I’m totally nervous that people are going to hate me because I joined the show. But if they do, that’s OK because they love the show. You’re talking to a very loud and proud fangirl of many a show and I get angry when I feel like my show’s f*cked things up and I’m vocal about it, so I’m never going to hold that against people. If they want to be vocal, then they should be if it’s a show they love.

What immediately struck you about your character, Agent Diana Thomas, who is an ex-Marine working in the Department of Homeland Security and a mother to a young daughter, Molly?

My eyes kind of got big because my brother-in-law is a former Marine who works in counter-terrorism for the Treasury and is a father. My favorite fantasy/sci-fi shows, the reason they’re so good is they’re rooted in humanity. Being able to play a character that was so close to home was really exciting to me and also grounds the entire experience. I plotted out her last 15 years: where she went to college, where she was stationed, what year she went to Quantico, when she got pregnant, what it would mean for her to be a soldier, where her husband was probably stationed with her, if she saw battle. I got to nerd out with my brother-in-law and build an entire backstory for my character.

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Photo: FOX

How would you describe Diana’s dynamic with Ichabod?

It doesn’t start out great. (Laughs.) There are things about them that are similar. She loses her partner in the first episode and they are both dealing with loss together. He doesn’t need to say anything else because there’s an intrinsic understanding of each other, in that they both have been soldiers. They have overlap in those areas, but they handle things differently, mostly because Ichabod has such a nuanced understanding of the supernatural. It’s so new for Diana that she’s kind of like, “Can I shoot it? Can I kill it now?” There are a lot of odd couple antics between the two of them in their day-to-day work.

Ichabod and Abbie’s chemistry became a very strong focal point for fans of the show. Could there be more with Ichabod and Diana in the romantic sense?

Yes and no. I think that it’s natural to feel that way, but one of the things that I love the most about the show is that just because these characters are a male and a female duo, they don’t just throw them into bed together. They can actually be professional people who lead complicated lives and are very good in their jobs and aren’t obsessed with working out their sexual chemistry. I think that’s kind of great. You have to remember that Ichabod just lost Abbie two seconds ago. I don’t think anyone in that situation would be able to move on so quickly.

What can you tease about Diana’s relationship with her daughter, who has a surprising connection to Ichabod?

At the beginning of the season, Molly is dealing with some kind of physiological challenge. As we go [throughout the season], Diana will find out soon enough that her daughter is having visions and they are of this strange man [Ichabod] who seems to have just shown up. All these things are things she’s going to have to deal with -- and quickly.

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Are we going to meet Molly’s father at some point?

Yes. That’s all I’m going to tell you. (Laughs.) It’ll be very surprising.

How does Diana get on with Jenny?

They’re certainly not immediate best friends, in the same way that she’s not immediate best friends with Ichabod. These people seemingly show up out of nowhere and they seem to know more than they should about strange things that are happening. They’re not necessarily the most trustworthy right away. Diana is a supporter of strong women and she likes the fact that Jenny is a badass. As the season goes [and] as they start getting closer to Molly than Diana would like, she pushes back as any protective mother would.

Sleepy Hollow premieres Friday, Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

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