Local actor works as stand-in for Ichabod Crane

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:41 a.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 1:27 a.m.
Production crews paint the Bell Tower gazebo black.
Production crews paint the Bell Tower gazebo black.

SALISBURY — David Cline gladly gave up his gig as an extra for “Sleepy Hollow” to work as a stand-in for Ichabod Crane in the supernatural thriller filming this week in Salisbury.

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SALISBURY — The headless horseman made his debut in Salisbury Tuesday night, shooting a shotgun from atop a horse near St. Luke's Episcopal Church.

The villain in 20th Century Fox's “Sleepy Hollow,” a TV pilot filming here all week, does battle with hero Ichabod Crane as they travel through time.

The actor playing the headless horseman wore a green screen cover over his head, so he will appear headless on TV. He rode a white horse, and fog machines and giant fans helped create a spooky atmosphere in the church yard.

Headless horseman debuts in Salisbury

But Cline, a Salisbury native who played a peacekeeper in the “Hunger Games,” was surprised Monday night to learn he is also standing in for “Star Trek” star John Cho.

Cho last week landed a guest-starring role on the 20th Century Fox TV pilot that has transformed Salisbury into Sleepy Hollow. Cho stars in NBC's “Go On” and reprises his role as Sulu in “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

Star Trek producer-writer Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci penned “Sleepy Hollow.”

Filming continued Tuesday night at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where Cline spent hours Monday night and early Tuesday morning waiting to take his mark.

“Being a stand-in is not very glamorous,” he said.

But the work is easy and interesting, and it pays better than being an extra, said Cline, 30, who recently moved back to Salisbury from Los Angeles.

Two weeks ago, he ran into a woman in downtown Salisbury who had worked on “Homeland” and was in town for “Sleepy Hollow.” To Cline's surprise, she recognized him as an extra from “Homeland” and encouraged him to apply for work on “Sleepy Hollow.”

Cline got a job as an extra but while being fitted for wardrobe in Charlotte, he got a call from Tona Dahlquist, who helped cast “Sleepy Hollow.”

Dahlquist asked Cline if he would prefer to work as a stand-in.

Although he knew he'd give up any screen time — stand-ins don't appear on camera — there were other perks.

Cline had observed stand-ins while he was an extra on “Hunger Games.” The director and producer often knew their names, and they sat with the stars during breaks. Plus, Cline joked, they ate better food.

Any job on a movie or TV set is a good job, Cline said.

“I just love being on a set,” said Cline, who expects to work 12-hour days all week.

Crews are scheduled to continue filming tonight at St. Luke's, then move to Bell Tower park Thursday night and return to St. Luke's Friday. A nearly 12-block area of downtown closes at 6 p.m. nightly and reopens at 7 a.m.

“Sleepy Hollow” features Ichabod Crane, played by British actor Tom Mison, as a Revolutionary War captain who travels forward in time and must solve a police officer's murder when the Headless Horseman returns to haunt the town.

Cline said he thinks the storyline and supernatural nature of the show could resonate with viewers.

“Content-rich shows are the prize right now on TV, even if they're outlandish,” he said.

20th Century Fox will learn May 13 if the pilot will be picked up and turned into a series.

Cline moved to Los Angeles after his stint as a peacekeeper in the “Hunger Games.” (That's him in the white suit escorting star Jennifer Lawrence on the movie poster.)

He thought his work on the movie would help him get his foot in the Hollywood door. But even though he portrayed a peacekeeper, Cline was considered an extra, just like 1,000 other people.

“Out in L.A., extra work counts for nothing,” Cline said. “It was a bitter lesson to learn.”

He recently decided to follow another lifelong dream and joined the Army. He reports for basic training March 26.

Cline sees parallels between the military and a movie set, including logistics, tight deadlines, hierarchy and a jargon specific to each culture.

“I love both worlds, I really, really do,” he said. “Hopefully I will be able to marry the two one day,” perhaps as a consultant on a show with military characters.

Cline said he wasn't surprised “Sleepy Hollow” chose Salisbury as a backdrop for the pilot. 20th Century Fox is also filming in Kings Mountain and Latta Plantation.

“I think Salisbury's time is way overdue for something like this,” Cline said. “Rowan County in general has such a rich landscape, chock full of locations that could be as pinpoint as the Confederate statue or the church or as broad as downtown and the countryside and farmland.”

Crews filmed a chase segment early Tuesday morning on West Innes Street, where Salisbury Police officers advised Cho, who plays Officer Andy Dunn, how to arrest a suspect and act police officer-like.

Perhaps Cline will have a similar role someday, either playing a solider or advising one.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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