It’s hard to think of two more disparate projects than a supernatural Fox drama and a Terrence Malick film, but that’s what the IMDB profile of Katia Winter happens to look like. The Swedish-born actress guest-starred on a variety of UK and US television productions before landing a series regular role on “Sleepy Hollow.” But around the same time she was digging into the role of Katrina Crane, powerful witch and wife to Ichabod (Tom Mison), she got the opportunity to play a supporting role in Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups,” which premieres at the Berlin Film Festival this weekend.
At the time of this interview, Winter wasn’t sure if she had made the final cut of “Knight of Cups,” but she still was able to tell Indiewire about what it was like to improvise with Christian Bale, the fun of working with Malick, what’s been frustrating about playing a damsel in distress on “Sleepy Hollow” (as opposed to a character in her own right) and whether she knows for sure if she’ll be back for a potential Season 3.
I primarily cover television, so when I got offered this interview, I didn’t realize we were so close to the Berlin premiere of “Knight of Cups.”
Oh, right, yeah! It’s finally coming out. It was a blast working with Terrence Malick, but I don’t know how much I’m going to be in the film. We were improvising a lot and there were no scripts. I haven’t seen the final product, but I got to work with Christian Bale, Joel Kinnaman — that was fun.
What’s it like improvising with Christian Bale?
Intimidating! I remember when we first got there, [Malick] was briefing me and Joel, and just said “You can do no wrong, you can do whatever you want. I’m just going to give you directions. I’m just going to throw you in scenes, and then give you cues.” I was thinking to myself, “What am I doing here? I don’t want to do this. I don’t think I’m able to do this! I don’t know what I’m going to do.” As soon as we started, it was so much fun. I’m not used to working without a script, not knowing what to do — you just have to go on instinct, which is an interesting way of working. I guess it’s what he does a lot of the time. It’s just about actors doing their thing, and then he captures moments, which is scary but fun at the same time.
So is he just sitting behind the camera, screaming things at you?
Yeah. He’d be like, “Okay, so, go and provoke Christian and try to make him mad.” He had me read a bunch of lyrics and random words and look in the camera and run across the field — really abstract things. By the end of it, we’re all running around barefoot at this big mansion like kids. He reminds me of a big kid. He’s so excited and enthusiastic about things. It was fun.
It’s funny. When you hear “Terrence Malick,” you don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a fun experience filming with him. So much of his work is so serious.
I guess not. His stuff is quite dark. But it’s fun in terms of the “creative” fun. It’s fun to be able to expand and think outside the box and not be scared of doing anything wrong. He wasn’t judging. It’s the first thing he said: “You can absolutely do no wrong. Do whatever you want.” At first you’re like, “Really?” and you don’t really know what to do. But once you get started, you surprise yourself — how many ideas you get and stuff like that. That was fun, even though some scenes were a little bit harder. It was still fun in the moment to explore certain emotions and angles, and play with other characters and other actors and completely invent yourself on the spot. That was the fun part, even though it was quite dark at times.
How much did you know about the project going into it?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I knew Christian was playing a depressed writer, and that was about it. [Malick]’s like, “Make up your own character, do whatever you want” — you can kind of tell the direction he was going in, and what he likes. And then he found out that Joel [Kinnaman] and I are both from Sweden and we both speak Swedish, and he was like, “Oh my God, you have to speak Swedish to each other!” We had a whole scene where we just rambled in Swedish to each other [Laughs]. It was like, “Joel, did you know Katia speaks Swedish?” And it was like “No!” and then we started talking.
In your brain, was the character already Swedish?
No, that didn’t really matter.
Like, somehow, magically, your character knows Swedish?
Yeah, why not?
Was it hard to switch mentally to a different language, when you’re in this other character?
Not really. Everything was just so scattered going back and forth, trying new things, and it wasn’t like I was stuck with one persona. It was like an acting school, when you get these exercises to do different things. But it was on a big movie set, with big stars. I was intimidated by that, but once you start, everyone was totally in the same boat apart from Christian, so it just happened to be whatever came to mind. I just have to trust that [Malick] picks out whatever works.
How long ago did you film your scenes?
I think it was a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago. They were in post-production for a while. It was in summer; not last summer, but the summer before.
Was it pre-“Sleepy Hollow”?
I can’t actually remember. It might have been before “Sleepy Hollow”; I might have been back in LA for a week or two. That might have been it. I didn’t have that much to do with Season 1, so I traveled back and forth between LA and Wilmington a lot. These past two years, they all blur together — the days. I’ve been traveling so much. It’s around a year-and-a-half to two years ago.
You were a series regular on “Sleepy Hollow” from the beginning, correct?
Yeah. It was a strange one. We were four people signed on as series regulars for Season 1, and they told me that until I get out of purgatory, there wasn’t much they could do with my character. But I had no idea how much I was going to be working. When we started, I didn’t really work much at all during Season 1. I was traveling, but I was still based in Wilmington because I had to be. In that time off, I obviously came back to L.A. I was on a plane every other week, or every week — and that’s an eight hour flight, and there’s no direct flight from Wilmington. I’ve flown a lot! Definitely building up my miles [laughs].
So Season 2 has meant a lot more work for you.
Exactly, yeah. She’s out in modern-day times, finding her feet in the world of “Sleepy Hollow.” That’s what we’ve spent most of Season 2 doing.
Were you excited about the first time that you got to wear a pair of jeans?
Yes! [laughs] I felt like such an elephant on the set because I was the only one in these huge costumes. These big, four layers of fabric — it looks great and I love the look of it, but after a while you’re like “Oh my God, so uncomfortable.” It was great to get her into a pair of jeans. And I’d done that from the start — I thought that she’d be more willing to put on modern-day clothes than Ichabod because she wants to blend in with everyone else.
She seems savvier in general than him, in terms of the modern world.
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve played around a lot with costumes, trying to find a middle ground. Keeping the corset and keeping the silhouette; having a feminine, but still darker, touch to her costume.
How much does that help you keep the character’s identity in place?
A lot, actually. The corset has really helped. That’s the one thing that she is comfortable in, because she’s always been wearing that. So even though she’s wearing pants and not the skirt, the corset has been this signature thing for her throughout the season.
Why do you feel that is?
It gives you that shape of a woman from that time. It’s still like armor, a little bit. It straightens you up, and it makes you move a certain way, and it makes you stand a certain way and be more poised — the mannerisms of women in that era. The corset has really contributed to that. There’s been times, and there’s going to be times, where she’s not wearing it, too — but I try to hold onto it as much as I can.
How much control do you have over that, on set?
Not much, actually. You’d think! I’m basically being told a lot what to do and what to wear. I express my opinions in the nicest manner possible; sometimes they listen, sometimes they don’t. [laughs]
Season 2 has been really different for you, and I know that, writing-wise, things have been shifting a lot behind the scenes. What’s been your experience with that?
It’s been an interesting ride, that’s for sure. So much is out of our control as actors. This is my first time doing a big TV show like this. I’ve done smaller guest arcs on television shows, but not as a series regular, and not this intense. We don’t really know what’s coming, necessarily. We get the script maybe a week before we shoot it, and we’re right in the middle of shooting the episode before that.
It’s hard to get the whole picture of where a character is going, and obviously it’s hard to get our input across, because it’s moving. It’s such a big machine, and the ball is rolling, and there’s nothing you can really do about it because the next script has arrived and we start shooting in three days. And you’re like, “Well what about this and that?”
That has been, for me, a little bit challenging, but I’m an actor and I’m hired to do this job, and I’m doing the best I can. I’ve been a little bit frustrated because, I think, my character has been really hard, in general, to write for. In Season 1, she wasn’t really established, and there was this huge fan base established for Abbie. So in Season 2, when I get thrown into the mix and I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Headless and Ichabod… She needs to be her own character, not just be the “wife of Ichabod” or the “ex-fiance of Headless.”
I’ve been talking a lot about it, and I think finally they listened to my input as well. I’ve been agreeing a lot with what people have been saying, that she needs to come into her own skin. I’m excited about the three or four last episodes because that’s when that finally happens. So it’s been a roller coaster, and it’s been fun, too. I’ve really enjoyed doing all of these action scenes. I’ve never really done that before. Fight scenes and getting flown across the room and doing magic; it’s definitely a fun set to be on, but it’s really intense. I’m curious as to what the reactions are going to be by the end of this season.
How closely do you track the fan community?
I don’t go out and look for things, but I’m on Twitter and people tweet stuff. I’ve been live-tweeting at times, when the episode has been airing. I hear the reactions and it’s funny because it’s such a war between Katrina and Ichabod fans, and Abbie and Ichabod fans. I see them argue on my Twitter feeds sometimes [laughs]. I guess it’s good to get people riled up sometimes. I still feel like it shouldn’t be about the divide between the two unions. I know if there’s going to be a Season 3 they’re definitely going to focus more on characters as individuals.
“Sleepy Hollow” is such a great example of a platonic relationship between a man and a woman. But in the fan community there are, like you said, “Ichabod and Abbie” fans who wish you weren’t in the picture. From your perspective, are you “Team Katrina”?
I’m Team Katrina in the sense of Katrina, not “Ichabod and Katrina.” I like the chemistry between Abbie and Ichabod, however, I don’t think they should ever get together because I think that would ruin it. I guess I’m Team Katrina in that sense. I think [Ichabod and Katrina are] good together; it’s just that Katrina has been such a damsel in distress in the first half of this season. As soon as she starts standing her own ground, I think that’s when the character really comes alive. For sure, I’m Team Katrina — but I’m also Team Abbie! Not romantically, but I think they’re also really good together.
You guys have finished filming?
Yeah, we wrapped a couple of weeks ago. All done with Season 2!
When do you think you’ll hear about Season 3?
I don’t know. They’ve been very secretive. I think they’re making a lot of changes, holding out on announcing it until they know exactly what to do with Season 3.
Having not seen the finale yet, do you know if there will still be a role for Katrina in a Season 3?
We talked about it a lot, actually, for the past few months. It depends on what direction they want to go in. Yes and no, I think. If we can all agree on specific paths, then yes, and if not, then it might be time to leave them to themselves. I don’t know yet. We’ll see.