Abraham Woodhull might be the character at the center of AMC’s new drama “Turn,” but Anna Strong seems to be the real heroine pushing him into his revolutionary heroic actions in the spy ring. She continues to be a pivotal character moving forward in the show as it heads into its second episode, “Who By Fire.”
Zap2it spoke with Heather Lind about the character of Anna and how she is unique in the world of “Turn.” It turns out that fans can look forward to some other complicated female characters becoming involved in the spy world in upcoming episodes.
Zap2it: Anna is a really fascinating character. Since she is drawn from history, what sort of research did you do to prepare for the role?
Heather Lind: Unlike some of the other characters, there’s really not that much information about Anna. It’s partly because she’s a woman and wasn’t involved in the military side of the war, and partly because her name was never listed in the letters that [Alexander Rose] used his research for his book [“Washington’s Spies”]. But we know that she existed and we know that she grew up in this town with the three other members of the Culper Ring, and we know that she hung laundry. That we do know. We know she was a spy. We are basically making all the connections that we possibly can to assume that she was a part of the ring.
Other than that, we know that she was married to [Selah Strong] and that they survived the war and had children. Other than that, a lot of the show for me has been a thrilling challenge of invention. In terms of research, I read Alex’s book. I wanted to educate myself in the way Anna may have been educated, so I looked at paintings of the time, I looked at a lot of Alexander Pope poetry. I chose to make her educated and self-taught. I investigated really simple domestic things that aren’t so simple, it turns out, like how they got their food and how they cooked and how they did laundry. Just the day-to-day life of being a person at that time. That was a lot of my research.
Is she a character who’s going to be used to connect the dots between some of the other characters?
I think that’s right. I love what Craig [Silverstein] has done in writing her. Craig and his whole team, I think they’ve really made some brave choices about what she was participating in and what she might have been involved with and taking creative license that very likely could have happened, but I like that the license they have taken is in the direction of making her powerful and driven and kind of a fueling force behind the ring.
I like that they’ve made that choice instead of making an easy choice to imagine that women really weren’t involved in politics and weren’t interested in the cause and were trying to just kind of keep their families together. She was certainly doing that as well, but I love that they’ve given me the opportunity as an actress to explore what a real woman’s experience might have been like during this time. I find so often that we have such little information about the women’s side of history, I find the licenses that they’re taking are brave and, I would submit, are more accurate than the idea that women were passive in this period.
I like that they’re using her as kind of a glue. I think she’s incredibly courageous. Unlike Abe, she very quickly in this season loses quite a bit. She loses her husband in the first episode to a prison ship, and at that time that really cost her almost all her rights. She didn’t own property, she didn’t have anything to her name, and I think right from the start we see Anna lose a lot of what kept her life normal before, and I think that makes her emboldened to change things in a way that maybe Abe was tentative about because his family was around him and he has more at stake. I think there’s a great sense that she’s got everything to gain.
Will we meet more female characters like Anna who have an interest in being a part of this political world?
I know that we will meet more female characters in this who are very different from Anna. I think Anna is certainly one of a kind on this show because she’s sort of self-sufficient, in a way, and she’s certainly part of the community, but I think in some ways she’s the black sheep at this point. She doesn’t have a lot of female friends, she doesn’t really have a lot of intimate connections with people other than friends from childhood. I think there’s a feeling that she’s a bit ostracized from the community, and that only is aggravated by her participation in the [Culper Ring] and by her involvement with Abe.
But I think the other women that we meet in the show, we’ll meet one woman who is a friend of Anna’s who basically, I think, takes a huge risk of also beginning to participate. And we learn a lot more about Mary and about how she’s surviving. I think there’s an incredible amount of dignity to be looked at here with the women in this show. It’s definitely a man’s world we’re looking at. We do meet other women who choose to participate. Even when some women decide not to participate in the movement, I think what’s so smart about this show is that there’s no right answer. It wasn’t cowardly to try to protect your family.
We have a wonderful actress who plays a female slave in the show who comes up pretty soon. We have Mary. We have a loose woman, kind of a prostitute, who lives in New York. I think they’re really showing every angle of what was available to women at that time, and within that repressive context, that feels more true to history than that they weren’t involved. I’m thrilled to be telling that story.
When I talked to Jamie Bell at TCAs, he told me that we will see a certain consummation of the relationship between Anna and Abe. Since history tells us they don’t end up together, what is the function of their romantic relationship?
When I first read the fact that she had been a romantic partner to [Abe], at first I was wary that it would become trivial in some way or gratuitous or used to neutralize the other drama in the show or something. I didn’t know Craig before I worked with him on this. I didn’t realize it’s almost impossible for Craig to write something gratuitous. [laughs] But in reading the scripts, I think what the romantic relationship between Abe and Anna serves is it gives us a very strong center of trust for the Culper Ring, and for Abe and Anna specifically.
Her intimate knowledge of him keeps a really strong core at the center of this very out of control movement. For Abe and for Anna, they see each other as the only people they can trust for a little while. I think whatever sexual intimacy comes out of that is almost beside the point. I think they’re truly in love and when they act on it, it’s glorious — especially to watch. I really think, beyond the sexual intimacy, they have a real respect for each other.
I also really like what I’ve seen of Anna’s relationship with Mary.
I’m wary of women being written as rivals, sexual rivals. I think it’s certainly a part of life, but I think it’s a limitation of what women’s relationships can be. I think Craig and the writing team did a superb job at dealing with that. Pretty early on they confront each other about the conflict between them and the romantic past that Anna and Abe have. I think what that does is it gets that problem out of the way for a little while. Particularly Mary, I think, will surprise people with how she deals with that information and then what she does with it. I think it’s very unusual how they deal with it. It’s exciting to me.
“Turn” airs Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m. ET/PT.