“Turn,” the new Revolutionary War-set AMC series that is being paired with the return of “Mad Men,” might not at first glance seem like a TV show that goes well alongside the ’60’s-set advertising drama.
But a deeper look at “Turn” shows that it’s actually the perfect project to complement fan-favorite AMC series “Mad Men.” “Turn” isn’t a slave to its time period, and instead uses the Revolutionary War backdrop as a way to explore what would make its central character Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) turn to the life of a spy. Like, say, the Don Drapers (or Walter Whites) of the world, Abe is a character who has lost his direction.
“So much about that period expects great tales of heroism and great tales of people stepping up to the plate against great odds, and this isn’t. Because [Abraham] isn’t, really. He retreats. He does kind of the exact opposite of what we expect someone to do,” Bell tells Zap2it while promoting “Turn” at TCA 2014 winter press tour. “I mean, in the pilot he kind of gives some information but it’s really for his own benefit. It’s not for a noble cause. He wants nothing to do with it. ”
He elaborates, “[Abraham’s] father expected him to be one thing; he turned out to be a farmer, and a not very good farmer. His livelihood is going down the toilet. He’s in a marriage that he doesn’t really particularly want to be in — it’s not a particularly passionate relationship. The girl he loved [Anna Strong] he f***ed over. And there’s a f***ing war on. There’s so much that he has going against him that I love the hesitancy, the resistance, the repression he has for himself. I think the evolution of the character throughout the season has to be how he finds his beliefs, or how he finds his passions, and how he fights for himself and does something that he wants for a change.”
Bell, who is known best for his work in films like “The Adventures of Tintin,” “Jumper” and as the titular character in “Billy Elliot,” was initially hesitant when he got the pitch for “Turn” from pilot director Rupert Wyatt. He recalls that his first response was, “Are you serious? Revolutionary War? How is that relevant?” but quickly realized upon reading the script that it was the character of Abe that makes “Turn” interesting even in the modern day.
It helps that Bell is a gamer, so he is aware of — and a fan of — another piece of recent Revolutionary War fiction that resonated with audiences: “Assassin’s Creed III.” The video game, released on Oct. 30, 2012, follows a half-Native American assassin named Connor who is forced to work behind the scenes of the American Revolution to bring down those who would seek to thwart liberty.
“That was my research,” Bell jokes of playing “Assassin’s Creed III” to prepare for “Turn.” “I said to [writer] Craig [Silverstein], I said, ‘Play this game.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I have.’ We need to pass it to the production designer because it’s kind of amazing. If we could get like half of what that video game does, we’ll be laughing.”
In all seriousness, Bell says that he prepared for “Turn” by reading David McCulloch’s book “1776,” the story on which the series is based “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” and letters from the time period held at the Library of Congress, as well as watching the TV miniseries “John Adams.” But the challenge for Bell was finding “the sex” of the year 1778.
“[John] Andre (JJ Field) is introduced in the pilot that he can spy for the British; he’s kind of the sex of the show, and he meets up with this kind of New York actress and kind of uses her to get into the britches of military men kind of up the chain of the Patriot side. So that’s where your sex is coming in,” Bell reveals. “And especially like the stuff between me and Heather [Lind]‘s character [Anna Strong], when that comes to fruition, that will be a lot of passion flying around there.”
Expect to see some forward momentum happen on Abe and Anna’s relationship fairly quickly. Bell teases, “It definitely develops. [Episode 5] it kind of happens. There’s something on in [episode] 5.” Bell says he stripped down for the scene, but sorry ladies, you won’t see too much of him in “Turn.” When he filmed the episode, he had his “lower half completely covered up, which is fine. I don’t want to see anything that’s down there anyway. The good thing is that corsets are always great, though.”
The way “Turn” expands its world is something that Bell is excited to explore. In addition to having strong female characters in a male-dominated world like Anna and the New York actress named Philomena, Bell says “Turn” will delve into other touchy subjects of the time as well.
“There’s so much to establish in the first few episodes, honestly. The pilot, there’s so many people, and so many people that have relationships, and past relationships, current relationships — like, who is who? And who’s on what side? But I just read episode 5, and there’s slavery,” he says. “We haven’t talked about that yet. Slavery is going to be a massive part of it that’s coming in. We’re going to have slave spies. These people are really playing an important part to this effort. ”
As for Abraham, he’s never going to be a clear-cut protagonist. “We always want to question his loyalty. I think if we say ‘okay, now he’s just in it to win it,’ I think it will become a little bit boring,” Bell tells Zap2it.
“Turn’s” 90-minute premiere airs Sunday April 6 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Are you intrigued by the new drama?