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TURN: Washington’s Spies Q&A – Barry Josephson (Executive Producer)

Barry Josephson, executive producer of AMC’s TURN: Washington’s Spies, previews what fans can expect in Season 2 and reveals which Revolutionary figure he’d most like to meet.

Q: You’ve said of Season 2, “We’ve really ratcheted up the action.” Talk a little about what fans can expect. Were there any particularly ambitious scenes or sequences that proved to be especially challenging to shoot?

A: Now that we’ve established who the spies are and why they spy, we knew we had to go out there and get behind enemy lines. We show New York, we show early Philadelphia, we show battle scenes that feature real action, and we show more spy action. We also introduce the Turtle, the colonial-era submarine. This year, we were far more expansive than we were last year, so production became very challenging with the physical effects and production design, and combining all of those elements to pull off everything we had to do. We were much more ambitious this year about what we wanted the audience to see.

Q: Jamie Bell described Season 2 as “much more of a spy show.” Tell us about some of the spycraft items and methods we’ll be seeing this season.

A: What Craig [Silverstein] originally envisioned for the season was for it to feel like a spy thriller. We wanted to show all of the spycraft of the period: how invisible ink was used, how dead drops were used, how communication between the spies happened, and how they’d convince other people to turn. It was also about getting out there and risking life and limb behind enemy lines, which Abe does, and even trying to expand the Culper Ring. This season, so much of it is about getting more assets into New York, and how that becomes problematic.

Q: Season 2 introduces one of the Revolution’s best-known figures, notorious traitor Benedict Arnold. Were you excited to begin to tell his story? Was there anything in particular you were looking for when you were casting the role and that you found in Owain Yeoman?

A: I was very excited to tell that story. My daughter is in kindergarten, and I look at a lot of the schoolbooks. There’s a lot of empty information between Nathan Hale’s hanging and Benedict Arnold’s turning. It’s interesting to see what isn’t known, and we got to cast a brilliant actor so we can see who the man was, how tactical he was as a general, and what an asset he was. You get to see Arnold prior to turning — what it meant for him to succeed on the battlefield, and what he succumbed to in order to turn. We’re lucky, because Owain is such a great actor, and really pulls off the character in an empathetic way.

Q: How did you, Craig Silverstein, and the writers approach planning the story arcs for Season 2? Did you go into the writers room with a sense of how, or when, you wanted Season 2 to conclude, or did an end point develop organically as the episode scripts were finalized?

A: Craig mapped out exactly where he wanted it to begin and end. One thing that was key for us to think about was people not knowing why Benedict Arnold turned. They just know that he’s a traitor. He was so much more than that. It’s going to be a fascinating story for people to learn about.

Q: Alexander Rose, the author of the book upon which the series is based, joined the writing staff for Season 2. How difficult is it to balance historical fact with the dramatic license needed to tell and advance a compelling story? How has Alexander Rose helped find that balance?

A: Alex did a great job of helping us, as always, with trying to get all the facts, but also understanding how much is missing. Often we say with this show that so much is known and so much is unknown. It’s a dangerous job to piece things together with the characters, depth of betrayals, and relationships. Together, we really figured out more than what is known. Alex was a great asset in figuring out how to connect the dots between characters who kept secrets for so many years.

Q: TURN: Washington’s Spies has a large ensemble of characters. Do you have any favorites? Is there a character you relate to the most?

A: I really do relate to Abe, because I think, during that time, I would have been very scared. I would have wanted to be brave and rebellious, but I’d also know the stakes for my family and I.

Q: Many of the characters in TURN: Washington’s Spies are based on actual historical figures. If you could choose, which Revolutionary figure would you most like to meet and why?

A: I think anybody would be crazy if they said they didn’t want to meet George Washington. I would have liked to sit across from him — and, of course, tell him that he’d land on the one dollar bill. [Laughs] I also would have been fascinated to meet Ben Tallmadge to get his perspective as someone so young in the ranks.

Q: What excites you most about Season 2? Are there any particular moments you can’t wait for fans to see that you can tell us about?

A: I think fans will be fascinated by the portrayals of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The challenges to women at the time were also very significant. I can’t wait for fans to see Abe become brave, and how much he has to do to remain a spy.

Read an interview with Jamie Bell, who plays Abraham Woodhull >>

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