Burn Gorman, who plays Major Hewlett on TURN: Washington’s Spies, discusses his love of history, how playing a Redcoat has changed his perspective on war and why Hewlett isn’t afraid to take a leap for love.
Q: As a self-proclaimed history buff, what historical moments have you enjoyed seeing in the series so far, and what are you looking forward to seeing?
A: I’m actually more of a history nerd than a history buff. For me, that means there are certain periods in history that I’m really interested in, but I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of history. Particularly, the Revolution and America’s separation from England have always really interested me because it started off with such hope and a few men looking to create a free land. To see how that was put together — and the beauty of that idea — has always appealed to me. Most of all, I was excited to see George Washington, played by Ian Khan. I think he’s such a fascinating figure who is sometimes deified a little by history. I think what’s interesting about TURN is you get to see the man: his struggles, his human frailty and how providence really helped him in making this incredibly efficient spy ring and turning the tide of the war. I’ve got immense respect for George Washington and seeing his story come alive.
Q: Have you learned anything new so far from this period in history?
A: Every day I learn something new! We don’t learn about the Revolution in the English school system. The interesting thing, first of all, was how many Patriots and Loyalists were living side by side. The social strata was just so different. America really was a melting pot from the very beginning. It really was an interesting time. And also, military history. For some, that might be as dull as dishwater, but for me, I’m very interested in tactics and how you gain the respect of your men and how you manage warfare, which the English and the Americans did very well. My character, Major Hewlett, was not a particularly good soldier, but he’s a great manager of men, which he learned from reading military textbooks and that sort of stuff. How to create a society — that’s what I’m interested in.
Q: How has portraying a Redcoat influenced the way you think about the Revolutionary War, or even about war in general?
A: I think we know that there’s always been war and conflict in human societies, but I feel that, in particular, I’m drawn to this idea of what this war was about: whether you have the right to be free of your old masters, whether you can populate a country and whether you can come up with your own rules. At the time, when this happened, every single one of these people was considered a traitor. It so easily could have gone the other way. I feel like this war in particular — if there is such a thing as a just war — that the Americans were fighting for a just war, for their freedom.
Q: At the end of Episode 1 in Season 3, and more here in Episode 2, Hewlett learns that Abe is a spy. Would you say he’s really surprised at the revelation, or is it more like the puzzle pieces are falling into place?
A: I think he’s a man who’s been blinded by his feelings for Anna and his love — if not his like — of the Woodhull family. I think suddenly the pieces of the puzzle are finally falling into place and he feels that, not only has he been treated like a fool by absolutely everyone, but he’s been consistently lied to by everyone around him. I think he feels totally betrayed. And at that point, we see that if he was the soldier that he would like to be, he would summarily execute Abraham Woodhull. But he’s not. He’s a conflicted man with somewhat mixed allegiances now, and isn’t able to do what he should do. He’s in a strange place, because he knows he’s complicit in this lie, and has aided Abraham’s journey into New York. Now, the house of cards is coming down.
Q: It seems like Hewlett is put in a rather chaotic position that goes against most of the order and structure and values he stands for – working with a spy! Where is Hewlett mentally now that he feels he needs to work with the Patriots to kill Simcoe?
A: I think for Hewlett, he’s an incredibly moral person, but he’s also emotionally involved with all of these people. He’s not able to detach and do his job, which would be to bring all of these lies to the fore. He’s become so emotionally involved in these people’s lives that he’s now become implicit. And I think this is where Hewlett, the real man, is seen, where he’s clutching at straws. He decides to follow Anna’s advice and this is where he turns, so to speak, from an upright moral man to someone who is complicit in a murder plot — and also knows about Abe and doesn’t do what he should do. It’s definitely interesting to play, as an actor, all of these different layers of conflict, morally and emotionally. It’s great playing so many different layers and it’s a gift from the writers to be able to do that.
Q: At the very end of Episode 2 in Season 3, Hewlett takes the leap and kisses Anna. He’s always sort of been hesitant when it comes to women — what do you think has changed for him?
A: It reminds me of what they say about the Second World War — that there was a sense you could die at any minute, and that the proverbial “whatever” could hit the fan at any time. I feel like Hewlett is in that warfare mode, where he feels this could all come to an end, and it’s no longer the time to be hedging your bets or being uncertain about things. He’s trying to follow his feelings, for once, and be emotionally brave. It’s a last chance to find happiness and be at peace, and he’s taking that chance, even if it’s not the right thing to do militarily — and Anna uses that.
TURN: Washington’s Spies airs Mondays 10/9c. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More