Heather Lind, who plays Anna Strong on TURN: Washington’s Spies, talks about her character’s meeting with George Washington and why the political system of the 1700s is eerily like today.
Q: Anna’s life has changed quite significantly with the war. What is it like for you to both watch, and inhabit, her journey through the series so far?
A: It’s incredibly fulfilling, and I feel quite privileged to be able to do it. What was interesting for me about the show originally was how little I knew about Anna Strong and her contribution to the [Culper] Ring. So, in acting it, it’s been a great journey in discovering how much she was involved and the things she was willing to do to help the cause and also her friends.
But purely on an Anna level, I think she’s been stripped of a lot of power, and she’s been stripped of the respect other people gave her in the community. She’s sort of taken on this status of a shamed woman, and that sort of continues on in the season quite a bit. I think any woman in that time making choices against convention would be sort of ostracized in order to keep the normalcy of life going. What was so interesting about this time is that nothing was a guarantee. Their communities were torn apart, their livelihoods were in danger. So I think for Anna, having everything taken away and having no normal life to stand on, she was forced to make decisions that required huge amounts of courage and risk-taking, and bravery and belief in herself, too.
I think that, on some level in this season, she’s really only left with herself to depend on. What I think has been great about this season is I’ve really been able to investigate her internal life and her belief system and the hope that she has for her life still. She hasn’t given up, even though she has very little to hope anymore.
A: I think mainly her intention in going to London is to get him out of harm’s way, and I think the only way she can think to do that is to appeal to his heart, and to get him out of sight, out of Setauket — and I think she’s willing to sacrifice her own life for that. First she appeals to Abe to get him to stop him with his plan, but if Hewlett stays in Setauket then Abe is dead. It was a really interesting concept that Craig [Silverstein] and the writers put to me. I think it shows again what a really selfless person she’s becoming. She recognizes that there’s something bigger than her and she has to fight for it, and that costs her a lot. She’s willing to go to London to save Hewlett and to save Abe, and to make sure everyone stays alive and well, and sort of begin her new life.
I think for Anna, at that moment in the war, there wasn’t really anything keeping her in Setauket except for Abe — and now Hewlett — and the fact that she’s always lived there. I think she sees the opportunity of starting new and fresh is really appealing — and getting over the loss that she’s experienced and the humiliation. There’s probably a part of her that thinks, “Could I really run away from it all? Would that be in my best interest to get out of here?” She’s smart enough to know that the war doesn’t go away if she goes away, but she sees the complexity of the situation.
Q: Also in Episode 4, Abe causes the whole marriage plot to come crashing down. What was that moment like?
A: That moment really surprises Anna. As well as she’s known Abe her whole life, this is a new low that he’s got to. I don’t think she knew that he would be such an obstacle to her getting salvation some way. Everything with Abe and Anna is about their past romantic relationship with each other and this territorialism that they both have over each other. I think from that point on, she recognizes that Abe is not her friend, which is kind of awful. He doesn’t want what’s best for her. I think in an ideal world for Abe, Hewlett would just leave and nobody would get married and Anna would just stay. It’s a great example, though, in that scene, of how strong-willed both Abe and Anna are — and it also shows why their relationship would never work, because they want things so strongly they’re almost incompatible. I think Anna finally recognizes that she can’t rely on Abe anymore, which contributes to the decision she makes in that final scene.
A: For Anna Strong to meet George Washington is obviously an enormous privilege and honor. I think she respects this image that she has in her mind of who George Washington is, but I think we all tend to make our leaders into gods. I think to see him as a man in a tent, having to make decisions, is humbling. I think Anna learns in that scene that he’s just a man, just like she’s a person and has to make difficult decisions. I think she learns, in that moment, that he has humanity; he looks you in the eye when you speak to him. She’s both starstruck by him and also sees that they’re not so different. I think the American Revolution was that kind of parent-child debate, with the colonies demanding, “Acknowledge me, I exist, I have my own opinions, I have my own things I want to believe and stand for.” In Episode 5, Anna, with a lot of integrity, demands to be listened to. We aren’t really sure if that meeting ever took place, but I choose to believe that it did. I believe George Washington would have been smart enough to include every kind of intelligence in his war.
Q: Has playing a brave historical figure like Anna shaped you at all?
A: I think she has. I think anytime I learn about a woman who took such incredible risks and decided to stand up for what she believes — in a time that was really unfriendly to a woman doing that — it always inspires me to take advantage of that bravery in my own life. We’ve come quite a long way, but I still feel like we’re fighting a lot of the same battles that we ever were: for respect, for acknowledgement, for equality in the workforce, being listened to with authority. I’ve learned from Anna, which is somewhat sad in a way, that a woman’s struggle is sometimes lonely and is really a fight for her own self-respect and her own self-worth, and I think I learn about that every day.
Q: Has being on the show given you any new love for this era in history?
A: It’s drawn me to this era of history in the way that it relates to now. I’ve been very astonished that the stories and the situations that occurred in the 1700s still exist very strongly in the political system today, and just the use of propaganda in the political campaign. I keep thinking about George Washington and King George and I think how all these people were fighting for the media too. They were portraying the ideal leader, but they were all underhanded and lying to each other and swindling each other. I think it’s so fascinating that time can change so much, that culture can change so much, and yet people still largely stay the same.
Q: Are there any historical moments you were particularly looking forward to on the show?
A: I think, for this season, I’m really interested in seeing the Benedict Arnold story. I think anyone who took history in the United Stated in the sixth grade heard about Benedict Arnold, but we don’t hear the full story. How did this person do such a complete 180? Maybe looking at a traitor is a great example of the absurdity of war, and how taking sides is not always dignified; It’s sometimes cowardly, it’s sometimes about money and fame. I think his story highlights the tensions that were ever-present in these times, and I think seeing the human side of this man will be really interesting to see.
TURN: Washington’s Spies airs Mondays 10/9c. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.Read More