Samuel Roukin, who plays Colonel John Graves Simcoe on TURN: Washington’s Spies, talks shooting the elaborate final showdown with Abe, shares behind-the-scenes stories from the set, and discusses whether Simcoe has suffered a fate worse than death.
Q: The torture scene from Episode 2 is a heavy scene with big consequences that echo throughout the rest of the season, and it’s harrowing enough just to watch. What was it like filming it between you and Daniel Henshall (Caleb Brewster)?
A: Honestly, it was a really disturbing scene to engross oneself in. What [Simcoe is] doing in that scene is really, really brutal, and as an actor I’m not thinking about it while I’m doing it, but afterwards when I watched it, I was like, “This is some tough stuff.” I feel like the show really took it to a place we really haven’t gone before. Obviously we’ve done some really brutal things to people, but this really took it to another level — and also psychologically, to another level as well. I think it was also really fun for me certainly to play the Simcoe backstory, and I think that’s something we hadn’t aired before and that was really exciting. The dynamics of that scene were just so cool, the peaks and troughs of that scene and the journey it goes on — it’s just brilliant writing.
A: I couldn’t wait! [Laughs] I absolutely adore working with Daniel. He’s a consummate pro and we feed off each other when we’re acting together. It’s a very easy working relationship because we both come in all guns blazing and solely focused on bleeding everything out of any scene we have together, no pun intended. The two characters don’t get to interact as much as they did earlier on in the show, so when we see a scene like this come up, we both get really excited because we both like working together. In terms of the payback side of it, that’s obviously the driving force at the beginning of the scene… Simcoe has a score to settle.
A: That was intense. That was physically demanding, particularly because where we were shooting was covered in dust and pollen, so I was basically rolling around in my biggest allergen. [Laughs] So that was weirdly the hardest thing about it. Throwing myself on a pile of bricks was way easier than the effect the pollen was having. But it was really, really cool to see — obviously Abe and Simcoe have had many interactions since the show has gone on, and many conflicts since the show’s gone on, close calls, each one coming close to death, every time we do it, so this was really interesting because the tables really get turned. Simcoe is usually the oppressor, so to see that get flipped was really exciting, but also just to shoot it — to do a scene like that on that scale, on a show, is thrilling, and they’re the reasons you choose to become an actor, because running around and shooting those battle scenes is as good as it gets. We knew we were putting something really cool together. It was fun, but it was also exhausting.
Q: It looked exhausting! It looked like you saved up all the blood you didn’t have on you all season and used it all in one go.
A: The blood is the really fun thing. At the beginning of the day, you’re like, “More! More blood! Give me more!” But then, six hours in, when that blood that you cried out for is sticking to everything and anything, but for continuity’s sake you’re stuck, you start to regret your decisions at eight o’clock in the morning. But that also wasn’t completely by design. When Simcoe falls back onto the bricks, there was a decision that blood would fly out of his mouth. The problem was that it went so well on the first take, that the blood fired up into the air but also smeared my entire face — and then there’s a laceration to his head, and the special effects guys were really at their best, which meant that there was a lot of blood. It was a bit like my decision, or our decision rather, when we did the duel back in Season 1 [Episode 7], and Jamie and I thought it would be a really great idea for [Simcoe and Abe] to not be in their jackets when they duel, on the same day that the polar vortex landed on the East Coast. That was another really smart decision we made at seven in the morning that we regretted by early in the afternoon. But if it looks good, it’s worth it!
Q: In a Q&A from last season, you said you’d lost a chunk of your finger filming the fight scene with Angus Macfadyen in Episode 303, and then fell on the floor off your mark when Mary shoots Simcoe in Episode 307 — were there any memorable moments from the set this season (that didn’t necessarily result in personal injury)?
A: Well I always cut myself on that serrated bayonet — which I now own, by the way. It was the one thing I took home at the end of the show. It’s going to be in a glass case in my office to remind me of all the brutality that Simcoe committed on the show. In Episode 9, I got a bit of lockjaw with the apple. [Laughs] But that’s to be expected, isn’t it? I managed to get away without too much injury this season. The worst thing was rolling about on the floor during that battle scene. Just literally think of anything you’re allergic to and then bathing in it. It was gruesome. But Jamie Bell, when we were doing all the fantasy kills [in Episode 7] in Philadelphia on the dark streets, when he’s stabbing me with the bayonet, he managed to completely miss the pad under my shirt and nail my ribs.
Q: In Episode 9, Simcoe tells Hewlett that he has earned “the right” to kill him — can you elaborate on Simcoe’s idea of “deserving” to take and give life, and why Simcoe would so easily submit to his own death?
A: Well I think, there’s a couple of things going on there. One, Simcoe’s been defeated, he went down in battle — he should have died, really — and Hewlett could have died a couple of times from Simcoe’s hand… Hewlett arrives to a completely weakened Simcoe, and he means what he says — I don’t think there’s a subtext there. He says “you’ve earned it,” and he has. He’s earned the right to kill him by coming to Simcoe at a moment where he can’t defend himself, after Simcoe’s made many attempts at Hewlett’s life. All is fair, in that moment. The other thing that’s going on is I think Simcoe’s ready to die. I think he’s content to let go. He’s at his lowest point ever. He’s depressed and believes that, in that moment, he sees the futility of the recent years he spent on this campaign. He sees nowhere else to go, so in a way he’d welcome the kill from Hewlett. And it’s in that acceptance of being willing to die, and the experience of Hewlett’s mercy that I really think puts in the last pieces of the bridge of who Simcoe become post-war, in Canada. And that’s been a very important thing for both Craig [Silverstein] and I to establish this season. Simcoe is a man, when we first meet him, who believes that strength and discipline are the required elements of a society being in order, and also for a soldier being successful. And so, what he realizes in that moment is that mercy is a much harder won — and harder dealt — quality, and something that really changes him when he’s on the other end of it. And also just for me, for me and Burn [Gorman] — it was one of my favorite scenes I’ve done in the show. Not because it was particularly enjoyable to play, but it was so satisfying to complete the arc in such a brilliantly written way. Latoya [Morgan] is an exceptional writer and did such an incredible job on that scene. It was so simple and so powerful, and it was really satisfying for Burn and I to complete our story arc in that way. It was really beautiful.
Q: You’ve said before that the worst punishment that could happen to Simcoe is taking away his ability to be a soldier. In Episode 9, would being injured and shipped away from a lost war in a way be his karmic punishment — a fate worse than death? Or do you think he got off easy?
A: I don’t think he got off easy. I think it would have been much easier for him to just die on the field — that would have been an easier journey for him, and one he’s expected and prepared for. This is, ultimately, a chance at life that he doesn’t deserve, but the road to it is rough. His whole world is dismantled, and he also has to face the fact that his whole way of operating has resulted in him having nobody around him that matters. When the doctor says to him “it’s time to get your affairs in order,” he has no one to get his affairs in order for. He’s alone in the world, and to discover and come to terms with that fact is a very difficult thing, as a human being, to take in. He has to really go on a journey of discovery to who he is and what his place is in the world, and as bad as filling out forms was in that basement [at the start of Season 2], at least he was still part of the cause. So I think this is really just as far down as he can get besides being dead. We’re in negative death. [Laughs] Minus seven death.
Click here to read a Q&A with Nick Westrate, who plays Robert Townsend.
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The TURN: Washington’s Spies Series Finale airs Saturday at 9/8c.
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