'Turn: Washington's Spies': Owain Yeoman on Benedict Arnold's Betrayal
Owain Yeoman is back on AMC’s Revolutionary War spy thriller Turn: Washington’s Spies as Benedict Arnold. This season the onetime Continental Army hero shows his true allegiance. It’s not to his country’s new flag, the stars and stripes.
The Welsh actor, who became known in the former colony as FBI agent Rigsby in The Mentalist, tells TVI what to expect as America’s most infamous traitor turns toward treason. Which no doubt will pit him against Washington’s spy group, the Culper Ring, that’s hot on the hunt for turncoats.
When does Turn pick up in Season 3 and what’s Benedict Arnold’s arc this year?
We’re picking up off the heels of Season 2. Since history is the ultimate spoiler, I don’t really need to worry too much about what I’m giving away, so we’re building toward what you could call the biggest turn of the show: The turn of Benedict Arnold at [the fort] at West Point in 1780. We’re at the birth of the nation as we know it, so it’s our most tense, dramatic and action-packed season to date.
Will we see how he finally makes the decision to work with the Brits?
All the events that have been simmering that lead up to that fateful betrayal, are at the forefront. There were a combination of factors, not just political but personal. And there was a love of a very scheming woman, Peggy Shippen (Ksenia Solo) who was sent to bring him over to the British side.
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What are the resentments he has against George Washington (Ian Kahn) and the other Patriots?
The rot is wedged firmly in his career. He’s a man of action and the worst thing that can happen to a soldier is being incapacitated. The leg wounds that we saw him sustain in Season 2, the time that he was allowed to sort of fester with his wounds in the hospital tent, began his dissatisfaction.
Benedict Arnold invested ten thousand dollars into the war effort, and he’s constantly waiting for advancement in the military as a kind of recompense and financial payback. He never gets them. To add insult to injury, he has a quite a familial relationship with Washington, so the feeling of being let down is also on a personal level. He feels cheated by a friend and overlooked by his country.
Is this a sympathetic portrait in any way of America’s most infamous traitor?
The picture that we try to show people other than that one-dimensional traitorous image was until West Point, Benedict Arnold was the greatest general in the American army. He was the hero of Saratoga and had history been slightly different, he could have been remembered and hailed as a hero.
His is a tragedy akin to Macbeth, a tragedy of hubris and pride. And Peggy, who’s loyal to England, acts as a very Lady Macbeth-like figure this season. She’s there when he’s feeling physically and emotionally run down. He seethes with ambition and when the tide seems to be turning in the British direction, he thinks it’s his time to go to them and get his money and advancement.
Is Major Andre (J.J.Feild), the charming British spy chief who sends his lover Peggy to seduce Arnold over to the British side, still on the scene?
He is and he doesn’t bank on the passion of Arnold. It’s an interesting love triangle. When you have the love of a beautiful woman involved and she’s playing both sides, the whole things gets very messy. Peggy, is a real “It Girl,” a forerunner of Kim Kardashian! When the season begins, Arnold figures if he can’t find satisfaction on the battlefield, then at least as [Washington’s] Commandment of Philadelphia, he’ll have the beautiful young wife and the home with all the trappings. He can’t afford all those things and so we begin to see a very insecure and vulnerable man. He’ a man at the breaking point.
Will we see Arnold hanging with the British?
(Laughs) Yes, and it was funny to film those scenes, because I had filmed entirely on the continental side. Toward the season’s end, he’s moving to the other side, and it was quite weird to actually start working with people , whom over the last two years, I’ve never really said more than hello to.
Does the Culper Ring, i.e. Washington’s spies, play any part in the exposure of Benedict Arnold?
Very much so. What’s interesting about this season is that it’s the first time that we’ve seen all elements of the show really brought together. The Culper Ring and its leader Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) is front and center at that final moment of betrayal. Arnold talks about Tallmadge as being almost a son to him, so what happens is very personal. The levels of betrayal go from the highest intern atonal level down to the deepest personal involvement. Craig had done a great job of making everyone realize that there’s blood on all of their hands. Everyone has their agenda.
Does Arnold’s story end this season?
That’s in the hands of AMC, but executive producer Craig Levinson had talked about a five-year arc and there’s still some fascinating stuff about Benedict Arnold. He was actually enlisted as a spy hunter for the British! In season four ,there would be the possibility of his going to war against his old friend George Washington.
You grew up in Wales. What were you taught about Benedict Arnold in school?
My mom was my history teacher for years, so she revels in my doing this, but in the UK, we focus more on Europe. The birth of America is more of a sidenote in our curriculum. That allowed me to come this without any baggage. So I think the story this year is of a guy trying to be the best version of himself. Yes, he has misplaced pride, but there’s a lot that relatable. He wants the love of a woman, he wants to have a family life and he wants to be recognized for the legitimately heroic things that he does. I have empathy for this character.
By the way, one of crew members is a descendant of Benedict Arnold. She told me the family doesn’t use the name Arnold and that she wasn’t particularly proud of it. But she thought I’d be interested. Which I was!.
What else are you up to?
I shot a movie called The Belko Experiment, written by James Gunn, his first film since Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s modeled after a wonderful Japanese film, Battle Royale, and it’s about 83 expat workers in Colombia who are trapped inside their office building and forced to execute each other in a Hunger Game style battle. Certainly very different from playing Benedict Arnold, but really an amazing experience.
Turn: Washington's Spies, Season Premiere, Mondy, April 25, 10/9c, AMC