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Ian Kahn opens up about title character in LI-set ‘Turn: Washington’s Spies’

Ian Kahn says that portraying Gen. George Washington

Ian Kahn says that portraying Gen. George Washington in AMC's "Turn: Washington's Spies" is an "immense responsibility." Photo Credit: AMC / Antony Platt

Playing the father of our country is no minor duty, and these days, no one knows that better than Ian Kahn.

Also active in theater, the Manhattan-born actor starts his third season as the pre-presidential George Washington when the AMC drama series “Turn: Washington’s Spies’’ returns April 25. A Revolutionary War general in the context of the show, the title character relies on the members of the Long Island-based Culper Ring — and Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) specifically — for covert information, building in this season toward the revelation of Benedict Arnold (“The Mentalist’’ alum Owain Yeoman) as an informant for the British army.

“People are not as familiar with General Washington at this time of the war as during his presidency,’’ Kahn says. “Often, people will say to me, ‘Mr. President!’ I actually don’t have any reference for that, because my whole understanding of the man is from his early childhood through his 20s and 30s. It’s an immense responsibility that I do take very seriously, and I’m fortunate to have some help from historians who have become good friends of mine through the work. They hopefully keep me on the right path.’’

Even with that groundwork, Kahn appreciates being able to take some dramatic license. “I think so much of what we understand about General Washington is the portrait that’s on the $1 bill,” he says. “It sort of sets the tone for him as this humorless man who just looks pained all the time, but he was tremendously charismatic through his whole career. He tended to keep to his own counsel, but he was beloved by his men during this war, and there was a reason for that. He was courageous and brave, and a wonderful leader as well.”

With Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe set to make an appearance as (of all things) the leader of Virginia’s military, Season 3 of “Turn’’ — from executive producers Craig Silverstein (“Nikita”) and Barry Josephson (“Bones’’) — doesn’t miss a beat, since Kahn reports that it “picks up right where Season 2 left off, literally that night. We really see the politician in Washington start to come out, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing a role. We see Washington not always in charge of a situation and needing things from other people. He’s trying to figure out what the best way forward is for the country, for the army and for himself.’’

That process comes to involve another major factor in the legend of George Washington, since Kahn reveals, “We get to meet Martha [played by Lilli Birdsell], so we get to see a little bit more inside him this year. We continue to see his challenges, but we also get to see him at his best in a lot of ways. Still, this season is very much about Benedict Arnold, and it’s Owain Yeoman’s chance to shine. And he does it. He’s such a fantastic actor; he really steps up to it.’’

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