The Jewish George Washington Takes His Final ‘Turn’
George Washington was not exactly the clean cut gentleman that you learned about in history class. You might know that if you’ve seen Ian Kahn’s stellar portrayal of Washington in AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies. As the show comes to its conclusion this year, Kahn spoke about taking on the role.
Kahn said that on his first day of research, he learned that Washington did tell lies — and that the first US president had ivory, not wooden, teeth.
“The toughest part of playing George Washington was the understanding that people had a knowledge about this man and feelings about this man for hundreds of years, and that I had to live up to the greatness of the man and expectations people had of him,” Kahn said. “As time went on, [perhaps] the hardest part was cracking the statue and getting into what was really going on in the man’s heart, as opposed to what everyone perceived he was.”
In one episode, Washington has a panic attack, something that stands in contrast to the image of an all-confident man.
“People were so shocked to see General Washington in such a vulnerable place,” Kahn said. “One can imagine that with the pressures he was under [Washington was quite vulnerable].”
Kahn also discussed the relevance of the show — which dramatized how spies helped the US win its war of independence — to today’s world, with the recent news of Russia’s efforts to alter the US presidential election.
“Absolutely we’re living in a world of espionage right now,” Kahn said. “[During the Revolutionary War], we were in tough shape. We were up against the greatest army in the world, and we were a fledgling group hoping that other countries would support us. Spycraft was the only thing to get us to the other side.”
Kahn said that he grew up in a conservative Jewish household, and that he lights candles with his wife and children every Shabbat. He also goes to synagogue on some Saturdays.
“I have a faith that guides me,” he said.
Kahn also starred in Hard Love, a stage play where he portrayed a Jewish man living in Mea Shearim — an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Israel. He described it as “a hard play; it was a very vulnerable play about faith and choices, and it was a heart-wrenching piece to be a part of.”
Kahn said that he doesn’t have to worry about people stopping him on the street and talking to him about his portrayal of Washington in Turn.
“Because I’m in costume and wigged up, people don’t recognize me,” he said. “I once sat with a guy when I was helping my mother-in-law move, and I sat with this guy who was the head of the moving company. My wife says, ‘do you know the show Turn on AMC?’ And he says ‘my god, it’s my favorite show!’ … I’ve been sitting with him for 20 minutes and my wife goes ‘by the way, does he look familiar to you?’”
Kahn may look familiar to others — as a guy who kissed Sarah Jessica Parker on Sex and The City. “It was my most famous on-screen kiss,” Kahn said. “I was scared. I was a kid, I was 24-years-old. I was in over my head, but it ended up OK. It was my first big job. I had such a crush on Sarah Jessica Parker when I was a kid, and then I got to do a scene with her.”
Kahn has also appeared on Showtime’s Homeland and Billions, where he acted opposite Claire Daines and Paul Giamatti.
“To play on the same field with those people the way I did, that’s all you could ask for,” he said.