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Spies Among Us

Five minor details uncovered during a visit to the set of AMC’s new espionage drama, “Turn.”

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They’re living among you, undetected. Eating in your restaurants. Living in Shockoe Bottom. Pretending the James River is the Long Island Sound.

You’ll be hard-pressed to recognize the men and women bringing George Washington’s spy ring to life in AMC’s new drama, “Turn” -- which premieres April 6. There are hints of recognition in these natives of Scotland, Australia and England, perhaps from roles you’ve seen them play. And if you squint you can see the younger version of lead actor Jamie Bell, whose vigor brought the title role of Billy Elliot to life in the 2000 hit movie.

But Bell is doing a different kind of dancing in “Turn” as Abe Woodhull, who’s torn between neighbors, family members and old friends who are struggling between their loyalty to England and their independence on the road to a new nation.

Actors, crew members and Richmond residents working as extras are filming the series through March. Today some of them stepped away from that work, offering a tour of the soundstages near the Richmond International Raceway and providing an inside look at the costumes, design and story.

Costume designer Donna Zakowska discusses the colors, fashion inspiration and simplicity of life she aims to bring to her designs. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Costume designer Donna Zakowska discusses the colors, fashion inspiration and simplicity of life she aims to bring to her designs.

Style will have more on the series later. For now, here are five trivial items uncovered during media day. And as any good spy will tell you, the details can add up.

1. “Turn” was based on Alexander Roses’ book, “Washington Spies.” But that’s not the only upon which creator and executive producer Craig Silverstein relied. He also kept handy the 18th century guide to “The Vulgar Tongue,” available on Amazon.

2. Where they're eating: Actor Daniel Henshall is shouting out Balliceaux, Heritage, Proper Pie Co. and Mama ’Zu -- “It’s like walking into ‘The Sopranos,’” he says. “Who doesn’t love that place?” And for a guy who has to skin a rabbit in one episode, it’s fitting that he’s taken a liking to Belmont Butchery, which he says is “fantastic.” Angus Macfadyen says his “top place” is Bistro Bobette. He also enjoys Poe’s Pub and Havana ’59, where he enjoys a good margarita and can light up a smoke.

3. It generally takes nine pieces of clothing to make up an 18th century costume, says designer Donna Zakowska, who was last working here as costume designer for the “John Adams” miniseries. She’s drawn help from Virginia Commonwealth University “quite a bit,” she says, with students helping cut fabric and do some construction.

4.Set designer Caroline Hanania painted some of the pictures you’ll see framed on the walls of some characters’ homes. They also plastered some of the inside walls for authentic texture: “It makes all the difference,” she says.

5. The set of a barn, strewn with hay, has an authentic smell, you might say. Pigs and cows have recently served as background talent.

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