"Could you come back in a little while?" Washington proposes. "I'm going down in history at the moment."
In real life, Washington didn't know he was going down in history any more than do the characters of "Turn," a new AMC drama about four young Americans who find themselves part of an espionage network destined to help the Continentals beat their British oppressors. It premieres Sunday (9 p.m. EDT).
History records these childhood friends were the core of what was dubbed the Culper Ring. But history remained pretty tight-lipped about it, at least until now, as "Turn" shines an overdue light on their gallantry.
"We're catching these heroes before they were heroes," says Heather Lind, who plays wife, tavern-keeper and spy Anna Strong. "I didn't know I was auditioning for a real person till about three auditions in."
Adding spice to the tale is the mutual yearning of Anna and her former fiance, Abraham Woodhull, in their small Long Island town. Years earlier, Abraham broke off their engagement. Each married another. Now, reunited by their patriotic cause, they find their long-thwarted romance will be rekindled.
"He knows Anna is who he should be with," says Jamie Bell, who plays the much-conflicted Abraham. And when the war throws them together, "she's the one who makes him face his fears and find his voice."
The 28-year-old Bell, born in England, began his career as a kid star in the 2000 musical feature "Billy Elliot," wowing moviegoers with his skill as a hoofer. Subsequent films include "King Kong," ''Nicholas Nickleby," ''Flags of Our Fathers," ''The Adventures of Tintin" and the current "Nymphomaniac." He is married to actress Evan Rachel Wood.
Lind, 31, who grew up near Albany, N.Y., has logged a number of stage credits and a recurring role on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire."
"I was sort of star-struck when I met Jamie," she confides. "To look nice I wore a pair of heels. Then Jamie came in and introduced himself and I was sort of looking down at him."
No wonder. Bell has a wiry but compact build ("I'm 5-feet-8 after yoga, when I've stretched myself out") and Lind reports her height as 5-feet-7 — that is, when her lustrous brunette locks aren't poufing up a bit.
"At the last minute, right before the audition, I snuck a pair of flats out of my bag and changed shoes," she says.
"Very Anna Strong-like," says Bell admiringly.
The couple's easy, joking banter strikes quite a contrast to Abraham's haunted demeanor, and to that of Anna, who, in Lind's portrayal, exhibits a world of pain and resolve in her enormous brown eyes.
"On the show, I look so SERIOUS!" Lind says. "But there ARE a few scenes toward the end of the season where there's laughing."
"Why?" asks the reporter. Was someone tickling her?
"You can use that word if you like," she replies with an explosive giggle.
"It gets hot and heavy, man," Bell elaborates. "We spend at least half the season building up to it."
Meanwhile, they have been busy helping the struggling Continentals hang on.
"Turn," which wrapped its first season just one day before this interview in New York, was shot around Richmond, Va. Billeted there with Bell and Lind were Seth Numrich as Ben Tallmadge and Daniel Henshall as Caleb Brewster, the other members of the undercover quartet. The series also stars Kevin R. McNally, Burn Gorman, Angus MacFadyen, JJ Feild and Samuel Roukin as the slithery Redcoat Capt. Simcoe, who viewers will love hating from his boots to his powdery wig.
Speaking of which: "The men on this show have more makeup and hair than WE do," cracks Lind. "Do you know how long it takes to straighten out his ponytail?" she says with a nod toward Bell.
"I wear a little extension," he concedes. "I've been wearing it for five months and I took it out yesterday for the final time. I was ready to burn it!"
But his real point of contention is with a certain wardrobe item.
"I HATE tricorner hats," Bell declares. "There's something about them that screams 'period'!"
The show's solution: a knit cap was fashioned for Abraham that looks like an 18th-century version of the headgear that Bell wears in real life "cocked to one side," he laughs, "because I think it's cool. You'll notice in the show that if I have a tricorner it's in my hand, never on my head. And if it's on my head, there's been an argument that day."
Indeed, one scene in the premiere finds him wearing his tricorner, "but I had to," he explains, "and in my next scene you see me chucking it into a wagon."
"If only it were that easy to chuck my corset off," says Lind.
Not that she's complaining. She thinks "Turn" is poised to spark a new fashion craze.
"That's my dream," she says. "Next season on the red carpet: bonnets!"
"And I'll be there with my knit cap," Bell pledges. "Off to the side."
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier