The Americans is FX’s new period drama about the complex and complicated marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington, D.C., shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected President. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) have a network of spies and informants under their control, while their two children – 13-year-old Paige (Holly Taylor) and 10-year-old Henry (Keidrich Sellati) – know nothing about their parents’ true identity. Even though Philip’s growing affinity for America’s values and way of life leads to tension with Elizabeth, the two must work together to keep their new FBI agent neighbor (Noah Emmerich) from discovering who they really are.
During this recent interview with Keri Russell, the actress talked about why she thinks her character will be relatable for viewers, what she knew about her character’s backstory, how her dance background really helps her with the stunts and fight scenes, what it’s like to have the show set in the ‘80s, working with co-star Matthew Rhys, and that the relationship between their characters will be a huge element of the story. She also talked about what attracted her to the feature film Austenland, about a woman so obsessed with the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice that she travels to a Jane Austen theme park, in search of her perfect gentleman. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
KERI RUSSELL: Well, what’s good is that you see this girl, giving this guy a blow job, clearly all sexed out, and then see her the next morning, making lunches and living in the minutiae of being a mom. I know not every mom is a secret KGB spy, but every mom has this whole other life. Every dad and every person has this whole other life. You have no idea what gets them going, how they get off, what secrets they’re hiding, what’s shameful to them. That is what is very universally relatable, and what I hope this show does well.
How much did you have to know about your character’s former life in Russia, in order to portray her life, in America?
RUSSELL: We’re finding it out, as we go along. But, I think it’s important that the father died fighting in Stalingrad. The kind of hero worship you have, when a parent is lost early and you don’t know all their faults and misgivings, is a very strong influence. She was raised by a mother who also probably idolized that system, which came in and supported this family of a father who gave his life for the country. And I think she has a very important relationship with the man running the KGB operatives back home. He acted as a protector, who was mainly her only protector, and she wants to be a good daughter/soldier for him. So, we don’t know everything, but I think it’s a great starting point to see this person who’s been in this arranged marriage for 15 years, and finally is just now cracking and opening and maybe deciding to let someone take care of her, or let a little bit of emotion in and love her partner.
Do the stunts and fight scenes come easily for you?
RUSSELL: The dance background really does help. There’s a masculine rawness to Elizabeth, and it helped immensely to be able to do those fight scenes first, and then do the scenes right after. There’s a difference in your voice. There’s a center. It’s much lower. You’re exhausted, so it’s more growly. In fact, we had to reshoot a quick little something because of the lighting and I heard my voice and thought, “That’s a terrible voice!” There’s something, when you’re fighting and pushing and kicking guys’ heads into the wall that’s just more animal. It’s a cool place to come from.
RUSSELL: They created this kick, and it was terrible to do. The guy who I actually kicked in the head looked at me before. He could see that I was nervous to do it. There was no pad. I was kicking his head into the wall. He looked at me, grabbed me and said, “Listen, do it and do it right because, if you mess it up, we’re going to have to do it again, and then I’m going to be pissed.” It was pretty hardcore. I had to shut the world out and just do it. The cool part of this job is experiencing that kind of masculine aggression.
How is to work in the time period of the ‘80s?
RUSSELL: I think we’re doing a very nice version of it. I’m trying to do less of the shoulder pads and perms, and more of the nice silk shirts, gold chains and Jordache jeans. I think it’s interesting how clear the enemy [was then]. Every movie I saw from [that time period], you heard the Russian accent and were like, “Oh, that’s the bad guy!” The bad guy in Rocky was Russian, so of course he was going to lose.
What’s it been like to work with Matthew Rhys?
RUSSELL: When I read the script – and I read it multiple times before saying yes – what kept bubbling up to the surface, for me, is the relationship. That scene in the laundry room, where they’re really fighting, I know that they’re spies and that they’re fighting about these huge giant issues with Russia, but it’s the same fight every married couple has. It’s like, “Why can’t you fucking do it my way, for once?! I want to do it this way!” Everyone knows what that feels like. That is called having a roommate. It’s about being in this relationship and having these kids. That’s when it’s the best to me, at its heart. It’s couched in the spy world, which elevates the stakes. That’s wonderful. I remember J.J. Abrams and Matt [Reeves], who created Felicity, would come up with story ideas and be like, “Can’t she just be a spy? There are only so many tests you can be worried about failing!” So, it elevates the stakes, but you’re still wondering how they’re going to survive it together. That’s what I care about. Is she going to turn him in because she cares so much about being true to herself? Can she compromise that which is so essential to her core? To me, it’s about the relationship. That’s the most relatable thing, and I hope that’s what continues. We’ll see.
RUSSELL: I think that’s a huge element. That will be the arc for them. In the middle of the season, there may even be some separating. The end of the pilot episode is the first time she feels protected. She thinks you have to do everything on your own, and he does this huge thing for her, which makes her go, “Oh, who is that?,” and they see each other for the first time. When you have feelings for somebody, it makes things more complicated. In a way, she’s being a better spy because she compartmentalizing things. When she’s being a better spy, she’s being a better mom because she’s not endangering her kids. If she’s captured, then her kids could be taken away from her. So, I think the arc will be about them falling in love and being in a relationship. In one of the episodes, you find out that Elizabeth does have a sexual life elsewhere, in a capacity that she can manage. She’s not just a cold-hearted, frigid lady. Everyone gets it somewhere, and it’s very intriguing. There are some interesting characters.
What attracted you to Austenland?
RUSSELL: That was Jerusha [Hess], who is married to Jared Hess. They wrote and directed Napoleon Dynamite together, and this was the first film that she was going to do [by herself]. She has this great spirit, is young, is funny, and I wanted to support her. She is great! She’s lovely.
The Americans airs on Wednesday nights on FX.