It’s a cold, wintry December day in New York, and Keri Russell has a short break between filming scenes for The Americans. Though she’s now sitting in a heated van, there’s still a slight shiver in her voice as she explains what’s in store for Season 2 of the Cold War drama, which set network ratings records for FX during its Emmy-nominated debut last year. The Americans Season 2 begins Feb. 26.
“I think the main difference is last year when we started, Elizabeth wasn’t really even engaged in the marriage,” she says of her character. “It was questionable how much she was involved and wanted to be there, and I think this year she really wants to be in it. She’s trying to engage in that relationship in a really strong way that she hasn’t before. We start this year and continue as a team, less each one trying to jump ship and more how do we deal with all these obstacles as a married couple.”
Russell forever shattered images of Felicity (except for that hair, which we will always adore) with her hardened portrayal of Elizabeth, a Soviet spy sent to live deep undercover in the Washington, D.C., suburbs with Philip (Matthew Rhys), a fellow KGB operative. They go so far as to have a marriage and two children, who know nothing of their parents’ true identities. In addition to tempting fate each time they carry out missions from their bosses, Elizabeth and Philip have to deal with a new neighbor, Stan (Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent who is getting uncomfortably close to the truth.
As Russell alluded, much of the tension of the first season revolved around Philip’s desire to leave the spy world behind and focus on the life he and Elizabeth have built together, while Elizabeth remains dedicated to the cause. But as the season went on, the two found that their feelings for each other were going beyond their assigned roles.
“In the same way that last year I would sort of describe the show as a metaphor on marriage, this year is really just a show about the issues that families deal with,” she says. “There’s that idea of keeping outside forces away from your kids and keeping your kids safe. As they turn into teenagers, the outside forces become louder and bigger.”
It all takes place in the splendid early 1980s, just as Ronald Reagan is putting his stamp on the decade as president. That also means fashion statements like flared jeans and teased hair, along with analog technology that seems downright quaint in our smartphone society.
“Very Real Threat”
We pick up the action in Season 2 a few months later, with Elizabeth still recovering emotionally from having been shot. Also, her daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) is dealing with her growing suspicion that her parents are not who they say they are.
“I like her relationship with her daughter and how she struggles to do the right thing,” Russell says. “It just does not come naturally to [Elizabeth]. In some respects, she’s this incredibly powerful and capable person as a soldier, but when it comes to being a mother, the teenager still undoes her.”
Russell says audiences won’t have to wait long for this season’s action to get cracking.
“In the first episode, something really dramatic happens that is so close to home and it shakes Elizabeth and Philip up in a massive way,” she says. “It sets the course for the whole season immediately. There’s the FBI threat as always, but then there’s another very real threat that comes into play.”
Perhaps that comes in the form of Margo Martindale, who returns for at least one episode as Elizabeth and Philip’s KGB supervisor, Claudia, a role that earned Martindale an Emmy nomination. Martindale’s commitment to CBS’ sitcom The Millers may keep her run on The Americans limited, but Russell says she’s happy with whatever they can get.
“Obviously, it’s sad that she’s not here the whole time, but in a way it’s great because when she is, it really counts,” Russell says. “She has a delicious, enjoyable storyline.”
The unique fun of a show like The Americans is that it’s not only what’s going to happen that keeps viewers on edge, but learning what has already happened is also a treat. Bits of the backstories for Elizabeth and Philip were slowly revealed last season, each revelation adding a layer of depth to the characters, and Russell says that will continue to be a featured part of the drama.
Russell says she is often reminded of just how passionate the fan base is for The Americans — a rather large viewer outcry emerged last season when a scheduling error led to the end of one episode being cut off on DVRs — as people are not shy about coming up and telling her.
“I can say that this show more than any project I’ve ever worked on, the response is overwhelming,” she says. “Because I live in New York and spend time on the subway and walking out in the world, people scream at me all the time, ‘I love the show!’ ‘You kick ass!’ It’s a show that elicits a really fun response. I absolutely have enjoyed the reaction.”
It might just be enough to keep her warm on a cold day.
The Americans Season 2 premieres Feb. 26 and airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT on FX.