The FX period drama The Americans is back for Season 2, as it follows the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C., shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected President. The arranged marriage of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), whose 14-year-old daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) and 11-year-old son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) know nothing about their parents’ true identity, is becoming more genuine, as the escalation of the Cold War makes everything more dangerous.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Keri Russell talked about the endless complications for characters living in a spy world, how Season 2 gets more layered and rich, that Elizabeth is really knocked off of her center after the events of last season, where things are at now between Elizabeth and Phillip, how much she enjoys the bad-ass fight scenes, how happy she was to get Margo Martindale back for a bit of this season, and why she loves working with director Thomas Schlamme. She also talked about her experience making Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and how she owes her casting in the film to director Matt Reeves, who created the TV series Felicity with J.J. Abrams. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Looking back on the first season, how many times were you shocked by where things went?
KERI RUSSELL: That’s the genius of setting a show in the spy world. The twists and turns, and the complications between characters is endless. It’s certainly easier than heightening the stakes on a college show about how scared you are to take the test. You’re like, “No, this time I’m really scared!” It’s endless, the ways relationships cross and are being betrayed, and who’s turning and not turning. All of that is truly endless. It’s a good place for a show to be. It’s suspenseful.
Has that been consistent in Season 2, as well?
RUSSELL: Yeah. And in a way, because it is this thrilling spy world, the longer you go, the more layered it is and more people start to cross paths. It gets better because it’s that much more layered and rich. One of the storylines that I really love this year, that’s just become really great is the Nina character and her relationship with Stan, and there’s a new Russian guy that comes into the residentura. That relationship is a really good example of how, when the show works, it’s really good. You’re watching and you are invested in their feelings. It’s seductive and it’s sweet, with people’s loyalties, but it’s so cruel, at the same time. You don’t know who you like. It’s really engaging.
Where is Elizabeth’s head at this season, especially after she went through last season, including pretty much dying, at least for a bit?
RUSSELL: In a great way, it really knocked her off her center. For a person who is so sure-footed with everything, she comes back from that really shaken, and that permeates everything. She has this incredibly heightened fear for her family, in a way she, maybe naively, never did. She’s just off her game, and it starts to affect her work. People close to her are calling her on it, which is interesting and fun. And the other great thing is that, for such an unemotional character, she’s come back from that really engaged in her family and her relationship, in a way that she never has been, which is sad. Just when she’s getting there, everything is getting dangerous and scary. It’s scary on all levels to her. She comes back in a really panicky, manic state. It’s a scary time for her, but an interesting one. It’s been really interesting to do.
Where are things at with Elizabeth and Phillip, especially now that he has another wife?
RUSSELL: I think, for them, as a couple, they’re better than they ever have been. Elizabeth always drew a very clear line about it and understood everything, but as you develop real feelings for somebody, it’s heartbreaking, on some level, as life is. Life is heartbreaking. So, I think all that stuff is very layered and really works. It’s so bizarre. Reading it, I want them to be together, even though they’re doing all these incredibly out-of-the-box things. You’re still rooting for Stan and Nina, too, which is so strange.
You’ve had some pretty bad-ass fight scenes on this show. Is there more of that, this season?
RUSSELL: There’s always a little bit of that. You get a little beaten up sometimes, but I do enjoy the physical work. Being a dancer, that was the only thing I was really trained in. So, in a way, I get to use some of that. And it’s fun. You don’t have to memorize as much dialogue. I’m like, “Oh, good, I don’t have to talk at all, that day.”
With all of the fabulous moments that you had together last season, was it hard to lose Margo Martindale to another show?
RUSSELL: Yes. She’s the best. She is so delicious, as a person, anyway. As sad as it is that she’s not there for the full season, the great thing is that, when she does come back, it really counts. She comes back for just a few things, and it’s good when she does. You can savor Margo, which is perfect. She comes back in these very good ways. Strangely, as much as Elizabeth does hate her for everything that she’s done, she still respects her. The one thing you could never fault Elizabeth for is being false. You know what you’re getting with her. She likes you or she doesn’t. On some level, she respects Claudia. That relationship isn’t done yet.
Was it fun to open the show up a bit more, and have the family trip to the amusement park?
RUSSELL: We were like, “What show are we doing? There are stuffed animals and scary rides.” That episode was also directed by Tommy Schlamme, who is so good. You don’t get a chance to work with directors like that, that much anymore. Everything moves so fast. It’s like a dream, getting to work with him. He’s so good. He would give us this very simple, very detailed, specific note, and Matthew [Rhys] and I would look at each other and go, “Oh, fuck! We’re such lazy actors. Why didn’t we know that?” He’s just so good, and he has such a strong sense of story. That was his episode. I wish he could do all of them.
How much will the tension build between Elizabeth and her daughter, Paige, especially with her being suspicious and snooping around?
RUSSELL: That gets really interesting. If last season was very much a metaphor for relationships and trying to figure out if they were going to be together or not, I feel this season is very strongly centered around the family and outside influences, especially with Paige. There is all of this work and spy stuff, and there’s the sexuality, but they’re still parents. There is this storyline where Paige gets involved in something and it is just unending for Elizabeth. She just cannot deal with this teenager who’s involved in this thing, and she’s losing her mind, the way parents do. I loved freaking out in the car about this teenager and this seemingly innocuous thing, when we’re on this mission and we’re trying to go kill someone. He’s like, “You’ve gotta calm down about Paige,” and I’m like, “I can’t calm down!” It was really funny.
How was your experience working on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?
RUSSELL: The great thing about that, even though it’s just such a different beast, and is this huge, epic thing, is that I get Matt Reeves, who I obviously love so much, from years ago (on Felicity). He has such a creative voice and a present sensitivity. I think that’s the only reason I was in a movie like that. I don’t get to be in big blockbuster summer movies. Surely, my boobs aren’t big enough for that. But, that’s what Matt brings to the table. He brought me and Kodi [Smit-McPhee] and Gary Oldman and Jason Clarke. He brought this group of very not summer blockbuster actors together. Hopefully, we’ll be a part of that big, giant, spooky, epic thing. I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet.
The Americans airs on Wednesday nights on FX.