Keri Russell surprised and impressed last year and turned her Felicity-crafted image on its head, as the tough as nails, intense Elizabeth Jennings on The Americans. The more hardline of the two undercover KGB agents at the center of the spy series, Elizabeth proved she would go as far as she had to in order to complete her mission, while we also saw her vulnerabilities and her confusion over the bizarre situation she and her husband Philip are in.
IGN TV: When we left off, Elizabeth and Philip had reconciled. As the season begins, are they doing well, or are this still some bumps there because they had so much trouble to work through last season?
Keri Russell: I think the main step forward is they are no longer questioning if they should be together as a couple. So they are a unified front decidedly now. But I think, for me, is what I loved most about last season was that it was sort of, at its best, a study of a marriage and the metaphor of marriage and I think this season is the study of a family embedded in this spy world to heighten the stakes. So they are a unified front, but now, for the first time, they are realizing — Elizabeth especially, because Phillip always had it — the threat of outside forces and the threat to their family, just [in terms of] violence. She’s seeing how fragile it all is for the first time, maybe naively. Again, like I did last year for the relationship and the marriage, I think those are such universal themes: fear for your children, sometimes they’re completely ungrounded, sometimes they are real, the influence of outside forces on your kids growing up, and the influence of outside forces on your relationship too. To me, the sense that I get is that it’s really a season about the family and keeping the family safe.
IGN: Now at the end of last season Paige was doing some snooping…
Russell: Wasn’t that great? That song? [Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers.”]
IGN: Yes! I bought that song on iTunes that night, by the way.
Russell: Right? I know! They’re sort of inspired.
IGN: So she didn’t find anything, but suffice to say that she is now maybe going to be asking some more pointed questions?
Russell: And she’s just getting older, you know? I don’t know what you were like at 16, but I had a couple of bad years. You question everything your parents do. What’s great is, every parent goes through that, but these parents are killers. They have real threats. Like, if she does find things out, how will that endanger her life, their lives? There’s a storyline, which I love, for her that is just this undoing of Elizabeth, something she gets involved in, which is so delicious to me. It’s this seemingly simple thing, but to Elizabeth it’s like she’s smoking crack every day. She’s like, “What are you doing!?” [Laughs] It’s like this thing where most parents are like, “Oh, good for you, good for you.” Then, by the end, she’ll play a very important part in some story stuff that’s unraveling.
Russell: Isn’t it?
IGN: It is indeed. I love seeing when Elizabeth turns completely badass. You know, “Show them your face!”
Russell: [Laughs] Yeah! People still — construction dudes come up to me on the subway, they’re like, “Ohhh! You gave that woman a beat down!” People go crazy for that. It’s really funny. Matthew and I were talking about that the other day. He said, even in England — you know, he was working over there in the summer — he said, “That’s the moment people constantly talk to him about.” We were like, “Why, though? Why? Was it that it was two women?” Because there’s aggression on TV all the time. I think he was like, “Why that moment? There were so many!” [Laughs]
IGN: This season, does it give you any other moments to remind us not to mess with Elizabeth?
Russell: She definitely has some of those moments. I think what I like about the beginning of Season 2 is, she is so off her game. She’s been knocked off her stable force by the gunshot, the wound, and I think she really doesn’t have her center. I think for a person like Elizabeth that is a really unsettling place to be. She has a little bit of post-traumatic stress from it. She’s a heightened kind of scared. She’s just off her game. Little things that she should be able to do really smoothly are unraveling her.
IGN: As if they don’t have enough to deal with, this asset of hers has been taken in and could very potentially aim right at them. How is that situation developing?
Russell: The circle is tightening around them for sure. There are so many loose ends now, and I think that’s what’s so clever about a spy show. What’s so great and unending in the suspense of it is, everything, the web and the connections, all start getting closer and closer together, and that’s what’s genius and great about a spy show versus a college show. “How scared can you get for the test?” “I’m so scared for the next exam!”
IGN: [Laughs] It’s a really big test!
Russell: It’s a big test! So that is all really well done this year, because it’s just another layer, and you keep introducing more characters and more holes. You know who has great story stuff this year — and she’s killing it — is Annet Mahendru. That character is like [Whooshing sound], which is a testament to her, because, you know, you get things written and you see how things go. And we just had this guest star on our show, and he was so good. I can’t even tell you how good he is. He plays this kid. My coffee shop in Brooklyn, this guy was like, “My roommate was so-and-so!” I was like, “Oh! He was so great!” He was like, “You didn’t kill him yet, so he might come back!” There’s this other actor, this Russian actor, who works with Annet and he’s excellent. But Annet’s storyline with Noah Emmerich, that gets really, really interesting this year, for obvious reasons; the duplicitousness of all of that. There’s another Russian that enters the scene too, and it’s really good. You feel for those people. It’s this strange, weird, uncomfortable balance between seductive and romantic and sweet and loyal and… wrong, you know?
The Americans returns Wednesday, February 26th at 10pm on FX.