Matthew Rhys Interview: ‘The Americans’ Season 3

Matthew Rhys Interview on The Americans Season 3
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in ‘The Americans’ (Photo by Michael Parmelee / FX)

FX’s critically acclaimed dramatic series The Americans kicks off season three on January 28, 2015 at 10pm ET/PT with Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell back as Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, Russian spies living in America. The Americans is, deservedly, one of the best reviewed television series and at the TCA winter press event Rhys talked about his character’s motivations, disguises, and Phillip’s relationship with Martha (played by Alison Wright).

Interview with Matthew Rhys:

What do you think Phillip really thinks of Martha? Does he have any real affection for her?

Matthew Rhys: “I do think he does. I think with each season and obviously the onset of…the longer this goes on, I think he’s a man of great humanity, Phillip, and I think he becomes far more painfully aware of the manipulation of this woman’s life and her feelings. And the deeper it becomes, the sort of harder it becomes. And that’s thing, it’s that juggle between mission mandate and human interaction.”

Last season when they had that conversation about kids, do you think that Phillip/Clark would want to have kids with Martha if only it were a real relationship?

Matthew Rhys: “Yes. I think very specifically – this is my own backstory – Phillip targeted Martha because she’s a lonely person. I think the manipulation of that is a cruel thing to do. Yes, in a real relationship I’m sure he would want to give her what she wants.”

Do you think now he would have any qualms about killing her?

Matthew Rhys: “I think he would have huge qualms. I think it would be an incredibly difficult thing for him to do.”

But he would do it if he had to?

Matthew Rhys: “It’s the offset of what’s the greater risk. If it’s her turning him in, which would ultimately lead him to incarceration and separation from his kids, then yes. The kids is the benchmark. If it’s a threat to their life, then yes.”

Regarding the philosophical differences between Elizabeth and Phillip, do you think she sees it like she’s a part of an elite team and they should give their kids the chance to also be a part of something this important?

Matthew Rhys: “Yes, because as much as she’s trying to tell him that [Paige] should know who we are, there’s an enormous breakdown in communication that that is never communicated. Her language is incredibly specific as toward recruiting her, that’s why there’s a huge breakdown in this relationship. Also, I don’t think Phillip wants anyone to indoctrinate her; she should make her own decisions. And the fact that she’s found solace in family and something like the church isn’t a shock because they are absolutely absent parents. So he doesn’t blame her for that; she’s on her own path. It may not even last a year, but she should take that path herself.”

Do you have a favorite disguise?

Matthew Rhys: “I do. I call him Fernando. He has a mustache and long hair, and sometimes a goatee. Sometimes he’s in janitor clothes.”

Which one takes the longest?

Matthew Rhys: “Clark’s about an hour and a half because the wig needs a lot more attention. There was one veteran, an Army veteran I did, who had huge hair and a huge beard. That was about two hours.”

Which one makes you feel the sexiest?

Matthew Rhys: [Laughing] “Fernando makes me feel sexiest. I kind of have him as a Spaniard and I don’t know why. Like a flamenco teacher.”

Doesn’t Martha ever run her hands through Clark’s hair? Don’t the neighbors ever think that for travel agents they sure are running around a lot at night?

Matthew Rhys: “There are those questions that have been posed. But, yes, in the second season Martha admitted that she knew he wore a wig. I would like to see more of an explanation and for her to ask him why he wears the wig, you know? But it was kind of moved on a little quickly.”

Have any Russians ever criticized the show or offered you advice?

Matthew Rhys: “There’s only one Russian who’s ever come up to me. He was in Central Park and he just wanted to say how much he enjoyed the show. That was literally about it. I wanted to quiz him a bit more but he said it didn’t make him pro or against anything. He just said as a human story it interested him.”

This season has an episode involving EST. When you read it in the script – or did any research on it – did it make you think, “Oh, you crazy Americans?”

Matthew Rhys: “Listen, there are equally as many, many, crazy groups in the UK. But the research that we did on EST, I was like, ‘What?!’ It’s insane. They sat there in their pajamas and no watches.”

And this season has a Kama Sutra sex scene. What was your reaction to that script?

Matthew Rhys: “You know, any sort of sex scene there’s usually a big gulp that comes with it. But the sex in their relationship is just an enormous part of it, in an entirely different way than it is with Elizabeth. So, Phillip realizes it’s a large appetite of Martha’s that needs satisfying so it’s one part of the many pieces that he needs to maintain in order for its smooth running.”

Was it as physically difficult as it looked or was there some movie magic?

Matthew Rhys: “Oh, it was difficult. We had to stand on one foot. We tried a few of those and I’m like, ‘I don’t even know how they did this.’ It’s one of the most uncomfortable things you could try. I don’t actually recommend it.”

How was taking a break from The Americans and doing Death Comes to Pemberley?

Matthew Rhys: “It was so great. The luxury in this job is the variety. You’re playing a Russian spy one month and then you’re playing Darcy the next.”

– – Also of interest: Keri Russell interview

– By Fred Topel

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