‘The Americans’ Annet Mahendru Interview: Nina’s Journey

Annet Mahendru The Americans Season 4
Annet Mahendru as Nina Krilova in ‘The Americans’ (Photo by Jessica Miglio / Copyright 2016, FX Networks)

Warning: There are spoilers ahead so don’t read this interview with Annet Mahendru from FX’s The Americans unless have watched season four through episode four which aired on April 6, 2016. Questions are asked and answered about the events that have taken place through the fourth episode of the current season of FX’s critically acclaimed, award-winning drama. You’ve been warned…

Annet Mahendru may have had less screen time in seasons three and four of The Americans, but her character Nina Krilova has remained a fan favorite. She’s also been a pleasure to play for Mahendru who has seen the character evolve and even obtain a sort of redemption throughout the seasons. In our conference call with Mahendru, she talked about the devastating turn of events in episode four and what it’s meant to be a part of The Americans.

Annet Mahendru Interview:

Was her motivation pure when she helped Anton?

Annet Mahendru: “I think last season we saw it go on for a while. She’s figuring him out. She’s always about the other, she’s kind of a reactor to things. She doesn’t quite know what to do with Anton. She sees a human being for the first time and it brings that out of her. She’s exhausted. She’s run this hamster wheel over and over buying her life back, walking the thin line. Every decision, every step is life or death for her and she’s exhausted and she’s falling. She can’t do this anymore. He moves something in her. For the first time it’s something very direct. He has a son. She’d given all that up when she entered this profession. She finds joy in his world and his letters and love. For the first time I think we see her happy. She literally, I think, gives up everything for that moment of happiness. That’s her freedom from that kind of tragic and tumultuous life that she has chosen and had been dealing with since we met her. I think her joy…she lived for the first time. That’s what she needs to do to live. Sometimes you need to change in order to survive and that’s what she does.”

Do you think she was at peace with her fate when she initially found out she would likely get the death sentence?

Annet Mahendru: “I think she’s content. She is very much settled. She’s okay now because she did something for the first time that allowed her to be who she is. She’s done everything to secure the future of the Soviet Union. This cause, this great cause that is so farfetched, and here’s something so direct. There’s a boy that needs to know that his dad loves him. She did that and that’s the greatest thing she’s ever done. Yes, she just is.”

What was your reaction when you got the script for episode four of this season? Did Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg give you a heads up or did you find out while you were reading?

Annet Mahendru: “Oh goodness. I got the first script and then I got a phone call. You kind of wait for that phone call from the get-go. Every time they call you, it might be the phone call. It finally came and I played it really cool because you think you’d be prepared for it but you absolutely are not. I was angry at them. I loved them. I felt every single thing you could possibly feel. I remember my mom was like, ‘It’s not you dying, it’s Nina.’ She had to remind because it felt like a part of me that I was so lucky to be able to tap into, then I also had to say good-bye to.

Then, the weird thing I got the second episode and that’s where I felt like I got to meet Nina. She’s meeting her husband. She finally has her own mission, this transformation she’s been on that she’s desperately needed. I felt like I had just gotten a real taste of her and that’s it. Then, an episode later, she’s dead. It felt like that little bit of joy, that little bit of her that I finally got, it was so fleeting and it was over before I could really embrace it. It was really sad. We were all, I think the fans and the writers, Tracey [Scott Wilson] and Stephen [Schiff] and Josh [Brand], everyone’s since the beginning sort of been treasuring her and fighting for her. It’s really been a fight. It just made me realize it’s such a tragic life. It’s real. This happens out there. This happened out there. Women like this. It made me really angry.”

Annet Mahendru
Annet Mahendru at ‘The Americans’ Season 4 Premiere

What was it like actually shooting that scene that day, especially since you’ve been so separate from the cast for over a season now?

Annet Mahendru: “It was mortifying. There’s that long walk through the hallway. She wakes up, she’s still half asleep. We’re walking down this hallway and they tell her she’s being transferred. She’s got all her little belongings in this little bag. These guys are around her and she doesn’t know. Again, she’s walking that thin line. ‘Am I free?’ Then she’s being read her death sentence. That little moment before you’re about to die, I had to experience that a few times. It was so real.

When they called me at the beginning of the season to say this was it, before they said I was going to die, they said this is everything an artist wants to do. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Yeah, that was everything an artist wants to do because when I did that, as mad as I was, as broken as I was, I wanted to do it again. It was the most intense thing I had to do as an artist. To experience playing death, to play dying, that last kind of thing of life before it goes. She’s fighting for it. I was sitting there afterwards in my chair and I was like, ‘I can’t believe.'”

How do you think fans are going to react to Nina’s demise?

Annet Mahendru: “It’s really heartbreaking, I think. It really is. I don’t even know what to say to people. I think we just have to experience it. I just have to see. I don’t know. I think people have always hoped, it was kind of like a character that you just know that who she is, things aren’t going to get better. She’s not going to be the one who settles down and has a family and has a nice dinner and the little joys in life. That’s not who she was, but we still hoped because that’s just like her. She fought so hard. Then, at least she does experience freedom at least in her dream. There is a glimpse of that, with her transformation, that some people I guess don’t get to transform like that in their whole lifetime. She does get that which is, I guess, what you could live for your whole life, that moment where things really shift inside of you and you are truly happy. I’m so thrilled. I’m so thrilled to have played her so long because that kind of life, it’s just a miracle that she even lived this long. I can be grateful for that.”

Do you think that this awful death of Nina when she finally does something really human, really kind, does that point out the lie of Elizabeth’s dream of what the Soviet Union is?

Annet Mahendru: “I think the whole individual comes in and you have to make a choice, ultimately, what it is you should be fighting for and what makes sense for you. It’s a war of ideology […]where we see these direct kind of relationships with Paige and Anton and his son and Nina and her husband. That means the world. You’re fighting for the world dichotomy. It’s a strange thing.

Yes, she does something ultimately very selfish, does something very selfish, is that a better thing to do and jeopardize [people]? She could be jeopardizing her husband, a lot more people, the Soviet Union, for this note to this little boy. I guess that it’s just a human kind of contradiction in all that we do. Whatever you’re fighting for and is it worth it? There’s no easy answer to that.”

Does the dream sequence mean that she, in her own way, loved and forgave Stan?

Annet Mahendru: “She ultimately has great empathy. Her job was to understand all the sides, all the people. She has and she has found in every person, truth. She knew his position. She always knew his position. She kind of said right away he’s not going to turn. She didn’t condemn him for that. She knew that kind of cost her her life in America. Then, her life in general. Again, that was her doing. She always, I think, had responsibility for what she did and I think it caught up to her when she finally said, ‘I’m not who I am and who I was.’ It was always up to her. It was always her own choices that get us where we are. And yet I think it is great forgiveness. He got her in that position but he was a decent human being, and so was everyone she kind of ended up working with. They did what they could. She knows that. Then, she looks over and there’s Anton in that dream sequence. That was also her choice and doing.

She sees what she chooses to see in her circumstances. There’s no blame. It’s just kind of her own way. Ultimately, that has gotten her to be herself and have her own perspective on things and choice. Your choice is your life. No one can do anything about that. That’s something Anton says to her, too. Yes, we can give you all these things and have you do these things but they can’t make you who you are.”

How much of you, Annet, can we find in Nina?

Annet Mahendru: “Nina is a part of me that I had to find. There’s a part of me, obviously, that I produced. Annet, no, I would like to think that I’m a very happy and goofy person. My part, not even. I guess I am very dramatic. You know what? I hope I’m not as tragic, not nearly as tragic as Nina’s life. I had to tap into my Russian roots. That was a nice discovery just to go into that. I’m an American girl, that’s for you guys to figure out.

It seems like you and Costa Ronin’s character were finally going to be getting the reunion you so desperately deserved, then episode four happened. Is this truly the end of Nina’s storyline?

Annet Mahendru: “It’s all so raw right now to me that I don’t know when I can put her to bed so she can rest. I don’t know. Costa and I were like, ‘Oh no, we were so close!’ We don’t get to. It would have been really beautiful if we got to talk, to see them together again because that was a very special relationship too. It was very humbling that all these characters, Stan and Oleg and Anton, all kind of, even Vasili, wanted something good for her. There’s a moment she goes, ‘You’re happy.’

It’s feels good that, wow, all these people supported her in these odd ways. It was a surprise, for sure, because it was kind of like a dog-eat-dog world. I don’t know. Right now I’m kind of…I think that I’m grieving her. Other than that, I can’t even think past that. You have to watch next episode, to re-experience all that. I hope that I can. I’m just trying to find more joy in her. It’s been very painful.

The last thing we shot was actually [in episode three] her coming and seeing Stan. Ironically we were at the same location where everything started for Nina. It came full circle in that moment. We were saying goodbye, Noah [Emmerich] and I, and Stan and Nina. It’s really as beautiful as it is right now. I don’t know, maybe we’ll need something. I feel like her storyline started and completed in such an extraordinary way that I’m good.

What was it like predominately working in Russian?

Annet Mahendru: “It’s something that I feel like has never been done before that The Americans did. Truly made both sides look the same. It wasn’t bad guy / good guy. When I first got Nina’s part I was very reluctant because I went out for not many, but a few Russian parts before, and it was very, very difficult. That’s not the kind of story that I wanted to tell because I know that culture. I think it’s important to really show [it]. If you’re really interested in something you find these other truths that everyone universally can enjoy and not just these black and white that it’s easy to kind of go to and pointing fingers. The Americans was so unique in that way. I was so blessed to tap into my Russian roots on a show like that.

Honestly, I thought I’d never play a Russian part because if you are casting stereotypical roles, I don’t fit those roles. I never wanted to tell a story where all the other things you see on TV or movies when they portray other cultures, maybe, inaccurately. It was beautiful to be part of that and I think it was beautiful that people appreciate culture and watch it and are okay with the subtitles. It was difficult, again, because I do everything in English and most of the other actors do, too. It was a challenge for us. We would do anything because we knew how much it meant to have the opportunity to do it this way.”