Keri Russell Discusses ‘The Americans’ Finale, Devastating Choices, and Elizabeth’s Marriage

The Americans Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell
Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell star in ‘The Americans’ (Photo by Eric Liebowitz / FX)

FX hosted conference calls with the stars of The Americans, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, in support of the series finale airing May 30, 2018. The Americans finished up its incredible six-year run with an episode that brought closure to the story of Russian spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings while leaving the fate of their children dangling. The season six finale provided enough twists and surprises to satisfy any fan of the critically acclaimed series while giving Elizabeth and Philip an ending that, while perhaps not completely justified, at least made sense within the characters’ story arcs.

Discussing the series finale, Keri Russell said she hopes the people who’ve supported The Americans come away feeling the same way as she did when she read the scripts. “I hope they have the same feeling I got which is a thrilling emotional journey and then an ending,” said Russell. “I hope they’re satisfied.”

Keri Russell The Americans Series Finale Interview:

When you received the finale’s script, what elements surprised you the most?

Keri Russell: “All of it surprised me. I had no idea that they would take such an emotional route of devastation with the kids. I think the kids…I did not see the Henry aspect coming at all, and that was just devastating to me.”

Was the scene in which Elizabeth sees Paige outside the train an emotional one to film?

Keri Russell: “Well, it’s funny because we were talking to Tommy Schlamme about it – one of our directors – and he was saying, because the guys Joe (Weisberg) and Joel (Fields) let him read it pretty early on and I thought he said this thing that made so much sense which is you’re watching this couple go through this series and you’re rooting for them, but you want them to pay in some way for what they’ve done. And they chose the most painful way for them to pay. They took their kids away. It’s something I could not have seen coming at all.

I just think it was so devastating. And what’s great about with Paige is they’ve already lost Henry, she can’t imagine they would take Paige too. She chooses to stay behind and it was just like, ‘Whoa!’ As a parent, as a mother, it was just like too much. Too much!”

Did you expect Elizabeth to survive to the end of the show after she killed so many people?

Keri Russell: “You know, I had no idea. The thing that I really enjoyed about this project, this series, is I’ve been continually surprised in a good way. I’ve always been surprised with the turns and the twists. I’ve never been bored by them. I had no idea what was in store. The way the season was going, by the third or fourth episode I thought they were setting her up to die because she’s so unlikable. She’ll never redeem herself. But, I had no idea.

I was ready, I was on board for whatever they wanted because I’d liked it so far. So, I had no idea. I’ve kind of grown accustomed to just trusting them and not guessing because I’ve always been so far off. I didn’t know how it was going to go at all.”

Do you think she deserved to live?

Keri Russell: “Well, I mean, of course. (Laughing). My investment I feel like in the relationship and the marriage is always my focus of the show. In my own mind, selfishly, that’s something I want to see through.

I haven’t seen the show. I actually haven’t watched the show in many, many years, but I plan on watching it in LA with an audience, so I think that will be really fun. I don’t know exactly how it turned out. I mean I lived it when we did it. So, I’m really curious to see it.”

How do you feel about Elizabeth’s arc over the course of the series?

Keri Russell: “I love it. To get a chance to play what feels to me as a woman this true character and see out the full arc and the full story of it, when a lot of times the female part is the dotting wife or the comforting wife… It feels incredibly satisfying to begin this process six years ago where we did and then for it to end here. I just relished it. It was a real treat to get to do this job.”

What do you see as the key turning points for Elizabeth?

Keri Russell: “There’s been so many in six years. But talking recently about the marriage and we were discussing the idea that […] Elizabeth sort of leaving the system and going rogue and going off on her own was her in a way choosing Philip and the relationship. I would argue that they were inching along toward that path the whole way. They were always sort of taking steps away from The Centre – getting married in private and telling each other secrets they weren’t supposed to tell. That bond was getting much stronger and the level of intimacy much more than just average operational relationship.

What are huge arcs? There have been so many. That’s what I loved about getting the chance to play this character is she started somewhere so specific. I really had a chance to maintain a lot of that integrity – read that however you want to read it. But, Elizabeth got to stay Elizabeth for such a long time. She didn’t have to be good, she didn’t have to fit in, or she didn’t have to get soft. She did have a reckoning of some sort in herself, but I loved that she stayed the way that she was for so long.”

Looking back, what was your most challenging scene?

Keri Russell: “I don’t know. The scenes I really loved the most tended to be the emotional people scenes. Some big fight with Philip, I always really enjoyed those because Matthew is such a great scene partner. He’s fun to get in with. It feels fun; it doesn’t feel like work. And then as the Paige story developed, I really enjoyed some of those Elizabeth/Paige scenes because I love the unraveling a teenager can bring a parent to.”

What do you imagine for the future of Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage?

Keri Russell: “I don’t think those are going to be an easy couple of years in Moscow. It’s pretty devastating what the loss of children would do to a marriage. Interestingly, Joe and Joel when we were talking about those scenes, those end moments, I think what they wanted to convey which was hard at times was no matter what we’re going to have each other. We’ve come this far together and we’re going to get each other through this. I think that’s what they really wanted.

Ultimately it was this story of this marriage, this relationship. So, I think that is their hope that they will pull each other through this moment. And then we obviously know that in today’s age the Berlin Wall does fall and Communism doesn’t win the West. The hope is that in a couple of years they’ll go back and try to repair and find the kids and try and figure out whether they want to or not. That’s the only saving grace I have as a parent, as a fan of the show, is to go, ‘It’s all going to change in a couple of years and they can go back and find them!’

I think those will be a couple of pretty bleak years.”

Can you talk about watching the young actors grow up around you and in particular how Holly Taylor developed as Paige throughout the seasons?

Keri Russell: “It’s crazy. They were like 10 when we started and now they’re full-fledged teenagers, and Holly’s in college! I mean, it’s wild. It’s such a strange thing. They became a little bit more and more involved as the years went by. But it’s crazy. I mean, they’ve become sort of like the little brother and sister of the set in a way. I think they handled it well. They’re both really good kids, and Holly’s very graceful. I think this business is pretty creepy for kids, to be totally honest. But, I think they handled it very well and with grace. I think it was a cool job for them to be a part of.”

Besides the kids, is there anything you think Elizabeth will miss about America?

Keri Russell: “Yeah, of course. I think it’s that thing that you…I mean, yes, she definitely has massive ideals, right, but I think there’s so many in my life like this. They’re from far away and they’re always bemoaning how it was back there and it’s so nice there. I’m like, ‘Then go live there because the truth is you don’t want to live there. You’re here now.’ So, of course.

I think there was something in the first few seasons…I remember a line that Philip said to Elizabeth because I’m supposed to be this character who doesn’t have materialistic things. He’s like, ‘Don’t you like all those shoes you have?’ because Elizabeth always dressed really well which made me laugh. I’m sure she loves those shoes. I think moving back there will be a lot of things she’ll miss.”

The Americans Keri Russell Interview
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings in ‘The Americans’ (Photo by Eric Liebowitz / FX)

Do you think the ending was fair to Philip and Elizabeth? Were they punished too much or not enough?

Keri Russell: “I mean, because I think the story we’re telling is always to me kind of an emotional story. I think they chose such an emotional way to make them pay. Yes, one could have died or one could have gone to prison or something. But to take your kids away is pretty hardcore. You could argue a million things, right? Like, ‘Well, they didn’t take very good care of them. They never paid attention to them anyway,’ or whatever you want to say. But it doesn’t matter. No one thinks you’re going to have your kids taken away, and I think it was such an Americans-appropriate heartbreaker.”

Do you think they deserved that or that their punishment sort of outweighed the crimes they committed?

Keri Russell: “I don’t know about deserved. I don’t know what anyone deserves, you know? I think it’s all the day of the week anyway. But, I think it sets with the show and it was good storytelling. And like I said before, like my only hope is knowing that everything does sort of fall apart in a few years and that having that little sliver of hope that Philip and Elizabeth could go find them makes me feel better.”

You and Matthew Rhys are so great together. What are you going to miss most about working with him?

Keri Russell: “Well many things, but I would definitely say just having a professional partner like that. He’s fun to work with because he’s so good. It’s sort of like playing tennis with someone; you’re only as good as your opponent. And, you know, he’s fun because he’s good. So, I will definitely miss that.

And, you know, just the intimacy you have with someone that you’re so familiar with. It’s easy, and hard I guess in some ways too, but I will miss that. And, he’s so funny. We had a lot of fun together. So, I think it’s time for it to end before we kill each other but we had a good run for sure.”

One of the most pivotal scenes in the finale is Stan finally confronting the Jennings. That’s something fans have been waiting for for years. Can you talk about filming that scene and how it felt emotionally? How do you feel personally about Stan not arresting the family?

Keri Russell: “So, we shot that all in one day. I want to say it took about nine hours and we shot in the same garage just standing there. I have to say, credit to Matthew and Noah (Emmerich) because I can’t remember the page count on that, but it had to be like a nine-page scene and just so many monologues. I don’t care how much you love a show, by year six laziness just happens. And they came in and just killed it. I mean, they knew every word and they kind of just did it right there. It was amazing to watch. I actually didn’t say much in it, so I got to just kind of watch it unfold.

Plus, I love that Stan doesn’t turn them in. I think that’s the complication that Joe and Joel present so well is there is no bad guy, there is no good guy. You like a lot of things about people that do shitty things. And people that are supposed to be shitty, you know, there’s a lot of things you like that are great about them and vice versa. And I think Stan and Philip were friends. They just had this whole other story going on privately, but I think that’s what they told very well in this story. So, I’m just glad Stan let them go.”

Did you ever come to a conclusion in your own mind about whether or not Stan’s girlfriend, Renee, was working for the Russians?

Keri Russell: “I know, it’s so crazy, right? That seems pretty creepy to me, but that’s just my take on it. But how crazy, right? At the end – ‘Oh, by the way, I don’t know yes or no but look out for it.’ And what do you do with that? It’s so crazy. But Joe and Joel love that stuff.”

What did it feel like preparing for and going into the final season? At what point did you learn how the show would end?

Keri Russell: “So as sad as I am to see it go, it just feels like the right time. I think the stories were still so good and so compelling and I would hate to be involved with something that I thought was creatively so interesting and then watch it sort of peter out. So as much as this sixth and final season coming to a head was hard in some ways, it felt right. That was sort of comforting in some way.

And to be totally honest, especially at the beginning of that season I was working so many nights doing such hard stuff that I was so tired most of the time that I think I was probably like, ‘You know, oh I’m glad this is ending because I can’t do this anymore.’

And then when did we read the end? I guess I want to say I read the end about halfway through maybe. I was a little behind in reading my scripts and I had a chunk of the day in my shooting day that I had like three hours off before I had to go back. I went to this super fancy restaurant near where we were shooting and I sat at the bar of this swanky restaurant and ordered a giant glass of red wine and read eight, nine, and 10 in one sitting. And I cried and I tried to hide my eyes from crying, like, ‘I’m not crying!’ (Laughing) And I just read them back-to-back and went back to work.

And, I loved it. I thought to me it feels pitch perfect and devastating in all the right ways.”

As you began the final season the news was all about Russia. Is that something you talked about as cast members? Did it have any impact on you?

Keri Russell: “Well, I think the good thing was that because our show is set in the ‘80s, history was already written. So, it wasn’t going to change our performances in any way because the story has already happened and certainly was not going to be changed by present events. If anything, it was just more topical on a daily basis. Russia was just in the news more so if anything we would kind of say, ‘Well this is the year to get out because maybe people won’t be so sympathetic anymore.’

But it was more just a topical curiosity and coincidence. Because our show isn’t just a political show, it’s really a show about relationships, I don’t think it bore this great weight on us or anything.”

What do you think pushed Paige to make the decision to get off the train when she did?

Keri Russell: “I know, crazy, right? I mean, there could be so many reasons and really only Joe and Joel have that. It’s such a shocker because in my mind she’s already kind of implicated by her parents and all of that because she knows so much. Henry is kind of a little clearer because he’s still so clean and he’s really succeeding in his life. And to take him away from that would be cruel in some way. But, I don’t know. Maybe she just had enough. But, it’s such a painful choice. I don’t know. It’s her just saying, ‘I’m me. I’m not you guys and your decisions made for me are over now. Now I make my decisions.’”

Despite the fact Philip and Elizabeth survive at the end, did you view the overall story as a tragedy?

Keri Russell: “It’s definitely not Americana hopeful, right? I think Joe and Joel talked for a while about really wanting a Russian ending. And whatever that means to you, you know, but I certainly don’t think it’s like everyone wins and everything’s fair. (Laughing) It’s a little more complex than that. It’s bittersweet or just bitter-bitter.

But I do have to say I really like the ending. I hope you guys did too. And for everyone who has written such thoughtful and beautiful things about this show, I hope you guys are satisfied with it.”

The scene outside the summit when Elizabeth is in the car with Jackson is upsetting on all kinds of levels. What it was like to film a scene where Elizabeth obviously knows that she should act but either chooses not to or can’t bring herself to?

Keri Russell: “Well, first of all, that kid I thought was so good. He’s so young and he was so good. I love that scene because there’s something so upsetting when – because up until this point I think, and I think we can all agree, Elizabeth is like, ‘Shut the f**k up. You had a great night of someone f**ing you. Deal with it. You’ll be fine,’ you know? But then the way he’s looking at me saying, ‘You’re scaring me. Let me go.’ I think he’s so horrified and afraid, and I think Elizabeth sees the monster sort of that people have seen her and perceived her to be. I think it’s devastating and everything is sort of unraveling in this reckoning.

I think those scenes are really interesting for her character and for the arc of it all. So, I liked it. I mean, it was hard because it’s this clunky weird feeling to like not be able to do something and not act when it’s not quite so clear. But I really loved those scenes.”

Do you see any connection between that scene and some of the other scenes you had this season with younger people? Specifically, the child in that apartment and then that final confrontation with Paige about the honey traps?

Keri Russell: “Yes, I think all the personal is starting to trickle in. I think the reason Elizabeth was such a good soldier was she was able to not see that. She was able to be the better soldier and not let things distract her. I think in her unraveling in this season, being so tired, working on her own, not having anyone to help you or support you, you start to make mistakes and you start to slip up. And in her case, mistakes are becoming more human and developing a conscience about things. Seeing the kid as she kills the parents watching that video, there’s got to be a low moment in anybody’s life.

Yes, I think the human cost, especially. That whole season starts with that necklace. To me the necklace always meant any time I was in a scene with Paige that’s all… Like, I just kept thinking, ‘I have to tell her everything. I mean, I could die tomorrow. I could die tonight. If I don’t tell her everything she needs to know, she might not know it.’ And so I think that was constantly on Elizabeth’s mind this season.”

What was the last scene you filmed and how did that finality feel?

Keri Russell: “The last big scene we all did was actually super late at night. We were doing a night shoot north of the city at some random payphone and it’s when we were calling Henry. It started to snow and it wasn’t snowing in the other shots. We were freezing and it was probably about 3:30 in the morning. And we kind of had to go back and reshoot other people’s coverage because it didn’t quite match, and it was so sad.

To me, those scenes are so hard watching someone try to be normal but you know they’re dying. And just the sweetness of him saying, ‘Oh I’m just hanging out with my friends.’ He’s like, ‘Hey weirdos, I got to go.’ It’s sad but we all kind of got through it because it was just sort of written perfectly and we didn’t have to think about it too much. And then, you know, really we wanted to be warm so we got through it and got in our cars and went away.

But then the truth is there was one tiny little pickup scene we had to do on another day, which was literally a quick shot of me noticing Philip taking the ax out of the ax case and going, ‘Oh shit, he’s going to chop her head off.’ That was really the last scene of the whole series. So, it was a pickup from another episode. And we all clapped and that was it.”

Inside The Americans Finale:

More on The Americans: