Matthew Rhys on the End of ‘The Americans,’ Philip’s Journey, and Stan’s Decision

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

FX’s The Americans season six episode 10 brought the critically acclaimed dramatic series to a close with an episode that found Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) finally returning to Russia as the FBI closed in. Unfortunately, they were forced to flee America without Henry or Paige, paying the ultimate price of losing their children for committing espionage against the United States.

With the Emmy Award-winning series ending, series star Matthew Rhys participated in a conference call to discuss The Americans‘ incredible six season run. During the conference call, Rhys talked about everything from line dancing to the leaving the kids behind to that intense scene in which Philip, Elizabeth, and Paige (Holly Taylor) squared off against Stan (Noah Emmerich) in the garage.

Matthew Rhys The Americans Finale Interview:

Were you shocked Stan decided to let the Jennings go without arresting them? What was it like to shoot that pivotal scene?

Matthew Rhys: “Yes, I was. It’s strange. Those things are always kind of strange in that your expectations of the shooting will be far harder than it is. And as has always been the case with The Americans, the writing was so good that it kind of shot itself. You know, it was a marathon because obviously we shot a number of angles on it that we don’t usually for The Americans. We don’t usually spend that amount of time rehearsing it, but we did get to on that one.

The pieces fell into place much easier than usual. The other thing I think on scenes like that is actors tend to turn up. When there’s a kind of a bit of a mountain to climb they turn up with all their gear ready to go. So, we all turned up ready to take a bite out of a steak that was that scene.”

Was that the scene you most enjoyed shooting in the finale?

Matthew Rhys: “Maybe enjoy isn’t the right word for it but the scene would be Henry in the booth. […] The kind of way they pitched that scene was I found difficult. I enjoy those scenes because it’s such an enormous challenge. I enjoy the challenge. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the scene and ironically it was the last scene in the season we ever shot, and it was in a snowstorm at 4:30 am. So, different things going on during that one.”

What will you miss the most about being involved in The Americans?

Matthew Rhys: “I thought it was executing this writing. I’ve never kind of encountered a show of this calibre where the kind of layering of the writing and indeed the character’s been so textured, really. And as far as an acting challenge goes, this has by far been my Everest or Waterloo, depending on how you look at it.

The challenges that came with this part and kind of landing in a real believable place has always been large and varied. I’ll miss the day-to-day challenges of this part which were tenfold daily.”

Did Paige’s decision to remain behind surprise you?

Matthew Rhys: “It did surprise me but I kind of loved it. You know, I think what the boys do so well is kind of present these, at times, very open-ended questions to the audience. I think that was one of them. And, you know, they led us down the path so far that Paige was going to come with us and then that about-turn on the train – I think it’s just such a U-turn, kind of a violent U-turn but it’s not shock for shock reasons. It’s always incredibly well justified. […] It gives the audience I think enough to go, ‘Well, you know, any number of things, she can go in any number of directions now. She can continue her work, quit, look after Henry…’ There’s so many variables kind of presented to you in that moment and in a very poignant way.”

Did Philip and Elizabeth in the end get what they deserved rather than what they wanted?

Matthew Rhys: “Exactly. Perfectly put. You know, I know for Philip’s part – I think I speak for Elizabeth also and indeed any parent who has had to kind of leave and abandon their children and life so violently and brutally as they had to – whatever the reward of returning home is at the cost of doing that to your children. I think the punishment is lifelong, really.

So, they got out alive, and maybe more for Elizabeth than Philip, got back to Russia. But the cost of which they paid I think is enormous.”

What do you think is the state of the Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship at the end of the show?

Matthew Rhys: “It’s sort of interesting because what is left you don’t know really how it will work out. Ultimately, they’re the only allies in each other that they have in that someone else who understands this incredible journey they’ve been on. Therefore, they do need each other in that respect.

I always harken back to the third episode of the first season when Philip wanted to defect. To me that was kind of brought back in those moments where I’m sure he could have gone, ‘You know, we could be in a very cushy witness protection program at this moment where the kids are doing okay as opposed to this.’

So, I think it’s a tragic ending for all intents and purposes because I think, as I said earlier, the cost of what they had to do with their children in order to get out alive I think is so taxing.”

Do you think Renee is a spy?

Matthew Rhys: “No, I don’t.”

He’s trying to help Stan but isn’t he possibly also going to leave him in torment and with questions about his relationship?

Matthew Rhys: “You know, there was talk. This final parting shot from Philip, whether it’s good or bad or is it worth it or not, and I feel ultimately Philip and Stan in another world would have loved having him as a best friend. And in all intents and purposes Stan was his only friend in this world, this kind of world of pretense that he lived in. Stan was the only friend he’d ever had and just the irony of everything else that came with it.

So, there’s genuine concern for Stan there. I just think he couldn’t leave it unsaid which is where I felt it finished with me, you know?”

Do you ever imagine Philip bumping into Martha in Moscow and how would that go?

Matthew Rhys: “Yes, you know, that’s the joke, right? There’s an uncomfortable moment in the supermarket where the three of them all meet again and go, ‘Oh, hi. What are you getting? Oh, we’re getting the same.’ Yes, because that’s the comedy spinoff version.”

What does Stan’s friendship mean to Philip and how do you think it changed him throughout the series?

Matthew Rhys: “You know, I kind of liken it in a slight way to his relationship with Martha inasmuch as the cost of the innocence. […] I think that was an element of his job that he didn’t enjoy. He loathed this using of innocent people. And I think with Stan it was sort of an equal part guilt about the pretense of the relationship, but the other half was indeed this genuine kind of love of this friendship that he had in a kind of very lonely existence. The great irony was that he was a counterintelligence officer.”

What was more heart-breaking: the Henry phone call, watching Paige get off the train, or seeing the betrayal on Stan’s face in the garage?

Matthew Rhys: “I think it was the Henry phone call still. You know, as a new father it came very easily to kind of put yourself in that situation and go, ‘I can’t even fathom doing this to my own son.’ I did and still do just think about as one of the most heart-breaking moments of our show.”

Did the ending live up to your expectations? Did you think their ending was fair?

Matthew Rhys: “I thought the ending was very fair. You know, I think they pitched it beautifully in that there were so many elements to it. It wasn’t definitive in one way with, you know, I haven’t got killed or caught or everyone made it away. There was such a penalty for them to pay. There was such an expensive cost they had to pay for the price of their kind of newfound freedom.

You know, on one hand they spent their life living a lie. I’m sure the relief from not doing that would be enormous because, as I said before, the cost of not being with your children and the betrayal and the abandonment of your children is kind of unfathomable.”

The Americans Season 6 Episode 10
Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings and Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings in ‘The Americans’ season 6 episode 10 (Photo by Jeffrey Neira / FX)

Do you have any favorite memories of working with Keri? What will you miss the most about working with her?

Matthew Rhys: “Oh God, I don’t know. I haven’t got the time to tell you what it is I’ll miss most about her because she’s kind of everything you want in a co-star. I thought in season two there were kind of these moments where because it was a throwback to the audition where she had to slap me in the face and I didn’t react – she kind of used to slap me in the face to see if I still would react. So, there were these very kind of inopportune moments she’d slap me in the face to see how I’d react. And, perversely, I kind of look back and go those were really great moments.”

What’s the hardest thing about saying goodbye to Philip?

Matthew Rhys: “I suppose it’s the amount of plates you have to keep spinning in the air. What I mean by that is I’ve never played a part whereby you have so many things going on at the same time. Since finishing The Americans I’ve been reading a number of scripts and kind of go, ‘Well, that’s great but what else is happening to that character?’ And I’ve realized, especially in the earlier seasons, they had so many things to contend with and kind of landing that in a place that was real was a real challenge, I thought. I’ve enjoyed the kind of enormity of this undertaking massively and that’ll be the hardest thing to say goodbye to.”

Why do you think Philip said he wished Stan had kept going to EST?

Matthew Rhys: “I think he qualifies it in the line by saying, ‘Because you would know what to do in this moment,’ which I suppose is about seeing a possible bigger picture. And we talked a lot about whether Philip in that moment is playing Stan or not even aware that he’s playing Stan and kind of appealing to his more human nature. I don’t know. I struggled so much with that line as to what it was and even though we talked about it, you still kind of have to make it your own.

I think it worked on a few levels in that, one, Philip in that moment the primal instinct is to defend your family, to protect your family. And therefore you need to get them out of that parking garage, so you will do anything that allows you to do that. By appealing to Stan’s human nature by going, ‘I wish you could see this bigger picture. I’m just trying to take care of my family and we’ve got our jobs to do.’ Because I love that line where Philip kind of finally breaks the fourth wall and goes, ‘We have a job to do.’ And that’s what it is. That’s what it boils down to.’

I just think it’s kind of just duplicitous in a way… it’s not duplicitous, there’s deeper meaning to it in that he kind of goes, ‘You know, I wish you had stuck with that because you’d see in this moment what it is.’ But also, the flipside there is you could say well he’s also playing Stan just so he can get out of the parking garage.”

Do you think that that was one of the moments where he really convinced Stan not to turn them in?

Matthew Rhys: “Yes. Well, I hope so. You know because again, the big thing I liked about the show is it allows the audience to kind of attempt to guess why or what it was that Stan did or thought to let them go. Do you know what I mean? I don’t think it’s that conclusive that moment which is why it was so tense because you don’t know what he’s going to do and he lets them go.”

You can see in his eyes he’s conflicted the whole time during this confrontation.

Matthew Rhys: “Yes and I think the kind of the shock and awe of this situation on him kind of blocks him or refutes him to be that linear in his thinking. There’s a number of other elements going on about Henry and everything else.”

What was your reaction to learning that Philip would be the one who had to basically say it’s time to go back home?

Matthew Rhys: “It’s kind of great. I think as an audience you’re led one way. And, obviously, the irony of that Philip is kind of the travel agent for this season. And then all of a sudden, as you say, he becomes the instigator. He’s the one who pulls the pin and goes, ‘We have to go.’ And in that one moment where he goes to see Father (Andrei) he becomes the catalyst, he literally is the one that starts running. I thought it was great. It’s another testament to their writing.”

There was a scene in “The Summit” in which Philip got fitted for a nice suit. What did that scene signify to you?

Matthew Rhys: “I haven’t watched that yet. I remember in the shooting of it there’s always those moments where they can kind of layer it almost because this whole thing of Philip trying to make a real go of the travel agency. It’s a real immigrant story, you know? Regardless of who they were, spies or whatever, it’s kind of an immigrant story that they came to U.S. and they want to succeed.

And there’s moments you kind of go, ‘Well these trappings, these material trappings, do they make you happy and at what cost?’ And his head is in a swirl at that moment where he’s going, ‘What is this and what does it really mean having a fancy suit? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t help anything.’ But yet he still kind of wants it, you know?”

In “The Great Patriotic War” episode, there are two horrifying moments. One is Philip sparring with Paige in her kitchen and the other is the terrifying moment when he has to make a move on Kimmy. Which of those was more horrible?

Matthew Rhys: “I suppose the Kimmy storyline as fantastic, dramatized TV storyline that it is, I’ve always found it hard for the reason that it’s meant to be that Philip has this daughter the same age. It kind of repulses him in a way – a girl that young. [She’s] the same age as his daughter which is where all the inner conflicts come from. You still feel, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so wrong.’

So that was for me the hardest thing, harder than fighting Paige because actually I had a lot of fun. It was kind of fun to do that with Holly [Taylor] because she finally got to this [stage]. I remember years ago when we were doing all that stuff and Judo and she’s like, ‘I want to do that stuff.’ And then she finally got her wish come true except she didn’t realize it, fighting an oaf like me where you do actually fight for your life.”

We got to see Philip doing some line dancing this season. What was that like to shoot and do you imagine that there’s any line dancing in Philip’s future?

Matthew Rhys: “First of all, I imagine there’s no line dancing in the future. There’s a lot of lines or waiting in lines in his future in Russia – certainly no line dancing. But to me it was almost on a par with the Kimmy Breland because for me to dance publicly is my Achilles’ heel. I found that hideous as an experience.”

Are you going to miss wearing wigs? Are you hoping there are more wigs waiting for you in your career?

Matthew Rhys: “If I never wear another wig in my life, it’ll be too soon.”

You finally shared a few scenes with Costa Ronin as Oleg after all these seasons of being separated. What was that experience like?

Matthew Rhys: “It was great. We never got to act with the Russians. We were kept apart. And then the irony is you had these two characters in the same place, in the same position, with the same goals, the same fears, the same resistance. So, it was great just to kind of step outside the box, especially given Philip’s trajectory of trying to make the travel agency work. All of a sudden you have this huge other thing in his life that he kind of circumnavigates with someone who has the same fears. So, it was just great to kind of mix it up.”

What do you think will happen to Oleg?

Matthew Rhys: “Oh god, I’m sorry to say he lives his life in the prison somewhere.”

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