‘AMER­I­CANS’ DUO

A for­mi­da­ble 1-2 punch.

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - BY AMY REITER

NEW YORK — One thing that makes FX’s lauded Cold War drama “The Amer­i­cans” so com­pelling is the chem­istry be­tween Keri Rus­sell, who starred in four sea­sons of “Felic­ity” in her early 20s, and Welsh ac­tor Matthew Rhys. As El­iz­a­beth and Philip Jen­nings, Rus­sian spies liv­ing as Amer­i­cans in 1980s suburbia, they make their kids’ lunches and then slip away to don dis­guises, se­duce sources and break necks for the Moth­er­land. ¶ But Rus­sell and Rhys’ elec­tric­ity on the show, created by for­mer CIA of­fi­cer Joe Weis­berg and just hav­ing fin­ished its fifth sea­son be­fore a 10-episode sprint to a se­ries fi­nale, is noth­ing com­pared to the sparks they throw off in real life. ¶ Set­tling into the se­ries’ writ­ers room in gritty Gowanus in New York’s Brook­lyn, sur­rounded by white­boards with scrib­bled plot points and grainy show stills, the cou­ple, who have an in­fant son (Rus­sell also has two chil­dren from a pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship), are clearly sim­patico — fin­ish­ing each other’s thoughts and crack­ing each other up.

What drew you to these roles?

Rus­sell: I was in­ter­ested in the re­la­tion­ship — this ar­ranged mar­riage, but they fall in love. There’s de­ceit, then trust.

Rhys: Plus the back­drop of the in­tel­li­gence world and play­ing dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. It’s the per­fect part.

Do you dis­cuss the show at home? Rus­sell: It’s usu­ally two min­utes of bitch­ing and then you’re like, “Can we stop?” Rhys: The ma­te­rial is in­tense, so when I come home I just want to watch re­al­ity shows about Alaska. Rus­sell: Tough-guy stuff.

You met years be­fore the show, right?

Rhys: At a kick­ball party. I had no idea what kick­ball was. After­ward, we were in a park­ing lot shar­ing a beer.

Then you didn’t see each other for more than a decade, un­til the show?

Rhys: Yeah, on the first day of fight train­ing, I said, “We’ve met be­fore.”

Rus­sell: I was like, “No, we haven’t.” Rhys: [Laughs] What a last­ing im­pres­sion I made.

Rus­sell: But as soon as you said the kick­ball party and beer, I re­mem­bered.

Rhys: You said, “You were that Welsh fool.” Rus­sell: I didn’t. Rhys: No, you said “drunk fool.”

Keri, this role is a de­par­ture. Rus­sell: I have John Land­graf, who runs FX, to thank. They were cast­ing this cold Rus­sian spy. All I could think of was the Rus­sian guy’s wife from that “Rocky” movie. Rhys: Brigitte Nielsen? Rus­sell: That’s who I pic­tured. I was like, “Why would they want Felic­ity?” But they kept call­ing. It’s been a fun twist. Hard to go back to play­ing, like, a nice mom.

How has your role chal­lenged you, Matthew?

Rhys: It’s hard to land it in a cred­i­ble place. It can read like a bad skit. We’re Rus­sian spies! The char­ac­ters’ fal­li­ble na­ture is more in­ter­est­ing — where the cracks are. You want to see some­one strug­gling.

We have to talk about the wigs. Rhys: I will never wear an­other wig in my life. Rus­sell: But they are fun some­times.

‘I was like, “Why would they want Felic­ity?” But they kept call­ing. It’s been a fun twist.’ — Keri Rus­sell, on be­ing cast in “The Amer­i­cans”

You be­come an­other per­son. We’re con­stantly send­ing ridicu­lous pic­tures to each other. “Want to take this per­son out?” I was Clark’s [a dis­guise that Philip fre­quently uses] sis­ter for so long, with the bad gray wig, glasses and ter­ri­ble sweaters. And I was preg­nant.

Do you have a fa­vorite scene?

Rus­sell: One was when I beat up Granny. Go­ing from “Felic­ity” and mak­ing Hall­mark movies, and then walk­ing down the street and hav­ing con­struc­tion work­ers yell, “Yo! You re­ally kicked that lady’s ass!” It’s like, “Yes, thank you!”

It’s re­mark­able how lik­able your char­ac­ters are given the things they do.

Do you use stunt dou­bles or do your own ass-kick­ing? Rhys: I haven’t ass-kicked since Sea­son 1. She does it all. I have a cry­ing dou­ble. He does the emo­tional stuff when it’s too tax­ing for me. Rus­sell: You do the wide [shots] and then some­one else comes in — Rhys: — for the tears.

So Amer­ica’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia has evolved …

Rhys: When we started, the press said, “Is Rus­sia rel­e­vant?” We were like, “Uh, I guess not. We’ll be can­celed af­ter one sea­son.” Lit­tle did we know.

I as­sume that hasn’t af­fected the story line.

Rus­sell: No, they have it thor­oughly plot­ted. What I think is, “I hope peo­ple don’t hate us be­cause we’re play­ing Rus­sians.”

Rhys: Be­cause the vi­o­lence is jus­ti­fied [in their eyes], not gra­tu­itous. In this coun­try, we don’t have that fer­vent be­lief. Our smart­phones are our true pas­sion. If some­one took away your smart­phone —

Rus­sell: “I’m gonna kill you!” But if you’re one of the three peo­ple who watch our show, hope­fully you’re watch­ing more for the char­ac­ters and story than the politics.

That’s the line, right, “The best show you’re not watch­ing”? Rus­sell: I love that. It’s a sweet spot. Rhys: If some­thing is huge, there’s pressure, ex­pectancy for a fall, whereas we can keep chug­ging along un­der the radar.

Is it un­com­fort­able to watch each other do the sex scenes? Rus­sell: We don’t watch. It’s like — Rhys: [puts hands over eyes] Ah-la-lala! You think you’ll get used to it. You never do.

Rus­sell: It’s dif­fi­cult. But he’s very good at those scenes.

Rhys: I don’t get tense about them. It’s clin­i­cal. You just do them.

Rus­sell: But you’re a very good se­ducer. You like watch­ing tough-guy stuff, but you’re good at the ro­mance stuff.

Rhys: I think you should stop talk­ing now.

Pho­tos. clock­wise from top left, by Myung J. Chun L.A. Times; Jen­nifer S. Alt­man For Times; Craig Blanken­horn FX; Kirk McKoy L.A. Times

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

MATTHEW RHYS and Keri Rus­sell have cap­ti­vated in their roles as Rus­sian spies in FX’s well-re­garded “The Amer­i­cans.”

Matthias Clamer FX

“THE MA­TE­RIAL is in­tense,” says Welsh ac­tor Rhys, who along with Rus­sell has fin­ished five sea­sons of the show.

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