The Americans - Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys
The Americans - Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) ©2013 FX, photo by Frank Ockenfels

Set in 1980, F/X’s new drama The Americans, premiered yesterday, January 30th, stars Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters) and Keri Russell (Felicity, Dark Skies) as Philip and Elizabeth Jenkins, the parents of two children,13 and 10, living in the suburbs of Washington DC But they aren’t what they seem. They are, in fact, two KGB spies in an arranged marriage, posing as Americans during the cold war.

Keri and Matthew spoke about their intriguing new series at the TV Critics tour.

How much of a bible was made of this, do you know your full back story?

2013 FX Winter TCA Press Tour Panels
The Americans – Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys participates in a panel at the 2013 Winter TCA Press Tour at The Langham Huntington on January 9, 2013 in Pasadena, California ©2013 FX, photo by Frank Ockenfels

Keri: We’re still pretty early on in the series, but I’ve read biographies to help fill in their story. How did these people live this black and white life?

Philip starts out in the pilot already becoming enamored with America. Where does this go for him?

Matthew: It’s quite a journey for him. There are elements of materialism that he enjoys as a by-product of what he ultimately wants, which is to make sure that his family is safe.

I researched what Russia would have been like for him growing up as a child, coming out of the Second World War, which was incredibly bleak and a difficult period. So I think if you compare the two it’s understandable why he enjoys a good car and cowboy boots.

Elizabeth is much more devoted to the KGB than Philip is.

The Americans 101 - Keidrich Sellati, Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell and Holly Taylor
The Americans 101 – Henry Jennings (Keidrich Sellati), Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) and Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor) ©2013 FX, photo by Craig Blankenhorn

Matthew: Yeah, she scares the sh-t out of me.

Keri: Like all wives do.

Did you have to do any kind of special training for these roles?

Matthew: Yes. I had to stop drinking for many days when Keri had a knife in her hand!

We did a couple of weeks of martial arts training, and I’d done a little bit prior to that. May I speak on your behalf?

Keri: You may.

Matthew: Her dance background lent itself perfectly to kicking men’s heads through walls. We were lucky there was a combination of past experiences and a little bit of training and sobriety.

Can you talk about kicking that guy through a wall?

The Americans - Keri Russell
The Americans – Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) ©2013 FX, photo by Frank Ockenfels

Keri: Yeah. It was terrible to do. The guy who I actually kicked in the head look at me before, and he said he could see that I was nervous to do it.

He grabbed me and said, ‘Listen, do it, and do it right because if you mess it up, we’re going to have to do it again, and then I’m going to be pissed.’ I just had to shut the world out and do it.

The cool part of this job is experiencing that kind of masculine aggression.

What’s it like doing a period piece?

The Americans - Matthew Rhys
The Americans – Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) ©2013 FX, photo by Frank Ockenfels

Matthew: There have been times when the prop department brings out this espionage equipment that we’re using, and I think, ‘I thought this was 1980, not 1940.’ You forget that in comparison to today, some of the espionage [gadgets] were very primitive.

What’s it like working with each other?

Keri: So boring. What a loser! First of all, [he’s Welsh,] and I can’t understand anything he’s saying. (she laughs)

Matthew: She’s great when she’s sober. (he laughs) Given a piece like this where it’s all about the relationship, you pray that you’ll get on, and luckily we come from the same ideas, which is fantastic.

We’re like minded. She has a great sense of fun, and you need it in this business with the hours you work.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.