Spoiler Alert: This interview discusses plot points surrounding both season two and season three of “The Americans.”
“The Americans’” Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have been outed. But it wasn’t poor, suffering Martha (Alison Wright) who fingered Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell’s Soviet spies living among the Washington, D.C., middle class. And Noah Emmerich’s FBI agent Stan Beeman is still seemingly blissfully unaware that he’s conveniently living nearby them. Instead, it was the Jennings’ daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) who aired her family’s dirty laundry. Sobbing on the floor of her bedroom, she calls the overly involved Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) to say that “they’re not who they say they are. They’re not … Americans.”
Variety chatted with Taylor about that scene and what it means for Paige — and her parents’ — future on the FX drama.
You recently did an interview with the New York Times where you said you didn’t know how the finale was going to end. What do you mean?
I didn’t know how it was going to end until I did that interview. If I hadn’t done that interview, I probably wouldn’t have known until I watched it.
We filmed that scene and we just did the same thing every time. There were just lines added on at the end … We weren’t sure how they were going to cut what I was going to say. We added lines on at the end and we weren’t sure how much Paige was going to reveal to the audience. They scripted it. They had a strict idea for it. They just weren’t sure where they were going to cut off the lines.
How did you bring up those emotions on screen?
Usually when I have to do scenes like that where I have to cry, I don’t think of anything specifically because that doesn’t usually work for me. Which is weird because I cry pretty easily in real life. I would think that thinking about stubbing my toe or something would make me cry in a scene but that doesn’t work. I have to try and be in the moment for that scene and listen to what the director’s telling me and take it all in and imagine myself in Paige’s shoes.
There was also a storyline this season where Philip had to woo an asset who is around his daughter’s age. Did you talk about that?
We didn’t have any conversations about it, but everyone was pretty much aware even unconsciously. I didn’t even realize until I saw the episode about the parallel between Paige and Kimmy [Julia Garner]. But I guess we didn’t have to try to make them mirror each other too much because of how great the writers are. They would just implement that in there so it was clear to the audience that they have the same look on their life and the same independence and kind of rebellious state from their parents.
Paige has rebelled in an unexpected way because she’s started going to church — something most American teens would eschew.
That’s really interesting because I go to public school in my town. Obviously, I see teenagers and people Paige’s age rebelling from their parents all the time and it’s definitely not through going to church. It’s definitely interesting to see what it’s like when you’re living with Soviets and their values and their priorities. Religion is one of the things in American culture that is desired and looked up to and (Philip and Elizabeth) see it as despicable and they don’t really want Paige to be involved with that. It’s really interesting that Paige chooses that as her form of rebellion.
It makes sense that she’s interested in the church because she doesn’t have the security at home that most of her friends have … she needs to find security in the church.
We’ve had some recent TV shows — “The Americans,” “Mad Men” and “Homeland,” for example — where the teen characters are getting significant storylines and scenes. What do you think about that?
I think it’s really awesome, especially because I’m one of the kids. But I definitely have seen that change even while I was on “The Americans.” Season one, Paige and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) were just in the background setting up the storyline for Elizabeth and Philip. It’s really cool to be more involved in the show and have a bigger role, and I was really excited to take on the responsibility. It’s really cool how people are giving teenagers a chance on adult shows.
Where you prepared for how intense playing the character of Paige was going to get?
I wasn’t prepared because I never really knew where anything was going. Even during season three, I wasn’t really sure what was happening throughout the season until I got each script. I wasn’t really prepared for it, but I was excited to take on anything that they gave me. I guess I prepared the week that they gave up the script.
How do you balance being an actress with being a regular teen?
I keep it pretty separate. I don’t talk about it much in school. Most of my friends kind of forget about it, which I prefer. I separate it most of the time, but there was one episode from season three that attached to me personally for some reason — not that I could relate to it, but I felt so emotionally drained afterward especially with the stress of school and everything.
It was the episode after my parents revealed to me who they were. That one had so many scenes with so many different emotions from Paige. There was a lot going on in her head … and we did all that in one week so I had all these emotions flying all over the place.
It’s like Paige goes through the five stages of grief.
Yeah. I always say that each person in that situation would react differently. And I’m not sure many people would just get up and brush it off their shoulder and be happy that their parents are Soviet spies at that time. But there’s so many emotions that she goes through and it just happened to be a lot of them were in that one episode.
Have you talked about what will happen next season with Paige?
I’m not sure what is happening at all. I never really am. I guess it’s more fun that way. No one’s really talked about it, but I have let it slip in there a few times that I would really like it if Paige was a spy.
I think it would fun to play. I think it would be so cool if Paige worked past her rebellious phase and accepted her parents now that she knows who they are and then joined forces with them.
Something similar happened last season and it didn’t go well. Hopefully it’ll turn out better for you than the last kid spy.
Yes. I really hope so. I do not want Paige to die.