FX’s critically acclaimed “The Americans” returns tonight for its third season, which finds spy couple Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) at odds over whether to recruit their daughter into the family business. Variety talked to Rhys about what’s in store for the secret agents:
What would you say is the theme of this season?
The enormous one, the prevailing one, is the arc of our daughter, Paige, and the cavernous division between the two of us as to the decision of where her future lies and whether she’s told the truth or not. My position is vehemently no. I want to protect her and her innocence and her life as much as possible. But Elizabeth is reneging. In season one, she was, no, we should never tell the kids. Turncoat!
Could this fight break up the marriage?
It’s a subject that could. It’s always been a marriage of extremes. That’s why it’s so relatable to audiences. If ultimately the result is putting your child in harm’s way, it could permanently damage the marriage. It could quite possibly end it…. We’re about to get episode 10. It’s the culmination of the relentless arguing about it. Something’s going to give. I’m interested to see what is. Whether one of us walks, whether we tell her, whether she finds out — I don’t know what it is.
What would you like to see happen?
I’d love Philip to defect. I’d like the whole family to defect, and for Philip to start working with the FBI. That’s how I think he could secure his kids’ future. I marginally pitched it to (executive producers) Joe (Weisberg) and Joel (Fields), and they were like, no.
Can we look forward to more stunts from you this year?
There’s less this year, which I’m annoyed about, because they’re fun. It’s a break from the intense emotions. It’s like going for a run after a heavy day. I miss them. I only have one fight sequence so far this season.
So Keri gets all the fun?
I think because of her dance training, she’s just better at it. She can learn a routine very quickly. In our series there’s no time.
But surely you’ll have more wigs?
Yes, more bloody wigs! My action sequences happen on my head. There are two new favorites. One’s quite hilarious. Am I just playing this like a game show host? This could be shot down in flames. Or is this in any way credible?
Is Philip ever honest?
Yes, he is. The bizarre element for Philip and Elizabeth is their great moments of confessional truth come out in a lie. They’re using the more truthful elements of their past to convince or dupe someone else. That’s when you have the greatest insight into them. Bizarrely enough in this season, a lot of the way he speaks to Martha is incredibly truthful. It’s not just façade anymore. It’s starting to spill out. (Philip and Elizabeth) want it as well. They can’t just live on lies anymore. The cracks are starting to show, massively.
Paige is certainly picking up on it.
I just think when you have someone going from young kid to inquisitive teenager, you realize you can’t suffocate them anymore, or blind them or smokescreen them. Something’s gotta give.
What about their son, Henry?
Oh, he’s ridiculous. He doesn’t know what day it is. He’s no danger to himself or anyone else.
You’ve got a great guest star this season in Frank Langella.
The old silverback! The presence that he brings into the room, the professionalism, the intensity. It’s like any good tennis player — they up your game.
Would you like to see the return of Margo Martindale?
I wold love to see Margo and Frank in the same room. They have that same presence. They bring it. It would be like two heavyweights going at it.
Do you ever get recognized on the street?
Very rarely, which is great. My disguises are working. I get more people recognizing me on the street for “Brothers & Sisters” than for “The Americans.”
Co-star Noah Emmerich (who plays FBI Agent Stan Beeman) directed an episode this season. What was it like to be directed by him?
Amazing. He took to it like a duck to water. He is one of those actors who is always bubbling with ideas. That just lends itself to directing. The way he moves a camera was very impressive. He should definitely do it again.
Do you have any desire to direct on “The Americans”?
No, not this show! This is like a s–t show. There are so many moving parts to this show. He did everything: There’s a stunt sequence, and a car sequence, and heavy emotion. It’s everything — in seven days. It’s insane! I used to direct “Brothers and Sisters,” and I loved it. But that’s about a group of people in a room talking. A stunt sequence is opening a bottle of wine.