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‘The Americans’ Star Matthew Rhys Sticks Up For His Character at Season 4 Premiere

FX premiered the fourth season of its award-winning drama “The Americans” Saturday night at New York University’s Skirball Theater, with an after-party held at the Italian restaurant Cipriani.

The Americans” follows the lives of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, a suburban couple in the ’80s that are secretly undercover KGB agents working to bring down America. Creator Joe Weisberg, a former CIA officer, and fellow exec producer Joel Fields, have been balancing family drama, historical themes, shocking twists, brutal action scenes and twisty espionage plots for four years now. But despite their close working relationship, it turns out that there is still one key issue about the series that they disagree on.

“I think Joel is still not on board with this after four years and it’s our one active bone of contention,” Weisberg told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere. “I think you are supposed to root for the KGB.”

Joel doesn’t see it that way. “I think when the show works, you are supposed to root for Philip and Elizabeth, and that’s very different than rooting for the KGB,” he said. “There is something about seeing the other, the enemy, as a human being, which I think is very rich, but I think that doesn’t mean we’re trying to convince anybody that the KGB was the right way to go.”

“I didn’t say that,” Weisberg said. “I didn’t say the KGB was the right way to go, but once you’re rooting for Philip and Elizabeth, you’re rooting for the KGB.”

“No, no, I disagree,” Fields retorted, before joking to Variety, “And you can write in brackets, ‘Joel punched Joe.'”

Without giving too much away, the season finds Kelly AuCoin‘s Pastor Tim becoming a central threat, which was a surprise to the actor, who didn’t initially think he would survive the episode where his character was introduced. “When I was reading the script, Philip came into the church with his killing gloves on. I was surprised as it happened.” Dylan Baker also joins the series as a biochemical warfare scientist; the role required a scene where his character is spit on “quite a few times,” he said with a laugh. “And it was of course at night, exterior in New York which is always fun, because it’s always freezing in some way or another.”

Much of season four is driven by the internal conflict of the Jennings’ daughter Paige, played Holly Taylor, who at the end of the last season told Pastor Tim about her parents’ double life. “She’s very confused as to whether she should trust her parents — she’s grown up with them all these years and they’ve never done anything to hurt her,” Taylor said. “So she has that reason to trust them, but at the same time, she doesn’t know how to do that anymore because she’s lost a sense of who they are.”

Weisberg and Fields are so deeply committed to historical accuracy that they consult a calendar to make sure that the television programs the characters watch did, in fact, air on the date an episode takes place. So while they occasionally joke about letting the Russians win the Cold War, as they’ve begun planning the end game for the series they’ve strived to stay as truthful as possible. They’ve recently begun planning the end, and Fields thinks they will do “five or six” seasons in total.

Matthew Rhys, who plays Philip, says that even though the Russians lose the Cold War, it doesn’t necessarily mean his character can’t have a happy ending. “If he defected to the Americans they could all live happily ever after,” he said. “I hope it (happens). I don’t want to go to prison.”

But while Philip has killed several innocent people and committed plenty of terrible acts in the name of Mother Russia, Rhys said he never views the character as evil “for the sole reason that he’s not going out killing people just for kicks. He’s serving a very strict mandate from a higher authority, and if he doesn’t, he’ll go to prison and he won’t see his kids again,” he said. “So his motivation for what he does is incredibly pure.”

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