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Matthew Rhys Talks Season 3 of The Americans 


Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

I always get so excited with each new season of this show. I want to see how Matthew Rhys‘ Philip and Keri Russell‘s Elizabeth fall more in love with each other, while they continue this life of deception and betrayal. As you know, things got even more complicated at the end of last season when the Claudia told them about the Centre’s plan for second-generations. So, on top of everything else they now have to worry about keeping Paige out of this life. TV Goodness participated in a press call earlier this week with series star Matthew Rhys. He talked about what we can look forward to this season, his plight to keep Paige away from the Centre and what might be in store for Martha.

Photo Credit: Frank Micelotta/FX
Photo Credit: Frank Micelotta/FX

What are you most excited about for season three? Anything upcoming that you can talk about that you’re really excited about?

Matthew Rhys: “To me, what was always exciting was when I first read the first pilot of this the most alluring for me was this incredibly complex relationship, at its heart, and how that would resolve and manifest itself. That’s what’s always of interest to me.

I think this year, the conflict between Philip and Elizabeth about Paige, it’s the more extreme version of what so many marriages and relationships go through in the raising of children. It’s the absolute conflict that interests me, like how it will resolve itself and the very rocky journey of getting there.”

Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX
Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX

At the end of last season we got the big news that the center is going to be trying to recruit Elizabeth and Philip’s daughter Paige and we see that this is going to set up a conflict. Elizabeth seems to be more open to this idea of their daughter becoming a spy than Philip is. Can you talk about how that conflict is going to affect their marriage and affect the family in season three?

Matthew: “Yes, it’s the predominant and overriding arc for Philip and Elizabeth during this season, which is this enormous conflict between them that sets them poles apart, really, as they come from two opposing sides as to what should be done about Paige. Really, the entire season is that grapple and that wrestle between the two as they thrash it out.”

What do you think is driving his belief that he really wants to keep his daughter out of this business?

Matthew: “A number of things. Ultimately, as we’ve seen a flashback in one and two, Philip and Elizabeth were children when they were picked? They were in late teenage years and I think heavily indoctrinated.

You look back at your own age, you’re not very sure who you are at that time. He’s found himself in a vocation that he really didn’t choose in a way; it chosen for him, thrust upon him and he’s evolving at a time and bursting out at a time when he realized it probably isn’t the life that he would have chosen nor is it the life he wants and the same applies heavily for his daughter.

He doesn’t want her pushed into something at such a young, vulnerable, impressionable age whereby in a few years she’s in up over her head because it’s not a job you can quit overnight or walk away from. He doesn’t want her to have to do the many awful things that he has to do in order to stay alive and, therefore, keep the family alive.”

We meet Gabriel in the season three premiere. Can you talk a little bit about working with Frank Langella and what’s coming up with him?

Matthew: “It’s sort of like having a silverback gorilla come onto the set in the best way possible. He’s this dominant, physical, mental, emotional, presence that stiffens and straightens everyone’s back and lifts everyone’s game, certainly.

The premise in which they set him, him being influential and instrumental in the training of Philip and Elizabeth is great because it gives you instant history that he just does effortlessly. He has this commanding presence that builds a great conflict between them all.

Working with him has been fantastic as he turned up with this natural presence and he is ready to listen, he’s ready to play and he plays at a very high standard, which makes it exciting for us.

Can you talk a little bit about what’s coming up with him this season?

Matthew: “Yes. In the same way I think Philip feels a little isolated in the fact that Gabriel and Elizabeth are obviously the more staunch diehards of the part. The mission and the party come before anything else and he’s very onboard for bringing Paige into the fold whereas Philip isn’t and feels a great sense of betrayal.

What happens is Philip is isolated from the two of them and feels betrayed and that is the bigger arc for him and Gabriel, that sense of betrayal and conflict in the fact that he doesn’t want his daughter to follow his footsteps.”

What do you think it would take to change Philip’s mind or do you think that he’s staunch in his belief that Paige should not follow in her parents’ footsteps?

Matthew: “I think he’s absolutely immovable in that respect. There’s nothing on God’s green earth that could make him acquiesce to the fact that she should join the KGB or, indeed, the intelligence world.”

You say Paige is young and impressionable, but she’s going into the church and she’s following that religious life and how that’s her at a young and impressionable age. What do you think makes the difference for Philip in between those two lives?

Matthew: “Well, if you look at the lives, really, when they’re killing people and having sex with them for intelligence as opposed to – yes, it’s secular in one way, but ultimately it’s a communal, supportive group that has a strong belief, which is the same, but there’s no risk of being killed or hurt or imprisoned as a direct result of your job.

I think there’s great responsibility, there’s great guilt on Philip and Elizabeth’s part as she joined the church group because they’ve been absent parents in their children’s lives up until this point. It’s a very real reason why she’s sought that support and that comfort from a group elsewhere. I think children tend to find the rebellion of the opposition of what their parents want. For them, it was the church.

In a couple years’ time she might say, ‘That wasn’t for me,’ no harm done whereas I’m sure to join the KGB or anything related in that sense, that’s it. Once you’re in, that’s it. There’s no turning back.”

This season Philip and Elizabeth are extremely focused on Paige now that the center has kind of zoned in on her as being a recruit, but do you think that all this attention that they’re focusing on Paige is affecting Henry in some way? There was his breaking and entering last season and this season he’s hoarding bikini photos of his neighbor and there’s no telling what else he’s going to do. Do you think that all this attention on Paige is just going to come back to them with Henry?

Matthew: “I do, I do. There’s this deliberate silent watching and listening from Henry throughout the season. I’m very interested as to how that will manifest itself in him. It’s clearly that absence he feels and the dysfunction and the distance I’m sure he feels will have to come out in some way, form or another. I look forward to seeing that.”

Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX
Photo Credit: James Minchin/FX

Martha is determined to have a future with Clark despite all the warning signs of him not being available. They’re keeping their marriage a secret and they don’t live together. How much longer do you think that this ruse can last, this fake marriage with Martha constantly questioning their future together, wanting to foster a child and eventually have one of their own?

Matthew: “Philip is very aware that it can’t sustain itself. He can’t keep at arm’s length, fobbing her off and leading her down a certain garden path about having children and the rest of it. I think it affects him enormously, the playing with her emotions, but I think he knows full well that it’s like his life in a way.

It can’t sustain itself and ultimately, something will have to give. More often than not, undoubtedly, it will be with relatively disastrous consequences.

That’s unfortunate. I like Martha.

Matthew: “I know. I think I, as has Philip, have enormous compassion and empathy for Martha. It manifests itself in the great guilt as to the puppeting of someone’s feelings and journey in life.”

In the first episode this season we see that Philip actually has a more pragmatic approach to the deaths that are around him. Last season we saw how he derailed emotionally because of that, so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that shift.

Matthew: “It was a combination of things that came to a head last year. Philip sat on so many enormous emotions for so long that it basically built and built and built and it erupted in that moment with Paige. Paige has been on the receiving end of it. It’s all about Paige but nothing to do with Paige, you know what I mean, but she received the wrath of it.

In some ways it was a minor breakdown on Philip’s behalf that he’s now recovered from and he has some distance and some perspective on it and realizes that it’s just now something he has to accept. It affected him enormously up until that point. He viciously disagrees with it but he accepts it now as a bigger picture. It’s basically to keep himself, his wife and his family alive and then it’s a necessary, an enormous necessary evil in that greater picture.”

Since you play several characters, what has been the most challenging or easiest part to play?

Matthew: “I’m still figuring out if there is indeed an easy part to playing him. He continues to be as layered and rich and complex as he has been from the beginning.

The harder part for me is to land him in a place of reality, somewhere that’s real for me and hopefully real for an audience in that someone who has to juggle and keep as many plates in the air as Philip does, the pressure that that would bring. For me, it’s the hardest balancing act.

We’ve seen a pretty major difference between who Philip is as a spy and also who he wants to be as a person. Do you think it’s possible that the character of Clark is actually closer to who Philip sees himself as outside of the spy world?

Matthew: “That’s a very good question. I would agree. I think he’s arrived at a place in his life where it’s exactly what he does want. He does want a sort of domestic contentment. He wants a simpler life within a healthy working relationship where there’s mutual respect. And yes, there’s a large element of Clark and Martha that serves that.”

I always felt from the first season when it shows Philip initially ripping the picture in two of the young girl right before he meets Elizabeth, I always felt that there was something about that that connected him to her emotionally from the very beginning. Would you say that Philip fell in love with her from the moment he saw her or was he just more open to it because he was obviously more open to it being real than she was?

Matthew: “No, I’m a romantic in that sense. I do think that he fell in love with her in the beginning. Yes, so yes is the short answer. I think he is emotionally a lot more available and open and that doesn’t serve him well in this business at times.”

Is it harder for him to shut that down than when he has to go into the field?

Matthew: “It is, it is. It takes its toll deep down with Philip. I think it does affect him and as we’ve seen, it’s a problem that comes back. It’s the return of the repressed. It comes back to haunt him.”

Could you speak at all on your affinity for this script and what your relationship is like with the writers and this new plot going on with Paige and everything?

Matthew: “I’ve always said television is the absolute writers medium and there’s a reason we’re in the golden age of television. It’s because the writing in this day and age is so incredibly good and never more so than in our show, where as I’ve said time and time again, the layering, the complexity of what they give us to play is so enormously interesting and difficult and challenging and dynamic. We thank them a lot as well.”

Edited for space and content.

“EST Men” synopsis, from FX:

Tensions simmer between Philip and Elizabeth as they disagree over handling orders from the Centre. When Elizabeth loses key intel, Philip enlists Annelise on a mission with an unexpected outcome. Stan tries a new approach to mending his marriage with Sandra amidst learning tough news about Nina.

Season 3 of The Americans premieres Wednesday, January 28th at 10/9c on FX.

Season 3 First Look:

Season 2: A Look Back

Season 1: A Look Back

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