The Russians are coming! FX's buzzy new drama The Americans, premiering tonight, finds Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell playing a pair of married KGB agents posing as normal suburbanites in Washington, D.C. during the height of the Cold War. We caught up with former Brothers & Sisters star Rhys, a natural-born charmer, for a lightning-round of questions about dangerous spy games, bad ‘80s fashion and giving pal Damian Lewis of Homeland a run for next year's Emmy.
Why did you decide to sign on for this show?
Matthew Rhys: It's one of those pilots where you go, oh God, this has everything—action, espionage and, at its core, this incredibly complex relationship between two people. They've been living in an arranged marriage but my character is now starting to develop real emotion. To me, that's the really interesting part. However big the concept or the explosions, ultimately human relationships are what everyone can relate to and what everyone loves
What can you tell us about your character?
When we first meet Philip, he's at this incredibly transient time in his life where he realizes the lives they're leading have an expiry date and it will all probably end horrifically unless they take action. He wants to defect. And then there's the fact that he's now falling for the first time properly for his wife of 15 years. [laughs] It's like, "Love me, I love you!"
Did you know Keri before this?
We met at a kickball game many years ago in Santa Monica. We have mutual friends. But we had to do a chemistry test for this. The show kind of relies on our chemistry—or our lack of it—in the beginning. And that in itself is a very specific kind of chemistry.
One of the challenges of this role must be all the accents. You're Welsh but here you speak with an American accent and sometimes a Russian one.
I don't even know who I am half the day! It's a nightmare being me.
You're the Meryl Streep of TV drama.
[laughs] If I die, I want that on my tombstone: The Meryl Streep of TV drama! I think that's the best thing I've ever heard—thank you! I shall take that literally to my grave.
Complete this sentence: Because the show is set in the ‘80s--
We have horrific clothes! There's a couple times Keri walked out in the high-waisted jeans and I was like, whoa! There's a very strong reason why those didn't last.
Series creator Joe Weisberg actually worked for the CIA for a time. Did you pick his brain for tips on how to play a spy?
Yeah! He took me and Keri out and gave us a little seminar about surveillance and counter-surveillance. What to do if you're being tailed and all that stuff. You're just like, "Holy s---, this is the real deal! Obviously I can't tell you anything more or else I'd have to kill you with this cup. Which I can. Or these mints. Which are poisoned. [laughs]
The Americans is being compared to Homeland. What do you make of that?
It makes me a little nervous because Homeland was an incredible show and you never wanna be compared to an incredible show. You always wanna be your own. We are a very different show with a different premise. But I do wanna phone my friend Damian.
And say what? "You won the Emmy this year but I'm coming for you next year?"
"I'm on your tail, buddy!"
How twisty-turny should we expect this show to get?
There are more twists and turns than a roller coaster! The third episode is like, holy s---! Keri's character, Elizabeth, has a big revelation that throws a major wrench into whether Philip wants to be with her or not.
Can you give us a hint?
She's a lesbian! [laughs] No, that'll be season two when we're clutching at straws.
For more The Americans scoop from Rhys, check out the video below!
The Americans premieres tonight on FX.