"Americans" stars: Opposite routes to a splendid result


This is a terrific time for cable's FX network, with two superb 10 p.m. dramas back-to-back -- "Justified" (which started its final season Jan. 20) on Tuesdays, "The Americans" (which starts its third season Jan. 28) on Wednesdays. There's also comedy -- a pretty good one ("Archer") now on Thursdays, an excellent one (Billy Crystal and Josh Gad in "The Comedians") coming up. Here's the "Americans" story I sent to papers:

 

By MIKE HUGHES

PASADENA, Cal. -- As
“The Americans” starts its new season – finding deep emotion
amid sex, spies and violence – we're reminded of something actor
John Shea said decades ago.

Actors can take
different routes to the same spot, he said. Some study intensively,
some learn by doing.

Shea saw that in his
career. He did the studying – Bates College, Yale Drama School
(where Meryl Streep was a classmate), Lee Strasberg's method-acting
classes; then he was stunned by the learn-by-doing talent of Sissy
Spacek (in the 1981 “Missing”) and Farrah Fawcett (1989 “Small
Sacrifices”).

Now that same point
is proven by “Americans” stars Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell.

“There is just
more than one way to skin a cat,” Rhys agreed. “(We) have very
different ways of working, but we're very like-minded in sort of
taste and temperature and vision.”

He's the product of
a fancy, British-style education – first in Wales (where his mom
was a teacher and his dad was headmaster), then at the Royal Academy
of Dramatic Art.

And she? “I think
'The Mickey Mouse Club' was very fancy as well,” Russell
deadpanned.

She made her TV
debut at 15, as an “MMC” regular, and stayed for three years.
Subsequent shows – comedies and the teen-angst “Malibu Shore”
-- were undemanidng. Then, suddenly, she was an actress.

Jill Clayburgh
noticed that after playing Russell's mother in “When Innocence is
Lost”; many people noticed it in “Felicity.” Russell won a
Golden Globe as Felicity; for “Americans,” she and Rhys drew
Critics Choice nominations in each of their first two seasons.

There's been much
more: The Television Critics Association has nominated Rhys both
years; it named “Americans” the best new series in 2013 and
nominated it for best series in 2014. Both years, the American Film
Institute called it one of the 10 best shows. This is far from
“Maibu Shores” turf.

Consider it “maybe
the nature of getting older,” said Russell, 38. “Things get more
intertesting.”

She and Rhys play
Russian spies, disguising for decades as ordinary suburbanites and
fooling even their own children. At times, they must also pretend to
be other people.

These are not showy
transformationss, Rhys said. “You keep the lie as close to the
truth as possible.”

Still, it's complex:
Actors portray people who are living a lie ... and then those people
portray others.

The key moments are
often the subtle ones at home. The season-opener silently shows
Russell's face as a phone call brings devastating news from Russia.

Most of the toughest
scenes are personal ... especially now that their bosses want them to
tell Paige, their teen daughter, who they really are and then involve
her in their schemes.

Such things have
really happened, producer Joe Weisberg said. “There are a couple of
historical examples ... where the kids were recruited into the
(Russian) service.”

That brings new
disputes. Philip (Rhys), who flirts with the idea of quitting, wants
to keep the kids out of this; Elizabeth (Russell), a hard-liner,
disagrees and fumes at Paige's interest in Christianity.

“She's this
mother who's watching a daughter being indocrinated (in something)
that is so polar opposite to what she believes,” Russell said. If
Paige is going to be indoctrinated, she feels, “it's going to be by
me. It's not going to be by some kid with a guitar.”

That's complex
territory. And yes, it's a long way from “Malibu Shores” and the
Mickey Mouse Club.

“The Americans,”
10 p.m. Wednesdays, FX

Third season opens
Jan. 28, reruns at 11:06 p.m. and 1:26 a.m.