When they were in KGB spy school in 1962, the young Russians now known as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings couldn't say "nyet" when they were ordered to marry and move to suburban Virginia. Eighteen years and two kids later, the question is, will the couple finally find true love with each other undercover?
On location in Queens, where they're filming a scene that involves an armed and dangerous little girl, The Americans costars Keri Russell, 37, and Matthew Rhys, 38, banter and finish each other's thoughts as they contemplate that idea and more.
TV Guide Magazine: Even when you're not on camera, you two act like an old married couple.
Rhys: That's a rumor! This is the only time you'll see us out together, engaging in anything remotely close to a conversation.
Russell: I request no eye contact.
Rhys: When Elizabeth put a knife to Philip's neck in the pilot, that wasn't scripted. It was purely reflex that saved my life! [Laughs]
TV Guide Magazine: Was it our imagination or did their relationship become deeper after Philip killed Elizabeth's old KGB rapist?
Russell: That was a huge turning point for Elizabeth, because this was really the first time that she felt taken care of by someone. That's what created an opening for them.
Rhys: This season is about the first timid steps of trying to define what they will become.
Russell: He always liked her a little more than she liked him — like in any good marriage. [Laughs]
Rhys: Which makes for great conflict. As does the fact that he wants to put his family first. He's realizing that their life is unsustainable and their children will suffer.
TV Guide Magazine: Could Philip really convince Elizabeth, a true believer in the Soviet system, to defect to save their children?
Rhys: Yes, but he's wracked by genuine doubt as to whether that's possible. She's incredibly cold.
Russell: Not cold — she's just complicated.
TV Guide Magazine: Is it real love now?
Russell: Let's not get carried away. No one should get too comfortable.
Rhys: Their relationship is like a chess match.
TV Guide Magazine: But jealously has entered the equation for the first time, right?
Russell: It starts becoming real jealousy. Philip felt enormously hurt by Elizabeth's affair with fellow spy Gregory [Derek Luke].
TV Guide Magazine: Knowing that, why did Philip have sex with his former Russian girlfriend Irina?
Rhys: After learning that Elizabeth betrayed him again by reporting his wavering commitment to their KGB handlers, the move into Irina's arms was very easy for him.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the fallout from the Irina incident in tonight's episode?
Rhys: Elizabeth finally makes an important gesture to Philip regarding their marriage, but it's too late. It makes him regret sleeping with Irina enormously.
TV Guide Magazine: Would the KGB really allow the marriage to end?
Russell: That's the discussion right now. They're partners, but do they have to be married?
TV Guide Magazine: What's happening with Philip's escalating honey-trap wooing of smitten FBI clerk Martha [Alison Wright]?
Rhys: It's an out-of-control juggernaut. Each week she wants more of an emotional commitment, which he must acquiesce to in order to keep his cover as "Clark." It could be very dangerous.
TV Guide Magazine: This is such a different role for you, Keri. What made the producers see darkness in someone who's been so winning on screen ever since Felicity?
Russell: Elizabeth is unsympathetic in a lot of ways. They needed someone who everyone thinks is nice. But they should see the real me, demanding chocolate and coffee on set!
TV Guide Magazine: And Matthew, how did Brothers & Sisters' Kevin Walker make the producers think of the KGB?
Rhys: They saw me in Look Back in Anger on Broadway and asked me to audition.
TV Guide Magazine: And that led to the slap that won you the role?
Russell: In Matthew's audition scene, I was supposed to slap Philip. The other actors flinched, which our director Gavin O'Connor didn't like. This time, he whispered, "Really slap him!" I guess a more professional person would have faked it, but I slapped him so hard I could see my handprint on his face. He didn't flinch; he just turned and looked at me, and Gavin said, "That's what I want."
Rhys: I was still drunk from the night before — didn't feel a thing. [Both laugh]
Russell: I felt instantly comfortable with Matthew. [To Rhys] Joe Weisberg [the executive producer] said after the first time you came in, "I instantly believe they're a couple."
Rhys: That's good, because the attraction for both of us in this project was that in the center of all this madness is the relationship.
Russell: I feel like the spy stuff helps elevate the stakes. It's really more a story about their complicated marriage.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you similar in your work styles or opposites who complement each other?
Russell: We're both pretty easygoing. I do want to say that, because Matthew is this fancy-pants trained actor, it's like in the Tour de France when there's a front rider and the second person drafts off him. I'm drafting off Matthew.
Rhys: Which I will say is absolute rubbish. We draft off each other!
The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX.