As Phillip Jennings, the ‘married’ Soviet sleeper spy husband to Keri Russell’s Elizabeth on FX’s The Americans, Welsh thesp Matthew Rhys is called upon to flawlessly snake through a ringer of emotions. Beyond the demands of Phillip’s day job that’s full of disguises and a fake marriage, he’s been hitting his head against the wall in the show’s second season between his goody-two shoes daughter Paige who is swept up with a Born-again Christian group and his fellow comrade wife who isn’t as drunk on U.S. capitalism like Philip is. Prior to The Americans, Rhys was known to U.S. audiences as Kevin Walker, the gay lawyer on ABC’s Brothers & Sisters as well as Demetrius in Julie Taymor’s big screen Shakespeare adaptation Titus. At home in the U.K., Rhys made his mark with such stage productions as The Graduate, playing Benjamin to Kathleen Turner’s Mrs. Robinson, and in the BBC crime action drama series Backup. Click through to read the interview:
Christy Grosz is a contributor to Awardsline.
Playing a Cold War-era Russian spy undercover in the United States on FX’s The Americans offers Keri Russell plenty of opportunities for hand-to-hand combat. But Russell says she doesn’t focus much on the spy stuff in building her character, Elizabeth Jennings. She’s more interested in the show’s complicated relationships, particularly the marriage between Elizabeth and Phillip, played by Matthew Rhys. Russell, perhaps best known for her starring role on the WB’s Felicity in the late ’90s, next will star in Fox’s July release Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Here, she discusses those wacky ’80s wigs and why she turned down the role of Elizabeth three times.
AWARDSLINE: What made you want to come back to series TV?
KERI RUSSELL: As an actor, you’re at the mercy of what’s around, what comes your way, and I definitely have been taking some time out raising my family. Although I wasn’t looking for a TV job at all, this had a really great pilot. It sounded fresh. My image (after) reading (Elizabeth) the first time was Brigitte Nielsen in Rocky. I was like, “OK, she’s this kick-ass Russian—cold, beautiful, sexy. How did this make its way to me?” So I obviously said no about three times, and then (FX president) John Landgraf just sold me on it. He basically said, “No, that’s the whole point. We want someone who’s instantly relatable, and kind, and all those things that people project onto you.” And I’m so glad I said yes. It’s always a gamble—every job you take—but this one has been really interesting these last couple of seasons.
The Americans creator/executive Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields told a PaleyFest: Made in NY crowd tonight that their show’s second season will expand from exploring the marriage of two spies to focus more on their family. FX’s Cold War-era drama, created by former CIA agent Weisberg, stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Soviet intelligence agents posing as an average American couple with two kids. The panel included the two EPs, Russell, Rhys and Noah Emmerich, who portrays the couple’s neighbor, nosy FBI agent Stan Beeman.
Although the kids are kept in the dark about their parents’ occupation, the first-season finale included the couple’s 13-year-old daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) snooping into forbidden territory. Following the panel, which was moderated by New York magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz, one audience member probed for details about whether Season 2 would spotlight the spy kids. Answered Fields: “I think we can say as much as, last season was the exploration of a marriage [and the news season] would draw a big concentric circle” around that marital unit to include Paige and her 10-year-old brother Henry (Keidrich Sellati). “That moment with Paige is a hint to some of the direction we will go.”
Keri Russell strays just a weensy bit from her badass Soviet spy character in FX’s The Americans for her latest film role. In the Sundance rom-com Austenland, she plays Jane, a single gal with a borderline-unhealthy Jane Austen obsession who’s looking for her very own Mr. Darcy. She books a pricey stay at the resort billed as “the world’s only immersive Austen experience,” but — having bought the lowest-level Austenland package — she is relegated to the servants’ quarters. Jane is determined, though: “An Austen heroine gets engaged by the end of the book,” she asserts. “That is what I am going to do.” J.J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Seymour also star in the pic directed by Jerusha Hess, who co-scripted with the source novel’s author Shannon Hale. Produced by (Twihard alert!) Stephenie Meyer, Gina Mingacci and Meghan Hibbett, the Sony Pictures Classics film opens August 16. The first trailer:
It’s titled “Unmentionables”. Sony Pictures Wide World Acquisitions picked up the movie earlier this week at Sundance. Sony Pictures Classics plans a summer release of the Jerusha Hess-directed film that stars Keri Russell as a Jane Austen fanatic who visits a theme park where the action in the clip takes place. Austenland is produced by The Twilight Saga‘s Stephenie Meyer.
Watch It On YouTube: Austenland “Unmentionables” Clip
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
What was it like to be a KGB spy posing as a suburban American at the height of the Cold War? This is the question at the heart of the new FX period drama The Americans, which was rolled out for critics during the FX panel at TCA before lunch. The hour stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as KGB operatives posing as an American couple with two kids and living in Washington, D.C. shortly after Ronald Reagan’s election as President in 1981. It’s inspired by the real-life story that broke in 2010 about sleeper Russian agents who had infiltrated American society and ultimately were exposed. “That was absolutely the inspiration for the show,” noted creator and exec producer Joe Weisberg, who was himself a CIA agent from 1990-94. “I got a call from DreamWorks TV about trying to create a TV show from that event.” He said it wasn’t really going anywhere until those involved hit on the idea of setting it in 1981 during rising Cold War tensions, “a time when we were really enemies with that nation” following Reagan’s declaration of it as the “Evil Empire.” It’s only really now that a story like this could be woven with potentially sympathetic Soviet characters… We want you to root for the KGB,” Weisberg emphasized. “Enough time has passed where people are willing to look with their hearts and try to understand,” he said. “By the same token, trying to tell the story of al-Qaeda now would would be impossible. It’s just too soon.”
Scott Stewart wrote and directed this tale of alien abduction. Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton star in the Dimension thriller set for release February 22nd:
Former Felicity star Keri Russell has signed on to play the lead in Dark Skies, the supernatural thriller written and to be directed by Scott Stewart for Dimension Films. The film is more modest-budget scare fare from Insidious and Paranormal Activity producers Blumhouse, with production to begin this summer.
Stewart wrote-directed Priest and Legion, and the film’s being produced by Blumhouse’s Jason Blum and Alliance Films, the latter of which is financing. Russell, whose film work includes Waitress and Mission: Impossible 3, is repped by WME and managed by The Burstein Company.
I’ve learned that Brothers & Sisters alum Matthew Rhys has landed the male lead opposite Keri Russell in FX‘s period drama pilot The Americans. Created/executive by Joe Weisberg, executive produced by Graham Yost and directed by Gavin O’Connor, the project centers on two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington, DC in the early 1980s. The arranged marriage of Phillip Jennings (Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Russell) grows more passionate and genuine by the day but is constantly tested by the escalation of the Cold War and the intimate, dangerous and darkly funny relationships they must maintain with a network of spies and informants under their control. The Americans is produced by Fox TV Studios and FX Prods. DreamWorks TV’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey are also executive producing. Reps for FX could not be reached for comment Friday night. Brit Rhys is with WME, Management 360 and UK’s United Agents.
After lengthy negotiations, Keri Russell has reached an agreement to star in FX‘s period drama pilot The Americans. Created/executive produced by Joe Weisberg, executive produced by Justified showrunner Graham Yost and directed by Gavin O’Connor, the project centers on two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington, DC in the early 1980s. The arranged marriage of Phillip Jennings and Elizabeth Jennings (Russell) grows more passionate and genuine by the day but is constantly tested by the escalation of the Cold War and the intimate, dangerous and darkly funny relationships they must maintain with a network of spies and informants under their control. The Americans is produced by Fox TV Studios and FX Prods. DreamWorks TV’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, who started the development process on the project, are executive producing.
The Americans marks a return to drama series for Russell, who became a household name playing the title role on the WB drama series Felicity. She recently starred in the Fox comedy Running Wilde. Russell, repped by WME, manager Joannie Burstein and attorney Robert Offer, will next be seen in the features Goats and Austenland.
By now you may have already heard that David Cross is joining Mitch Hurwitz and Will Arnett’s new comedy series Running Wilde, bringing in another piece to the Arrested Development reunion that’s forming on the upcoming Fox half-hour series. But the story behind Cross’ casting is just as intriguing as it involves two actors, one second-position casting and one pesky Icelandic volcano.
Cross was the original choice to play Andy, the radical environmentalist fiancé of Arnett’s love interest Emmy (Keri Russell). But just as filming on the Lionsgate TV-produced pilot was underway in April, Cross got stuck in the UK when the country’s airspace was closed as air travel in Northern Europe was severely disrupted by the eruption of Iceland’s now-infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. With Cross certain to miss the shoot, actor Andrew Daly was approached to step in and do the role in the pilot. Daly had just wrapped another comedy pilot, NBC’s The Paul Reiser Show, where he was a regular, so for him Running Wilde would’ve been in second position at best.
Here is how Daly describes the events in a post on aspecialthing.com:
So Mitch Hurwitz & Will Arnett asked if I would
EXCLUSIVE: Peter Serafinowicz has joined the cast of the new Fox comedy series Running Wilde as a regular. Serafinowicz was made a regular after he popped in his guest-starring turn in the pilot as Fa’ad Shaoulin, the Oxford-accented neighbor and frenemy of Steve Wilde (Will Arnett). Similarly, Erin Cummings, who guest-starred in the pilot for ABC’s Detroit 1-8-7 as the medical examiner, was recently upped to regular on the new drama series. The Lionsgate TV-produced Running Wilde centers on Steve Wilde, a filthy-rich, immature playboy trying desperately to win (or buy) the heart of his childhood sweetheart and uber-liberal humanitarian (Keri Russell).