Keri Russell is having something of a career renaissance. Not only is she starring in the new romantic comedy “Austenland” opening in limited release on Friday, but she just wrapped filming “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” which is under the direction of her old “Felicity” co-creator Matt Reeves (it looked fantastic when previewed at Comic-Con last month). The real feather in Russell’s cap, however, is her role on the critically acclaimed hit FX TV series “The Americans.”
The ’80s period drama finds Russell playing Elizabeth Jennings, a KGB agent who has been living undercover in the United States as a spy for over a decade. Elizabeth has a complex relationship with Phillip Jennings (Mathew Rhys), a fellow agent she has “married” and had two children with for the sake of their mission. The first season found their relationship at a crossroads as the Cold War heats up in the first years of the Reagan administration.
Making the Phillips lives more complex was their difficult relationship with Claudia, their KGB superior on the ground played by the always impressive Margo Martindale. In fact, Martindale was so good in her 10 episode stint she earned her second Emmy nomination for her performance (one of a disappointing low two the show earned this year). On any other series you’d be looking forward to learning more about the mysterious Claudia the next season, but Martindale surprised everyone by landing a leading role on the new CBS comedy series “The Millers” alongside Will Arnett and Beau Bridges. The producers left it open ended that Claudia (Martindale) could return at the end of “The Americans” finale, but nothing has been confirmed on her status (if it’s even possible) to date.
Speaking to Russell for “Austenland” last week, I asked her if she had any update on if Martindale could return for season two which begins shooting this October. Russell first joked that she teased Arnett for “stealing” Margo from them, but then noted, “She’s on this other show now. I still feel like we could weave her in one or two episodes. She’s too good to let go, but I don’t know how the timing works with that.”
With a rare opportunity to ask Russell to reflect on the first season, I asked here about one of the film’s more intriguing conflicts. Elizabeth and Phillip’s two children (including one teenager) have spent their entire lives in the United States with no knowledge of their parents true Russian background. Early on in the season Phillip wanted to defect so their kids could be safe growing up in America with more opportunities. Elizabeth was against this, but the question has to be asked: Does she really think her kids could thrive if forced to move to the Soviet Union?
“I kind of think she does,” Russell says. “I think a lot has changed for her in this year. That’s whats so exciting about playing this character. For someone who sees things so black and white. This massive shift has taken place from the moment the husband says ‘We should defect.’ Even though maybe she knew it was coming at some level it’s a massive sea change and then the death of all these people in her life. All these massive supporters. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I really don’t think she would ever turn, but I think she’s sensing the reality a lot more. What are they gonna do? They have these kids who are becoming adults. I dunno, but yes, when the show started I think she says absolutely, ‘We’ll do our job here and then we’ll take them back and raise them as we should.'”
For more on Russell’s thoughts on “The Americans” watch the video embedded at the top of this post.
“The Americans” season 2 returns to FX in 2014.