Tonight’s The Americans (which I reviewed here) featured a somewhat surprising guest performance, whom I got to interview — with spoilers — coming up just as soon as I bake a potato…
So, for the second time this season — and for a much longer stint than her supermarket cameo in “The Midges” — Alison Wright returned to the series as poor Martha, now living a very lonely existence in Moscow as a woman with an extremely limited command of Russian, and limited professional and romantic possibilities as a result.
I spoke with Wright yesterday about her return to the series, how much showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg (or, as they’re referred to by the cast and crew, “the J’s”) have kept her in the loop, why her own grasp of Russian is better than poor Martha’s, and more.
Did you even know going into last season that that was the year Martha was going to be written out of the show as a regular character?
Well, there’s lots of things that I knew, yes. I don’t think that they approach it like deciding this is a season they’re going to write out a regular from the top. That wouldn’t be something they would ever tell you early on. They want to have the option to change they’re minds. They’re not gonna tell an actor that and freak ’em out. But, yes, they have kept me abreast of their plans for Martha from season one, really. So I’ve always been in the circle of trust as far as her storyline goes.
So when they put Martha on the plane last season, it was with the understanding that you would probably be back.
Going into this year, did you know how much they were going to need you?
No, no, not how much. That’s always in flux, as well. But I knew we were going to see her more than once.
When you do an episode like your first one this year, where you’re on screen for maybe a minute, and you don’t have any dialogue, what goes into your process? What was filming that scene like for you?
It was great. It doesn’t really matter that much that she doesn’t say anything or doesn’t have any dialogue. It’s our reintroduction to the character and her life. It told us that she’s getting on with things, and she’s putting one foot in front of the other, and she’s showering, she’s getting dressed. She’s not a mess on the floor, she’s getting on with her life and doing the best she can do, it seems. That tells you a lot about who she is and how she is.
In between the airplane scene and when you got your script for your first scene back, did you have any theories about what her life in Russia was like?
Of course, yeah. I have to decide that. But ultimately it has to be what the J’s tell me it’s going to be. They had set out the season for me, so I did know what her story was going to be, and have time to take all that in.
How are you doing with the Russian? Are you just learning things phonetically?
I actually took Russian classes a few years ago, because I was dating a Russian guy. So I was a little bit familiar already.
So would you say your Russian is better than what we’ve heard from Martha so far?
Yes. It’s a strange irony. I’m like, “You know, I’m pretty okay with the Russian, guys. Give me a shot, story-wise.” Probably didn’t make sense.
The last time we spoke, you said that in hindsight, you wished you had never read the parts of the script unrelated to Martha, so you could better be in her mindset, but it was too late in the process for you to try that once you realized. Now that you’re not a regular on the show, do you even have access to what’s going on that’s unrelated to you?
The J’s are very good about giving me scripts when I want to read them, even if they’re episodes that I’m not in. But it’s different now. Martha’s not going to be going into contact with that many people, or so it seems at the moment. It’s just Gabriel. So there’s not a lot of other story that I’d need to know about. But still, like I said to you at the time, it’s still something that I hope I get to try on another job soon.
In between when Martha got on the plane and turned up in the supermarket, was it difficult to interact with fans of the show and not give away that you would be back?
No, it was easy for me with the fans. I wanted to make sure they enjoyed it the most they possibly can. And I know that would be if they don’t get any spoilers, even though it’s killing them to wait. That wasn’t hard. It was hard lying to my friends. I really kept it to myself that I was shooting Martha at all. I really didn’t tell anybody.
The day after that episode aired, what kind of response did you get from your friends?
They were all freaking out. It was great. A lot of them are overseas screaming at me on the phone. And it’s worth it. That’s the excitement, why you do television. It makes people lose their shit a little bit.
It’s interesting how much time the show is spending in Russia this season, and how many significant characters are there now. As someone who’s been on the show and is a fan of the show, how do you feel about this point of view shift?
Well, this year is a very different year to last year. A lot of the characters we’ve been with for a while are gone now. A lot of new faces. I think they had to take the show to Russia, at least for one year, right?
How much input did you have into Martha’s Russian look would be?
That’s a collaborative thing with the costumer, Katie Irish, and obviously what the J’s want. Sometimes, I get my two cents in as well. But it’s really just about representing how she’s feeling and what her life is, representing that visually, and keeping that with the appropriate Russian garments of that time. It’s about trying to convey her emotional state.
I understand why she sends Gabriel away: It’s painful to see him. But he’s also the only person she knows there who is this fluent in English, who knows Clark, who knows all about her old life. He’s the closest thing she could have to a friend there. Do you think there was any impulse in her mind to not send him away?
No. Actually, my impulse is much more along the lines of I would have wanted to slap him in the face. I think she’s had so long to think about this and what they’ve done to her. And now he’s going to come in and try to BS her that Clark’s been thinking about her and he misses her? Are you kidding me? I would’ve liked it if she socked him one! She is not to be messed with at this point.
I don’t want to ask you about what’s coming, because you can’t tell me and I don’t want to know. But as you’re looking at these scripts and seeing all of these different characters assembling in Russia close to where Martha is now, is there a part of you thinking, “Technically, Mischa is kind of my stepson…”
[Laughs.] Hadn’t thought about it like that. But they have one more season to do whatever the hell they want, right? So who knows? We could be in for a wild ride for season six.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com