Why Alison Wright knows more about ‘The Americans’ than ‘Poor’ Martha does

On The Americans, Alison Wright plays Martha Hanson, the dowdy, plain, timid secretary to FBI counter-intelligence agent Gaad, and secret wife to Clark, one of the many aliases of Matthew Rhys’ KGB deep cover operative Philip Jennings. In real life, Wright is striking in appearance, speaks loudly and confidently in her native English accent, and dresses far more stylishly (here’s what she wore when I interviewed her in January) than her alter ego. In other words… acting!

The Americans returns Wednesday night at 10 on FX. It was, is, and will likely continue to be for as long as it’s on the air (my guess would be we have at least another season to look forward to after this one), one of the very best shows on TV. The first four episodes are stunning, and the premiere in particular is a great showcase for Wright as Martha. I will be, as always, reviewing every episode, and in the meantime, here’s a conversation I had with Wright at TCA about the evolution of Martha and Philip’s “marriage,” the hardest part of doing an American accent, and why she can’t stop herself from reading the parts of each script that Martha would know nothing about.

We also spoke a bit about her work in the premiere, so look for that Wednesday night after it’s aired.

When you came in to read for the role, what were you told in terms of what sort of commitment it might be?

Alison Wright: I was first of all told that she was a dowdy, very plain secretary in love with Philip, and she was going to be in love with him from the very beginning and keep being in love with him. I didn”t know much more that that until about halfway through the first season, and then the J’s (producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg) took me aside and said, “We”re thinking, you know, they”re going to get married.” In real life, in history, a lot of these marriages went on for years and years, maybe ten years, and there were children, and these were long-term, long-game situations, so then I knew that I was onto a winner.

Because I remember that whole first season, everyone constantly was saying, “Oh god, is this the episode where Martha dies? Is this the episode?” And now you”re a regular.

Alison Wright: Yeah, and I think people are still thinking, “Is this when she dies? Is this when she dies?” But yeah, still here.

(FWIW, I asked Fields if Martha had ever been on the chopping block in that first season; he said the plan was always for Philip to marry her, but they didn’t tell Wright at first. As she notes later in this interview, the showrunners tend to keep their actors in the dark as long as possible about what’s coming.)