Matthew Rhys stars as Philip Jennings and Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings in THE AMERICANS | © 2015 Patrick Harbon/FX

Matthew Rhys stars as Philip Jennings and Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings in THE AMERICANS | © 2015 Patrick Harbon/FX

In Season 5 of THE AMERICANS, Tuesday nights on FX Network, things are more stressful than ever for our ‘80s-era KGB spies, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). Not only are the pretend-all-American couple continuing to keep us their identities, they are trying to prevent the U.S. from poisoning the U.S.S.R.’s grain supply, coping with teenage daughter Paige’s (Holly Taylor) romance with the son of FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and dealing with son Henry’s (Kiedrich Sellati) increasing curiosity about exactly where Mom and Dad go all the time.

Series creator Joe Weisberg and his fellow executive producer/show runner Joel Fields have announced that THE AMERICANS will wrap up at the end of Season 6. They talk about the show’s past, present and future.

ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve said you have thirteen episodes for Season 5 and ten for Season 6, and that will be it. Do you know that that’s the amount you need, or that’s what you’re doing, and you’re going to make it fit?

JOE WEISBERG: That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do that, and we’re going to make it fit. Thirteen for Season 5, I think just to make that final season a little shorter, and a little easier, and that just feels like that’s the right length. I think we want to cruise into that landing. I think for that story, it’s the right number for that story. Because we know the story.

AX: Did you have an early idea of how you wanted THE AMERICANS to end? Or did you just think, “We’ll see where it goes”?

WEISBERG: If I had one, I don’t remember what it was.

AX: Did you always plan on six seasons?


WEISBERG: Don’t get canceled [laughs].

FIELDS: That’s the corollary.

WEISBERG: No, I think the vision for the ending is something that grew really over the course of long walks between the first and second season, and over the course of the second season, as we figured out what the show was. But then the whole show started to take shape as a piece. But I think that was something that happened after Season 1.

AX: Can you put into words what you decided the whole show was? What was that realization?

WEISBERG: [after a pause I think we had to put it into words intellectually prior, but not, I think, experientially and emotionally and creatively for ourselves, which is, it’s a show about marriage, family, identity and trust. And I think we knew that intellectually in the first season, but the form that it took was always through closed-ended spy stories. And by the time we got to the second season, we realized we were telling a seasonal story, and by the time we got to the third season, we realized we weren’t even telling seasonal stories, we were telling a story that was going to span a number of seasons, and I think that’s the thing that changed for me, and I think us, in the process.

FIELDS: Yeah. One of the things I always think about is, our coming to realize that it wanted to feel very realistic. Not a hundred percent realistic, there are obviously things in the show that are not realistic, but it wanted to fundamentally feel like real people in the real world, more so than I think it did in the pilot. That shift really helped the show find itself.

AX: Apart from your leads, obviously, when you cast people who are meant to be Russians, do you only cast people who actually can speak Russian?

WEISBERG: Yep. We’re very rigorous about it, and we have people who are Russian speakers actually listening to tapes of them speaking Russian, so we know for sure that they’re native speakers.

FIELDS: We did the same thing last year with the Koreans. I think our casting director has finally gotten used to it. But it’s very important to us that it be real.

AX: Is this also to avoid a situation where somebody who does speak Russian or Korean does nasty graffiti on the set about your show?

WEISBERG: [laughs] It never occurred to us until it happened to someone else, so I don’t think we really worry about that.

AX: Were you ever planning to do more with Nina, played by Annet Mahendru, once she got to Russia, and wound up deciding against it?

WEISBERG: No. We were planning to do less, and then we came up with the story we ended up telling. No, we were never going to link her back to the main plot. Never. There was never any way to bring her back here – we knew that from the beginning – and we didn’t have a connection back to anything here.

AX: How much is Margo Martindale as KGB liaison Claudia going to be in this season?

WEISBERG: Well, one, we never answer those questions directly …

FIELDS: I would like to say, as much as Margo may be in other things, we like to think that Claudia has the special place in her heart that she has in ours.

AX: And how did you arrive at casting Peter Jacobson as Agent Wolfe, the new head of the FBI office?

WEISBERG: He’s just such a great actor. Watching him for years in so many things, and as you even see with Richard [Thomas, who played Wolfe’s predecessor, Frank Gaad], we look for guys in those parts who don’t feel like the sort of pit bull FBI guy. Those don’t interest us for those guys. We don’t want a big, broad guy in a suit who’s going to feel like the head of the FBI office. Richard brought something so specific and interesting to that, and we thought Peter was a guy who had that same kind of feel. You don’t expect to see him as an FBI guy, just as you don’t expect to see Richard. So he seemed pretty perfect for it.

AX: Was the Pastor Tim [Kelly AuCoin] storyline always envisioned as significant as it has become?

WEISBERG: It really did expand. I don’t think we expected him to become as important as he became. That really was a case where that storyline took flight.

AX: Did you initially just see Pastor Tim as a religious irritant to Elizabeth, and then you thought, “Oh, we can have Paige get involved with the church …”?

FIELDS: We had enough. I remember thinking there was going to be a storyline there and making sure that we had an actor who could carry it, because it was a very small thing at the beginning, and we made sure that we had an actor who could carry more. But I don’t think we really knew how much more it would be.

AX: Was Pastor Tim always the person you thought would receive Paige’s confession about her parents being KGB spies?

FIELDS: We didn’t know there would be a Paige confession. But once we knew there would be, it would of course be for him. We always knew Paige would be told, but we didn’t know that she’d then go turn around and tell somebody.

Keri Russell stars as Elizabeth Jennings in THE AMERICANS | © 2015 Patrick Harbron/FX

Keri Russell stars as Elizabeth Jennings in THE AMERICANS | © 2015 Patrick Harbron/FX

AX: What would say that Philip and Elizabeth are most hungry for in Season 5?

FIELDS: Probably, they’re getting along so well lately, they’re probably hungry for that to continue.

WEISBERG: Nothing’s better than getting along in your marriage.

AX: What do you think Philip and Elizabeth would make of the U.S. today, of what’s happening with all the Russian leaks and espionage?

WEISBERG: We just refer you to Twitter. We spend a lot of time enjoying all the jokes on Twitter, of the variety of, “Hey, this is just Season 20 of THE AMERICANS.”

FIELDS: It does seem like they would get some sort of special commendation.

AX: It’s like, everyone knows about the spying, and nobody seems to care …

WEISBERG: That is the shocking thing. I think they would be very frustrated to realize that they could have done their jobs with much less stress. But it was a different time.

FIELDS: It was a different time. Tools were not available.

WEISBERG: Tools were not available, yes. You seemed to get in much more trouble back then.

AX: Do you feel like if you do a show set in the present now, the stakes have changed a lot about secrecy?

WEISBERG: That’s one of the things I actually [found fascinating] about what just happened – it wasn’t a secret. Everybody knew pretty much Russia did it, even as soon as it happened, almost. That’s a whole new kind of espionage, almost.

FIELDS: And I actually think it’s interesting you talk about 2016 versus early ‘80s. We talk a lot about how science fiction, in some senses, really made some very interesting correct predictions about the world, about the involvement corporations would have in our lives, about the fact that privacy would disappear. But one thing I think nobody anticipated is that privacy would not be stolen, it would just be happily given away. So it seems that secrets have become irrelevant, because people have allowed technology to make them irrelevant.

AX: Are you happy at least for the next two years to be able to tell a story where secrecy is still a part of it?

WEISBERG: It’s much better for drama. It’s much better for storytelling and drama. In the same way it’s better not to have cell phones, it’s better to have secrets.

FIELDS: And the truth is, no matter what technology has done, we all still have secret lives.

AX: Margo Martindale has won two Emmys for guest-starring as Claudia, but last year, THE AMERICANS as a drama series and Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell all finally got nominated for Emmy Awards. How was that?

FIELDS: It feels pretty great to be recognized by the Academy, because of who they are.

AX: You also won the Television Critics Association for Best Drama. Do the TCA Awards mean anything, or is that just a good time?

WEISBERG: I think all the awards from this perspective are really important. The TCA Award might be the first award we ever got.

FIELDS: I think it was the first award. It meant an enormous amount, and the fact is, I don’t think – look, [FX CEO John] Landgraf said it, [FX head of publicity John] Solberg said it, and we’ll say it – I don’t think there’s a world in which we would have gotten these [Emmy] nominations if it weren’t for the critics pushing for the show, and I don’t know that we’d even be on the air –

WEISBERG: That we’d have stayed on the air.

FIELDS: So all of it makes a huge difference.

AX: Do the two of you have a project that you’re doing after THE AMERICANS that you can talk about?

WEISBERG: We’re pretty focused on just this. It’s so all-consuming, it takes up all of our brain space.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about Season 5 of THE AMERICANS?

WEISBERG: It’s going to feel different. There are a lot of things in tone and feel that are going to be somewhat different, but it’s going to be a great season.

FIELDS: What he said.

This interview was conducted during FX Networks’ portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) 2017 Winter Press Tour at Pasadena’s Langham-Huntington Hotel.

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Article: THE AMERICANS Exclusive Interview with creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields on Season 5

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