Costa Ronin in THE AMERICANS | ©2018 FX

Costa Ronin in THE AMERICANS | ©2018 FX

In the sixth and final season of THE AMERICANS, on FX Wednesday nights, the story has jumped ahead three years. We’re now in the mid-‘80s, when the Reagan/Gorbachev summit is about to get underway. Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) is no longer a K.G.B. operative, but his wife Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is as deeply involved in undercover work as ever, and is now also mentoring their college-student daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) as a K.G.B. spy.

Costa Ronin plays Oleg Burov, who has also left the K.G.B. and is now living in Moscow with his wife and son. However, when old colleague Arkady (Lev Gorn) begs Oleg to return to Washington, D.C. to try to preserve the delicate Russia/U.S. peace process, Oleg is once more caught up in espionage.

Ronin was born in Russia, though he has lived in many countries since then. Earlier this year, he had an arc on another spy drama, Season 7 of Showtime’s HOMELAND, which Ronin says was a delight to do, even though it posed some scheduling challenges.

COSTA RONIN: It was a lot of juggling around, a lot of schedule management, because both shows [were] shooting at the same time and finishing at the same time. I’m very excited about this, because I’ve been a huge fan of [HOMELAND] for a long time, and the fact that we were able to make it work, I’m very grateful to both the Js [THE AMERICANS creator Joe Weisberg and his fellow executive producer Joel Fields] and these guys on the HOMELAND side, and the whole creative team. And it’s great to be able to just keep going and telling those stories, so I’m excited about that.

ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve been on THE AMERICANS for all six seasons, but this is the first time you’ve gotten to have scenes with Matthew Rhys. Were you excited about that?

RONIN: Artistically, it was incredibly exciting, because I was looking forward to an opportunity for a very long time, but I never thought that would come around, because story-wise and character-wise, they come from different worlds. While Oleg is a known K.G.B. agent and a diplomat, both Philip and Elizabeth are illegals, and so if anybody sees the two of them together, that would completely blow their cover straight away. And so that would not happen. But this year, yes, the writers found an opportunity for us to hang out, and discuss different things in inconspicuous spy locations.

AX: Last season, Oleg’s parents were trying to set him up with some potential brides by inviting young women to supper. Is Elina, Oleg’s wife, one of the women from those scenes last year?

RONIN: Yes, she is. I’m so glad that scene is in that episode, and we see that other dimension to Oleg and his personal life, not just on the level of the relationship of him and his parents, but also his personal life in terms of his own family, his own wife, his own child, and the wife is played by the beautiful Lyanka Gryu, who was one of the three girls in the original dating scene. And yeah, now, three years later, they are married and they have a son.

AX: So even though he was not very enthusiastic about the idea of marriage the last time we saw him, is it safe to say Oleg is now a little more enthusiastic about having a family?

RONIN: It’s one of those things where it’s not about him being enthusiastic or not enthusiastic. He was always enthusiastic about settling down and finding a family. It just was a different time for him, it was the wrong time for him to think about those things, to think about a family. He was in the middle of a lot of conspiracies, in the middle of a lot of dealings between K.G.B. and F.B.I. When he and his wife met, they had to have a conversation of, “Straight up, this is my life before I met you, and this is my life after I met you, so let’s never speak about my life before you, because it’s something that I want to forget, I never want to come back to. And this is my past, and you’re my future, you’re my present, and let’s just stay here.” And unfortunately or fortunately, as the season progresses, that past comes back and plucks him out of his dream, the big dream that he created.

Costa Ronin in THE AMERICANS | ©2018 FX

Costa Ronin in THE AMERICANS | ©2018 FX

AX: Do you have any old jobs that you feel like, “Let us never speak of this again,” the way Oleg feels about his time with the K.G.B.? Probably not to that extent, but do you have any acting projects where you felt like, “That was horrible, I want to forget it happened”?

RONIN: Yes, a hundred percent. With what we do [as actors], sometimes what you read is not what you see as the end project. You fall in love with the story, you fall in love with the creatives you get to work with, and then sometimes, at the end of the day, when you see the final product, it’s not what you envisioned, and it’s not what was discussed. Yes, of course, you tear your hair out, you think, “Why, why, why did I say yes to this?” Luckily, I don’t have many of those. I always take the projects that speak to me, and I can feel with my heart, and you cannot go wrong if you go with your heart. At the end of the day, you’re like, “Well, that didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, but at least I was doing a project that I felt passionate about, and a project I felt strongly about, and I really wanted to be a part of that story.”

AX: How has it been shooting the final season of THE AMERICANS?

RONIN: Being a closing season, it takes longer for us to get scripts, because it’s imperative for us to be able to close all those stories – we cannot come back to them. So sometimes there are additional pickups that take two or three months to complete, or sometimes we are shooting two or three episodes at the same time, or on the same day, because of availabilities, locations, cast members or something else.

AX: When you started on THE AMERICANS six years ago, how long did you think the show was going to last, and how long did you think you were going to be a part of it?

RONIN: I didn’t think about those things, as far as how long the show was going to go, because I wasn’t privy to those concepts. I didn’t know how this world works. I thought it keeps going and going, until people get bored and it gets canceled. As far as my participation, I thought I was going in to do two episodes and go home. And then I got offered another one and another one, all the way through to the end of the season. And now of course, five years later, I’m at the end of the show. So it’s quite remarkable. I definitely did not see that coming. I don’t know if the creatives saw that coming, but it’s one of those things that is very organic, and I’m incredibly grateful that they were able to find an opportunity to show the life of that character, and show him not just like an addition to the main story, but give him his own world, even his own storyline, combine those stories together and very organically intertwine all those relationships. Because that’s in fact what it is in real life, isn’t it? It’s like you and I are having a conversation. It’s a very small world. Nothing stands alone. Everybody’s fates and everybody’s relationships are intertwined.

AX: How different or similar would you say the Oleg of Season 6 is from the Oleg we’ve known before?

RONIN: Well, there is definitely a change. There is a three-year time jump between the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6. But like in everybody’s lives, we change, we grow up, we get older. There is a huge change between Season 1 and this current season for him, because he changed so much. The arc of this character was tremendous – where he started and everything he’s gone through and everything he’s had to battle and learn from, and the relationships, and the betrayals, and the learning curves about himself, about the world, about the ideals that he had, all the challenges that he had, the way he had to challenge himself. That definitely made him the man that we see in Season 6. I don’t want to put any adjectives to characterize him in Season 6, I’ll leave it up to you to figure this out, and experience it, and feel it, but he has gone through a lot, a lot. And it definitely is taking a huge, huge toll on him, emotionally and physically. And there’s even a big arc between him at the beginning of Season 6 and at the end of Season 6.

AX: No spoilers for the rest of Season 6, but do you have a favorite or scene or episode for Oleg in what you’ve done?

RONIN: No, I don’t think I do. I loved scenes with Noah [Emmerick, who plays F.B.I. agent Stan Beeman] over the years, and I loved scenes with Matthew this season. I don’t have a favorite, I don’t think, because the beauty of doing television is that it’s real time. With film, with books, with theatre, there is a sense of finality. As an actor, you know how the story ends, and you’re kind of driving towards that. With television, you don’t. And you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so the beauty of it is like living in that moment, and being able to just be true to that moment, and act with the actor you’re working with.

AX: So do you enjoy being in suspense with the audience?

RONIN: A hundred percent. It’s like you and I are having this conversation right now. We don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour, two hours, when we go home. The same thing as television – you don’t know what’s going to happen next. You cannot plant seeds as far as, “I’m going to do this now, because this is what’s going to happen later.” You can’t. All you can do is just be truthful to what is happening right now.

AX: Do they tell you ahead of time what’s happening in the next episode?

RONIN: Sure. If it’s something that’s critical to link certain scenes, yes. Sometimes, especially in the previous seasons, we used to get two, three episodes in advance. Right now, I’ve read all the way to [the final season’s Episode] 10. So I know what’s going to happen, I know how the story ends.

AX: For example, would they tell you, “By the way, Oleg is going to agree to what Arkady asks him to do,” so you know how receptive to seem in the scene?

RONIN: Not really, no, because you don’t want to semaphore what’s going to happen. In real time, would you know? If I wouldn’t know as a character, why would I know as an actor? That’s not useful information for me – unless it’s completely something [from] left field and they need to say, “Okay, well, listen,” and it’s part of the direction – “Let’s try this.” Unless I’m completely going in the wrong direction, they would not try to plant any seeds, because it’s not really what’s happening with Oleg.

AX: In the making of THE AMERICANS, which takes place thirty years ago, did you learn anything historical that was particularly interesting to you?

RONIN: Yeah. A lot about the spy game, and I learned a lot about the relationships between the spies as they exist in the real world. The most mind-blowing thing to me was that some of them were actually friends. Every day, they worked up against each other on different sides of the Iron Curtain, and yet every weekend, they would get together and play tennis or have a beer. They would never discuss work. They knew that thing about one another – you’re working for K.G.B., I’m working for C.I.A., but let’s leave it at that. They would have a beer, they would play tennis, they would enjoy each other’s company, they would never discuss work.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about the final season of THE AMERICANS?

RONIN: People just need to watch it and experience it, because it’s one of those shows that’s in everybody’s mind. It’s a very slow-burning show. It’s like watching thirteen hours of a feature film every year, or ten hours of a feature film this year. I think people just need to give themselves a chance to fall in love with the show, because at the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing else out there that is even in the same vicinity in terms of storytelling and depth of the characters. So I really hope that the audience gives it a chance. Those who are watching it, I’m eternally grateful from the bottom of my heart. Because of the audience, we got to work and tell those stories. And I’m very grateful to all the fans, and all our supporters throughout the years.

This interview was conducted during FX Networks’ portion of the Winter 2018 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

Related: THE AMERICANS: Actor Matthew Rhys on the final season – exclusive interview
Related: THE AMERICANS: Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields talk the final season – exclusive interview

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

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ArticleTHE AMERICANS: Costa Ronin on the final season – Exclusive Interview


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