Keri Russell Discusses ‘The Americans,’ Her Pregnancy and Life at 40

by: Kathryn Shattuck
from: New York Times, 3/18/2016

Photo of Keri Russell
Keri Russell
It’s tough being a working mother, in real life or on television. Consider Keri Russell, who on a recent springlike day was at home with a fever — her children’s sniffles and the stress of shooting nine months into her pregnancy having led to what she laughingly called “the final takedown.”

But she could have been speaking about Elizabeth Jennings, the K.G.B. agent she plays on FX’s “The Americans,” who, as Season 4 begins, is having an uncharacteristic pang of conscience.

“Elizabeth is watching her daughter and her husband in so much stress and pain that it really sets her back,” she said. “I’m not saying she’s joining the F.B.I. any time soon. But she has a moment where she’s really off-center.”

Ms. Russell spoke by phone from Brooklyn, where she lives with her son and daughter from a previous marriage and her onscreen husband, the Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, with whom she’s expecting a baby next month.

“Elizabeth is hard-core, but I find her so enjoyable, especially as a woman,” she said. “The scripts I read, even for big-budget movies, generally have two lines where you’re a little fiery or you’re not a pushover. But mostly you’re pretty and really understanding.” She laughed. “This is so far from that.” Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q. So, they didn’t incorporate your pregnancy into the story line. How’d you work around it?

A. There was a lot of winter-coat wearing. We justified it, like, “My mind is full of so many things, and I’m so worried that I just keep my coat on, even in the bedroom.” I held a lot of giant salad bowls.

Where is Elizabeth’s mind this season?

This season feels a lot more about the emotional cost of it all instead of fancy spy tricks and stunts. Philip’s struggle with wanting to protect Martha really pushes Elizabeth’s jealousy. And I love watching Elizabeth in that predicament, because it catches her off-guard and only makes her more human and relatable.

Do you get to act out what you might not normally do?

She’s my fantasy person. I wish I could walk through the day as Elizabeth. I’d be so mean and honest and direct with everybody. She’s unapologetically for her cause and for her family, and I love that she’s sexy, too.

Do you ever recoil at Elizabeth’s mothering skills?

Honestly, I relish the kind of mother she is — especially these days when we’re all supposed to be craft-making, cookie-making, have a career, be sexy, have a great body, go to Pilates. She’s not at home making Halloween costumes or inviting her kids’ friends over for cupcakes. It’s totally refreshing.

Let’s talk about Pastor Tim.

He [Kelly AuCoin] was just at the wrap party, and he said, “I can’t believe I haven’t died sooner.” And I’m like, “Neither can I.” He’s a ticking time bomb.

Has Elizabeth eased up on pushing Paige into espionage?

When we brought up the idea of the second-generation coming into the family business, people instantly thought of Paige as gun-toting and turning tricks in a hotel room. I think the idea is that you let the kids know who you are and what you’re doing. And when it’s time to figure out a career, they might want to help that cause. I don’t think it was that on her 18th birthday she’d start working Saudi princes or something.

You have a big birthday coming up. Are you excited?

I’d be a lot more excited if I could have, like, five glasses of wine. When I think of turning 40, I really think of being at the top of my game — looking great and being reckless and carefree and dancing with my girlfriends. And instead I’ll be barely digesting my dinner, about to deliver a baby. It’s not going to be that idealistic moment of being a woman, like, “This is where I am before it starts to turn.” But maybe when I’m 41?