From: USA Today 1/27/2015 by Donna FreydkinKeri Russell has a thing for John Denver. And Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Those are just two of the names bestowed on the many headpieces she wears as undercover KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings on the FX nail-biter The Americans, which returns for its third season Wednesday (10 p.m. ET/PT).
“There’s one wig we call the dog breeder,” she says, pointing to a photo of herself encased in a deeply unflattering shorn toupee. “It’s way more fun to not be the pretty girl. You secretly always want to be, but it’s not as fun. It’s a little bit more fun to be dressed in the bad wig — for me, anyway.”
Suffice it to say that headlining the series, which is shot in the same city where Russell lives with her two kids River, 7, and Willa, 2, has been a professional boon for the actress once best known for the magnificent tresses she sported as a coed on Felicity, J.J. Abrams’ first TV series. Where the WB heroine was warm and impulsive, Elizabeth is arctic and focused.
“I like her setbacks. It’s so relaxing to not be charming all the time. It’s awesome. I can be tough, way more than I am in my real life,” says Russell, 38. “She’s one of those people who is rare to play,” for her unblinking resolve. “She’s like, ‘That’s what I said I was going to do, and I did it. I’m being as clear as I can possibly be.'”
This season is more conflict-laden for Elizabeth. Her KGB handlers want to recruit her teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), upsetting her husband Philip (played by Russell’s real-life partner, Welsh actor Matthew Rhys) more than Elizabeth, who’s more of a loyalist. Paige has become involved in religion, a subject that’s anathema to her mother. And she struggles to figure out when (or whether) to tell Paige that her parents are embedded secret agents, a revelation that causes tension in her marriage.
“Everyone should know who you are. I grew up with a mom who’s adopted, and I feel like that’s a big part of her identity, to not see the faces of her grandparents or know what they sounded like. If you live under this lie of never knowing, when you do have the answers and are not revealing them, it’s an incredible injustice to do to a kid,” she says.
That’s not the only wrongdoing you see on screen. Elizabeth gets to pulverize FBI agents, seduce would-be informants, and steer her daughter toward the same career as her parents — something the KGB wants. Yet, says Russell, Elizabeth indisputably loves her family, in her own way.
“On the surface people mistake her as icy and cold. We don’t see her that way and fortunately, neither does Keri,” says executive producer Joel Fields. “She is always finding Elizabeth’s humanity. This season, especially, is about her exploration of motherhood and her love for her daughter. We think there’s been a beautiful softening of the character, although she’s still as tough as ever.”
Russell is so different from Elizabeth that at first, she couldn’t imagine playing the role and turned it down repeatedly, until she realized how layered and delicious it was. There are moments this season you won’t see elsewhere, particularly ones involving a suitcase and an at-home dental procedure. Elizabeth never wavers.
So given the juiciness of the show and her character, she has no plans to make a major foray into films. Russell is divorced from her husband, Shane Deary, and has what she calls “a full life. It’s full to do it on your own, as you know. It has to be better, or as good as this, and most things are not. You’re the girlfriend. It’s slim pickings.”
Speaking of girlfriends, and boyfriends, how does Russell address questions about her relationship status with Rhys? “I guess I don’t. We don’t. We laugh it off. He always makes jokes about dating (co-star) Noah Emmerich,” who plays still-unsuspecting FBI agent and neighbor Stan Beeman, she says. “It’s really Noah.”