Matthew Rhys: A Welshman who plays a Russian playing an American
In the new FX drama “The Americans,” premiering Wednesday at 10 p.m., Keri Russell (“Felicity”) and Matthew Rhys (“Brothers & Sisters”) play Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, married sleeper KGB agents in Reagan-era Washington. While Elizabeth is dedicated to Mother Russia, Philip seems to have doubts. At a recent Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., Rhys jovially fielded questions about being a Welshman playing a Russian playing an American.
Q. In studying for the part, did you notice ways that Americans relate to one another differently than the Welsh do?
A. They talk to each other for a start, which is fabulous. (Laughs.) No. I find Americans incredibly honest. I think in the day-to-day vocabulary, there’s an incredible emotional articulacy that is lacking in Britain, whereby you hear people say things like, “Oh, that upsets me,” or “I was incredibly happy about that.” You’re very articulate, I think, as a nation of saying how you feel, and I think that’s incredibly lacking in the British system — that and a lack of therapy.
Q. On the show, the neighbors are eager to meet Philip and Elizabeth, which surprises them. Was that something that surprised you when you came here?
A. It is. I’d say that’s another national characteristic, and we’re incredibly grateful for that. I think as a nation you’re incredibly welcoming.
Q. The roles can be very physical. Did you do any special training?
A. Yes. I had to stop drinking for many days when [Russell] had a knife in her hand. (Laughs.) Or indeed, actually, the drink used to help in those days. We did a couple of weeks of martial arts training, and I’d done a little bit prior to that, and I think, if I may speak on Ms. Russell’s behalf, her dance background lent itself perfectly to kicking men’s heads through walls. We were lucky there was a combination of past experiences and a little bit of training and sobriety.