The Americans: A Dream Role for Matthew Rhys

If you’re not excited about the return of Matthew Rhys on The Americans tonight on FX, then you haven’t been watching. It’s time to start. The Season 3 premiere begins at 10pm EST.

The back story for those playing catch-up: Welsh born thesp Rhys with co-star Keri Russell portray Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, an attractive couple and parents to one boy and one girl. It’s early 1980s. They own a travel agency, live in the suburbs and drive a gas guzzling automobile. Trouble is they’re KGB spies; Russian operatives masquerading as Americans, and they’re really good at it.

Matthew, as Philip, slips in to and out of a host of outfits, hairstyles, accents and personalities with skill and aplomb. He’s a smart one and more than physically adept, whether using martial arts moves or a lethal weapon.

Matthew Rhys is Philip Jennings in The Americans - Season 3

Photo Courtesy of FX

Photo Courtesy of FX

Recently, I participated in a Q&A with the versatile Rhys who, before his Americans fame swept the land, was known statewide for playing a sibling on the popular series Brothers and Sisters.

Q: Because you get to play such a wide variety of characters… in this job, would you consider this your dream role?

Matthew: … I’d say this was my dream role. As a sort of box ticker for actors, I don’t think you could get better than this. It’s been a real dream. As I said, the layering, the complexity of it keeps getting deeper and more varied. There’s no danger at all of it ever becoming dull or repetitive. It’s incredibly challenging and dynamic. It’s everything you want or ever wanted to do in one part.

On the challenges of playing many different personalities: “The harder part for me is to land him in a place of reality, somewhere that’s real for me and hopefully real for an audience in that someone who has to juggle, in its reference, and keep as many sort of plates in the air as Philip does, but sort of the pressure that that would bring, it’s landing that in a real place. For me, it’s the sort of hardest balancing act.”

The other part of the balancing act for the duo, that appears even harder than the subterfuge they present as real, lies behind closed doors. What happens in between the spying. That which started out as Memorex has quietly become their truth. Therein lies the heart of the show as the intricacies of loving one another becomes genuine. As their children—sometimes tended to, but often ignored—start to require the attention of a mom and dad who is present.

Keri Russell in The Americans - Season 3

Photo Courtesy of FX

These two were vetted and groomed, separately, for this life when they were barely older than their teenage daughter. As strangers they came together to marry and raise a family to establish an unbreakable cover. They have been near death, seen their colleagues die and had their loyalty tested. They are continually pushed to the edge for The Motherland, which is all the motive Elizabeth needs. She despises what she views as the glut and over abundance of American lives.

“Don’t you like any of this?” Philip asks her in the middle of Season Two after he’s just purchased a Camero Z28.

“We’re living like this because we have to,” she tells him.

“Yes, but do you like it?” he insists.

For her to answer outright ‘yes’ is impossible and would be the ultimate betrayal of all that she has ever believed. She refuses to be seduced by the softness of the western lifestyle and only concedes that things are “…different. That doesn’t make it better.”

Material seduction is minor however. The Jennings are about to be tested in a way they either never saw coming or were in denial about. Word has come down from the Directive; Paige is being considered for recruitment. Philip and Elizabeth now know that their 14-year-old is on the KGB radar.

Matthew: I think, ultimately, as we’ve seen a flashback in one and two, Philip and Elizabeth were children when they were picked, you know? They were in late teenage years and I think heavily indoctrinated. Really, you look back at your own age, you’re not very sure who you are at that time. He’s found himself in a vocation that he really didn’t choose in a way; I think it was kind of chosen for him in a way, thrust upon him, and he’s evolving at a time and bursting out at a time when he realized it probably isn’t the life that he would have chosen nor is it the life he wants, and the same applies heavily for his daughter.

He doesn’t want her pushed into something at such a young, vulnerable, impressionable age whereby in a few years she’s in up over her head because it’s not something you just – it’s not a job you can quit overnight or walk away from and he doesn’t want her to have to do the many awful things that he has to do in order to stay alive and, therefore, keep the family alive.

Watch HERE for a bit of what’s in store.

Every once in a while a drama slips onto the TV landscape and makes an indelible impression. The Americans is one of those.

Series creator: Joseph Weisberg

Season 3, Episode 1 writers: Joseph Weisberg, Joel Fields

Cast includes: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings, Noah Emmerich as Agent Stan Beeman, Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings, Keidrich Sellati as Henry Jennings, Alison Wright as Martha, Annet Mahendru as Nina, Lev Gorn as Arkady, Susan Misner as Sandra.

Richard Thomas returns as Agent Frank Gaad.

Other guest cast includes: Frank Langella as Gabriel and Costa Ronin as Oleg Burov.

Season 3 premieres January 28th on FX. Make a date with The Americans every Wednesday at 10pm EST.

Written by

TVolution Founder and Managing Editor DARWYN CARSON completed a six-year stint as Managing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s Annual Movie Guide in 2015. She has been covering film since her early association with entertainment journalist Michael Symanski at She also covered film and restaurant news in her column Carson’s Corner for a variety of social publications. Her articles have appeared on Zap2It, Indiewire, and, of course, The TVolution. Follow Darwyn @bnoirlikeme. Follow The TVolution @thetvolution. Please Like The TVolution on Facebook.

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