Exclusive Interview With Graham Yost, Joe Weisberg And Joel Fields On The Americans

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in The Americans

One of 2013’s best new shows (and our 8th favorite overall), FX’s The Americans returns for season 2 this Wednesday. Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies posing as a married couple in early 1980s Washington, the series earned raves from critics and viewers for its blend of thrilling espionage and equally intense relationships.

Last week, we spoke with creator/showrunner Joe Weisberg and executive producers Joel Fields and Graham Yost (creator/showrunner of FX’s Justified) about casting The Americans, RadioShack and what’s ahead for Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings in season 2.

Check it out below and enjoy!

When did season 2 start to get mapped out?

Joel Fields: I’d say it started to take shape towards the end of season 1 as Joe and I began taking long walks, which is generally a key part of our writing process, walking together and talking and sharing ideas. So it started early on and continued to form as we met with an incredible team of writers within our staff, and talked about what we wanted to accomplish. It’s still taking shape, we’re still finishing up the last episode, which we’re doing today.

Can you say what some of the goals for season 2 were?

Joe Weisberg: Early on, we knew that we wanted to pick up one very important idea that we planted back at the end of season 1, which is when Paige is in the laundry room poking around, and feeling kind of suspicious. And we knew also that the Phillip/Elizabeth marriage, which is so tumultuous in season 1, was going to be on some more solid footing in season 2. So the couple is going to be in better shape, but the family was going to be having some problems, and that’s really a lot of the direction we’re going in season 2. They’re going to have trouble with the kids, and keeping the family solid.

Graham Yost: Season 1 was about the coming together of Phillip and Elizabeth –it was an arranged marriage and in the pilot they start to really fall in love, and they fall in and out of love. In season 2, that’s where that picks up, her homecoming. If season 1 was about the marriage, season 2 continues to be about the marriage, but it also really becomes more about the family.

Is it a challenge keeping that marriage fresh as writers, seeing as most people find it difficult to do that in real life?

JF: [laughs] Well put. I think that is why we chose to expand the dramatic circle one concentric level this season, and focus on the family and on the marriage in the context of family. Last season we explored the question of “is this arranged marriage real?” and by the end of the season, Elizabeth said “come home,” and they are trying to be married. Now the question becomes, can the center hold for this family, given the circumstances under which they’ve come to have a family?

JW: I don’t think that marriage ever gets dull. I think there’s 500 interesting seasons worth of material about marriage. So I don’t worry about that.

Graham, how did you first get involved with the series?

GY: I was introduced to Joe Weisberg several years before Americans came along, and he had an idea. Joe had been a C.I.A. officer back in the ‘90s, and he’d written a spy novel, and through our mutual agents we got connected because he had an idea for a TV show about a C.I.A. station overseas. We started working on that and sold it to FX but they didn’t go forward with it. But when I read Joe’s first draft – it was the first script he had ever written – I was just blown away by how strong it was. So, the first season of Falling Skies I signed up to help them get the show started, and I said “let’s bring Joe onboard.” And that was the summer that the Russian spy scandal broke, about the illegals that had been living in the East Coast for 20 years or so, and so Joe came up with this idea based on that. Dreamworks loved it, I loved it, so we went back to FX and they loved it too.

How do you work on The Americans while you’re still busy with Justified?

GY: I find, much to my chagrin, that I’m almost sort of a non-writing producer on the show, and really my contribution is partly to be a consigliere to Joe and Joel, and just sort of talk to them about ideas and any questions they have, and my not too limited experience in the business. But the big thing is the Dreamworks guys, – Joe, Frank and Justin Falvey – will pitch us the show idea, the episode ideas, and we respond to that. Then we read the first drafts, and respond to those, and then we watch the first cuts and respond to those. It’s really, in many ways, a sounding board for where the stories are going to go, and how they are going to get there

For the casting process, were you involved in the selection of Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell?

GY: It’s a big team; there’s FX, and FTBS, and a lot of us had an input in the casting. But Keri Russell was the first choice, and John Landgraf had already reached out to her about the idea of her doing something for FX. She had a baby that Christmas though, so we couldn’t just rush into production in February or March, that’s why we waited until June. But she was the first get. It took us a while to find Matt, and once we did –I think he was on Broadway and Joe went to see him and he is spectacular – he just fit perfectly. We knew that Keri would be great, and we hoped Matthew would be great, and he surpassed all expectations.

JW: The show was Look Back in Anger, and he played this kind of tough but also brutal character and it was just a side of him that you didn’t see in, for example, Brothers and Sisters. I saw this range that he had, that he could do so many different things. When he came in and he read with Keri, there was this great moment.

We were watching them read, and there was this great moment where Keri just slapped him, an important moment of the pilot, and she, I think accidentally, slapped him about as hard as I’ve seen a person slap another person. And the way he took that slap was really something. It was really how Philip Jennings would take a slap. He didn’t flinch, he was just very impressive, it seemed like he was the character in that moment. And they kept going with the scene, but as soon as the scene ended, Keri sort of melted and apologized. It was really something.

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