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The Cold War at Home: Keri Russell Spies for Russia and Does Mom Duty on Season Two of The Americans

In the second season of The Americans, the stakes are higher, the wigs shaggier, and the sex more dangerous: The FX drama’s 2013 pilot first introduced Keri Russell’s character, Elizabeth Jennings—a KGB spy living undercover in the U.S. during the Cold War—with a scene in which she poses as a prostitute and performs oral sex on an FBI agent from whom she steals intel. But early in the season-two premiere, an even more daring (especially for basic cable) sexual act between Jennings and her husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys), is cut short when their teenage daughter interrupts. “Paige is certainly affected by it,” says Russell, laughing. “She’ll never, ever, open a closed door again.”

At least Paige’s permanent scarring helped lay some thematic groundwork: “This season is all about their family,” says Russell. “Last year was about [Elizabeth and Philip’s] marriage. But they are a unified front now, and they’ll be dealing with the things everyday parents do.” Plus the usual espionage stuff: “Getting shot at the end of last season has shaken Elizabeth on a massive level. She’s not exactly cutting it as a spy. But does it shake her feeling about the cause? I think she’s still pretty into it. Elizabeth is hard-core.”

Between seasons, Russell reunited with director Matt Reeves—who helped launch her career when he co-created TV’s Felicity in 1998—to play a doctor in this summer’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. “I’m not really summer-blockbuster-movie material. My boobs aren’t big enough for that,” she says. “When Matt called, I was like, ‘You mean I’d be doing these emotional scenes with grown men in unitards pretending to be apes?’ But Andy Serkis [who plays lead ape Caesar] and I had so many gut-wrenching crying scenes. The unitards weren’t a problem.”     

*This article originally appeared in the February 10, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

Photo: Chad Griffith/Corbis