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Alison Wright on Sex, Wigs, and the Odds of Martha’s Survival on The Americans

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 24: Actress Alison Wright attends
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

In The Americans, there is no character more satisfied than Martha, the feisty FBI secretary who has no clue she’s in a sham marriage. As far as Martha’s concerned, she’s got a great job, a great apartment, and even though her husband Clark — a.k.a. undercover KGB agent Philip — may not be around much, last night’s episode confirmed he makes their time together in the bedroom count. The question is, how long can Martha last now that she’s threatening to get a new job less useful to Philip’s Russian intel needs? Vulture talked to British actress Alison Wright (The Nanny Diaries), who plays Martha, about being TV’s happiest and saddest character, and why Clark’s incredible sexual prowess totally explains the wig thing.

Now that Martha has confirmed that Clark is an “animal” in bed, do you have any theories as to how his wig stays on during all that business?
I can tell you it is addressed this season. I figured Philip and Elizabeth are experts in everything they do, right? They’re very good at their jobs, so the wig would stay firmly in place.

Clark also keeps his glasses on during sex, which is strange if nothing else.
Totally weird. But I know that it’s a very conscious choice for Matthew Rhys. I don’t know if it had come from [executive producers] Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, but it’s a very conscious choice to always have them on — even under the covers. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I suppose it’s another level to his disguise. It keeps him less Philip.

I guess if I’m Martha and Clark is an animal, then I’m not really worried about the glasses.
Exactly. If he wants to leave them on, fine. She’s understanding, that Martha. She’s pretty low maintenance. She doesn’t need a lot from him.

I feel like that’s changing, though. She’s starting to demand more from him. She wants her “lazy romantic morning,” dammit!
But it’s a testament to Martha’s strength that she’s not whining and moaning, “Why are you never here?” As an actor, it so frustrates me. When we’re doing scenes, I’ll say to Matthew, “Come on. Give Martha something here.” It feels like Clark isn’t giving anything, and it’s amazing that it’s fine for Martha. She’s quite happy. It’s ironic that Vulture named her TV’s saddest character.

What’s sad is that Philip probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill her if she became a real liability.
I know, I know. It’s terrible. During the first season, I didn’t think that way so much. I read about the real cases and thought surely you must develop empathy for a person. You have a fake marriage to someone, you spend all this time with them, surely you’ve got to find something you like in them. Or something that becomes endearing. But as soon as I read the first episode of the second season, I was like, Oh no. Philip will take her out in a second. That was kind of horrifying.

You mean when he kills that guy in the back of the kitchen?
Yeah, exactly. It’s like he’s come back tougher than he was before.

But we see him in the car afterward feeling not so great about that part of his job.
I believe in the first version of the script it was a little bit harsher. I think they toned it down a little with what they actually shot. I try not to think about Martha being disposable to Philip. It’s a scary thought, but it also puts me in a different frame of mind, and Martha can’t be aware of that.

People predicted both Martha and Nina’s demise over the course of the first season. Did you know in advance you’d survive?
No. I knew nothing. I knew when I did the pilot that it was a potentially recurring role, and that was it. Every episode I’d get a call from my agent, “Oh, they want you for this episode,” and I’d be like, “Yes. Score. Another episode.” I expected to get a bullet every single script. It wasn’t until the wedding [in the season finale] that I thought maybe I had a tiny bit of security.

I loved the wedding! Clark and Jennifer are such a very special-looking brother and sister.
Simple Jenny, we call her. The hair and glasses they gave Keri Russell were hilarious. It was outrageous. We spent the whole day joking around and creating this backstory about how Simple Jenny had been let out with a day pass from the institution because she’s some sort of sociopath. She could only be at the wedding for a few hours. Keri was acting very weird the whole time.

Do you think Simple Jenny effectively calmed down Martha at the end of the episode?
Simple Jenny said all the right things. She’s good, that Elizabeth, isn’t she? Martha vented, and it was good for her. But I will say Martha throws a few things at Philip that become very problematic this season.

Well, she’s applying for that job, and signing her married name. Like, deal with it, Clark.
Exactly. She’s like, “I’m doing it, deal with it.” I mean, in that moment, she’s angry with him and she’s panicking because of what’s happening with her boss [Agent Gad]. I think she’s starting to feel a huge responsibility. Like, if she had something to do with it, that’s not cool. That wasn’t part of the deal. She thought she was going above and beyond her duty, but if it somehow backfires and Gad gets into trouble, that’s not okay.

I actually think that in general Martha is the happiest person on the show. She’s got her own place, a husband who’s great at sex. She doesn’t know her marriage is fake.
She’s winning. And Philip’s adapting himself to be what she wants so he keeps her on his good side. So yes, I think she thinks she’s the alpha in this situation. And we’ve seen what happened with Martha and Amador, the way he behaved and the way she treated him. She wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. She burned him in front of his boss and his co-workers when he was making sexist comments to her. So she has gumption. She has a backbone.

One of my favorite Martha demands was when she told Clark she wanted a gun.
She has more self-assurance than we give her credit for initially. I like that there are so many things that she says, like in that scene, and especially later in this season, that become so much trouble for Philip.

Alison Wright on Her Americans Survival Odds