The Cast and Creators of The Americans on Making a Show About Russian Spies During … Well, You Know

Keri Russell. Photo: Patrick Harbron/FX

It’s already difficult to watch TV without being reminded of Donald Trump, but the fifth season of The Americans in particular strikes a nerve. Even though the FX series is a period piece, set in the 1980s, with no actual mention of Trump himself, the story of KGB spies trying to undermine the U.S. government feels timely, given real-world allegations that Russia attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

That certainly wasn’t imaginable when the cast and crew set out to make the show, and so shooting this season felt a little odd, especially when certain actors were dressed as Russian spies, standing on a Soviet Union set, getting news alerts about Putin and Trump in between takes. At the show’s fifth-season premiere, Vulture caught up with the showrunners and cast to find out what they think of it all.

Joe Weisberg (co-showrunner)
The politics of it are just bizarre, and not that great for the show, we don’t think, because the show was intended to help look at the former enemy, not our current enemy! [Laughs.] It’s weird to have this stuff talked about — it’s something we’ve been dealing with and doing in the show for years — and for it to suddenly be the main item in the news, that’s just bizarre. There’s really a firewall between the political discussions in the office, which are ferocious and intense and pretty much only at lunchtime, and the writing of the show, which exists in 1984. But we get the news alerts, and we’re like, “WTF?!” All the time. Our set is probably no different than everywhere else, except that our actors are dressed up as Russian spies. And sometimes we’re shooting in KGB headquarters when we get those alerts. That is odd. But it’s also a little awesome.

Joel Fields (co-showrunner)
I always like to say, some of the most outlandish things we do on the show are the real things, and now it seems that those outlandish things are dominating the headlines. I mean, they figured out a way to interfere with the election of the United States? That would have been a good plot for Philip and Elizabeth. It probably would have been too outlandish for us, actually. But then again, if you read this week’s New Yorker, the Russians did try to prevent Reagan from getting elected. So who knows? In fairness, Philip and Elizabeth did help prevent World War III right after Reagan was shot. I think we could have done it.

Keri Russell (Elizabeth Jennings, KGB operative)
We talk about it on set and it’s depressing. This is just too much! I hope we don’t get physically infiltrated! I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s a weird time. I mean, what can I say?

Noah Emmerich (Stan Beeman, FBI agent)
I never thought we’d be this relevant in a contemporary political climate. We were making a period piece, and now it’s contemporary all of a sudden. So it’s unfortunate. It’s upsetting. It’s worrisome. And it’s fascinating. I think it’s the topic of many conversations on set, but it’s weird that it’s like our story line, albeit 30 years ago. James Comey is on my radar.

Costa Ronin (Oleg Burov, KGB bureaucrat)
It’s not that I think it’s stranger than fiction, but it is strange. But I don’t think it’s like what happened during the Cold War, or even close. I think we are a lot warmer now. We, as people, are warmer to each other. We woke up to what’s going on, and I think we’re realizing more and more that we have the same problems, and it’s bringing us together. And information is exchanged much quicker now. So I don’t think we’re in the same situation. I think part of the reason people like the show is that it’s not a show about Russia, it’s not a show about spies, it’s about people. What is it like to be a human being in these circumstances. I was born in and grew up in Russia, and I moved here six years ago, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York. But I can’t speak for Russia. I don’t know enough about what’s happening, and I don’t want to know.

Margo Martindale (Claudia, KGB handler)
It doesn’t influence the show at all. It will make it more interesting to watch, because people are going to look at it through different eyes. It also has made me smarter, from watching and knowing more, knowing how it works. Many things can be going on behind closed doors, and because of the show, I know more. Being on the show gives me a different perspective. But who knows what is really happening? We have a similar situation this season, but I can’t say what it is yet.

Holly Taylor (Paige Jennings)
It’s really crazy! It’s so cool, I kind of hope in a weird way it’ll motivate some people to watch the show. But I think it’s really interesting and I think it’s a sign of how history always repeats itself, here and there. So it’s very educational to watch. It’s just weird, watching the news. It’s a very weird time for everybody.

Keidrich Sellati (Henry Jennings)
It’s interesting, because you see the news and it’s a mess. Back then, it was a little more organized, especially counterintelligence. At least we knew what was going on. Now, the public doesn’t know that much.

Peter Jacobson (Wolfe, FBI agent)
Obviously, Joe [Weisberg] and Joel [Fields] knew this was going to happen, when they created the show. [Laughs.] They’re prescient in that way. They’re very smart boys. It just adds another twist when you’re on the set. We talk about it a lot on the set. Everybody is so plugged in, so a story will come out and everybody between takes is on their phones. Someone will be like, “This story just came up on Twitter,” or “This story just came up on Facebook,” and we’ll talk about it. I get a kick out of it when it’s about the FBI. Our FBI, we have more sideburns than James Comey does. I think he should try them. It might help. That will be the headline! “Actor Says Comey Should Get Sideburns.” My personal opinion is that the FBI could use a little help. It’s a wonderful coincidence for us. I mean, it’s not wonderful what’s happening — obviously there is tension and stress and concern and worry — but from us on the artistic side, it heightens the experience for us. If it’s making people think and talk, then that’s a really good thing.

The Americans Cast on Russian Spies, Trump, and Season 5