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Margo Martindale on Playing Ruthless Women and Seeing More of Claudia on The Americans This Season

Any episode of The Americans is always a little bit better when Claudia appears. The hard-nosed handler of spies, played by perpetually busy Emmy winner Margo Martindale, does just that in this week’s episode, “Lotus 1-2-3,” popping in to advise Gabriel (Frank Langella) that he should keep Mischa (Alex Ozerov) as far away as possible from his father, Philip (Matthew Rhys).

While chatting about that scene, Martindale — who spoke to Vulture via phone while sitting in the green room of Larry King Now — shared some good news: This week’s episode is not the last time we’ll be spending quality time with Claudia during season five.

This episode marks the second time we’ve seen Claudia this season. Will we see her again?
Yes, quite a bit.

Oh, good! Without spoiling anything, how is she going to get drawn into things again? Is it because of Mischa or other issues?
I think I would have to say other issues.

She appears briefly in this episode but her role is important because she convinces Gabriel to keep Mischa away from Philip.
I love Frank [Langella]. It’s so much fun to work with him. I like that scene a lot. It says a lot about our relationship and what’s going on in Philip’s life, and what’s going on in Gabriel’s life, where he’s having some issues and worries. We were young people together, you know, in the army, probably. We have a really close relationship. How close — I’ve always hoped that we had an affair along the way. That’s only in my own head: Margo’s, not Claudia’s.

Is that something you’ve talked about with Frank?
Yeah, we’ve talked about it. It’s just for fun.

Is it something you have in the back of your minds, as subtext?
No, we’re not really doing that. But we have a really close relationship.

In that scene, Gabriel accuses Claudia of not trusting Philip, and she denies that. What do you think Claudia’s feelings are about Philip at this point?
From season one, I think I’ve always had mistrust of Philip. He’s not as good as a soldier as Elizabeth is. I see, of course, more of myself in Elizabeth and I am a good soldier. That’s really how I feel about Philip. I don’t know that I’ve changed much. But maybe a little bit. Maybe I’m softening to Philip.

Claudia pops up now and again to have these conversations with Gabriel. What is she doing these days when she’s not with Gabriel? Is it something you’ve thought about?
I think I have been back home, and I have been, also, here [in the U.S.]. I have been probably handling some other people. But always keeping my eye on [Philip and Elizabeth].

How important is it for you, as an actor, to have a sense of what she’s doing offscreen?Honestly, in the first season I was a little more invested. It’s been a little harder in the seasons I wasn’t in much. I did decide on what my home life was like. I’m very alone in the world. My life is extremely quiet and I think that where I am now, it maybe has a little more noise or something. If that makes any sense to you.

I feel like you’re trying to be careful so you don’t tell me too much.
Yeah. It’s very hard.

That’s what a good spy does.
I’m a very good spy.

With regard to Gabriel, you mentioned that they have a very close relationship. But he seems to rely on her more and more for advice, which is interesting because he technically predated her as Philip’s and Elizabeth’s handler.
He did. I replaced him originally. I can’t remember why, but I always thought there was a crack in Gabriel and that’s why he was taken off the case and gone home to begin with. That’s when I stepped in for him. There’s some kind of a vulnerability that sometimes he shows — he can’t separate as well as I can. I think it’s caused him problems.

Which is interesting, because that’s the Philip and Elizabeth dynamic.
Exactly. Very much.

This episode was directed by Noah Emmerich …
Just brilliant as a director.

… and last season you were in an episode that Matthew Rhys directed.
And he’s fantastic as well.

What is it like to be directed by fellow cast members?
What they bring is a deep understanding of the story and how much you can and can’t reveal, and how tight to keep it. They’re both incredibly talented. Noah, for that scene in the car, knew that we could go deeper. We could do it more. We could take more time. He really is a great guide. He was fantastic. I think it comes from being an actor on the show, both of them, and knowing the story and the challenges we’re faced with and all of the problems that arise. It just helps tremendously.

You’ve won two Emmys for your work on The Americans. Last year the show also got more widespread Emmy attention. Why do you think it took so long for those other nominations to come?
I think it has to do with how it was hard to catch up with the show when you would hear about it. And now that it’s on — I think it’s on Amazon, right? So people were able to catch up with the show because they could start from the beginning and they were not able to do that until this last season. I think that gave us a lot more viewers and a lot more people watching it and getting involved in it.

And that meant the voters felt like they had to pay attention to it.
That’s exactly right, and I think it’s been a big help. I think this next year will be their biggest Emmy season ever.

Why do you say that?
I just think it’s a brilliant season.

It’s the next to last season, sadly. Have you talked to Joe [Weisberg] and Joel [Fields] about what role Claudia may play in the final season?
No, I have not talked to them about what role I will play. But I will be there.

When you get to this point and you know a show is coming to an end, I’m guessing you start to reflect on the whole experience. Have you gotten to that point where you’re feeling sad that it’s ending?
I’m sad that it’s ending because it’s such a brilliant show and it’s been wonderful to be there from the very beginning. Sometimes it’s time for things to be done. Six seasons is a lot. It will be great.

I feel like when shows have a defined end point, they tend to wrap up in a more satisfying way.
I do, too. They won’t tell us — or maybe they’d tell those two people [Rhys and Keri Russell] — how it’s going to be. I don’t think Keri and Matthew know exactly how it’s ending either. So we’re sort of in the dark about that.

Do you prefer to be in the dark about it?
I don’t want to know what’s going to happen to them. I’d rather speculate.

Do you have a favorite episode or scene up to this point?
You know, I loved the scene in the first season where I slit the guy’s throat.

Why is that your favorite?
I love the revenge that I had on that man, and I loved watching him bleed out as I told him exactly why I cut his throat. [Laughs.]

You’re very good at playing ruthless woman. Why is that? Is it a release valve in some way?
Yes, it is. It’s very satisfying.

And much healthier to do it in that context.
So much healthier than doing it in my life! I hope I get to cut somebody else’s throat.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Margo Martindale on Playing Ruthless Women