The FX series The Americans has consistently been one of the best dramas on television, with an intricately woven plot that’s pulled off with ease by its tremendously talented cast of actors. With the tension among the characters rising and only two seasons left to tell their story, co-showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields were at the TCA Summer Press Tour to preview what’s to come.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, executive producers/writers Weisberg and Fields talked about how surreal the first-time Emmy nominations are, especially four seasons into its run, when the show reached its stride, how they decided on two final seasons to finish up this story, that Season 5 is going to see many things come to a head that were set in motion at the beginning, when they realized that Keri Russell could pull off this role so expertly, when Paige’s storyline grew to what it is now, and whether we might ever see Martha again. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Congratulations on all of the Emmy nominations! After years of this show tragically being overlooked, you’ve now been invited to the party, which anyone who watches the show knew you should have been, from the beginning. How does it feel to finally have that recognition?
JOE WEISBERG: First of all, it’s unreservedly positive, and I can’t think of too many things I say that about.
JOEL FIELDS: Except for the part that’s so surreal it leaves one sometimes breaking out in a cold sweat that it’s all just not happening.
WEISBERG: It’s so nice, and it’s shocking. It was a total shock. We assumed that we were never going to be nominated. We’d come up with so many reasons why we didn’t get nominated that eventually you start to believe those reasons. It was an absolute shocker.
FIELDS: The special icing on the cake for us is seeing Matthew [Rhys] and Keri [Russell] recognized by their peers. Their performances are so extraordinary and deep and rich, and the fact that enough people are watching the show to see that is very gratifying. It’s so well-earned.
When do you feel like this show really reached its stride?
FIELDS: I think there was definitely a moment at which we felt we weren’t going to die, somewhere around the middle or end of the second season. The first season was brutal, in terms of the hours that went into it, and it took us awhile to get our arms around the process. But in terms of stride, every season, Joe and I talk about trying to make the next season even better than the last. For us, anyway, it feels like we’ve been able to keep challenging ourselves, make the show different and keep it growing. We actually hope that it just continues in whatever stride its been in.
WEISBERG: It’s funny, I really think about this a lot. Usually, we walk around together to figure out the show, but during hiatus, we walk around by ourselves. When I was walking around by myself this summer, I thought about this very question, and I think that we got the show and what we wanted it to be by the beginning of the second season. I think the first season, we were exploring and figuring it out. More than anything else, we didn’t yet have the tone. I think that by the beginning of the second season, we got the tone of the show. And then, we could make it better every season, explore within that zone and figure out different things to do. When we nailed down the tone, that was the crucial thing.
Keri Russell was not the obvious choice for a role like this, when you guys hired her. At any point in the process, were you worried that she couldn’t pull off a role like this, or did you always know that she could be this woman?
WEISBERG: We were sitting in a room with the list of the 200 actresses in Hollywood that were the appropriate age, and everybody was looking at the list kind of bewildered without any idea of who could do it ‘cause it’s a very unusual role. John Landgraf went, “Keri Russell,” and I didn’t know anything of hers except Felicity, so I did wonder. And then, literally that night, I watched Waitress, and if you see Waitress, you understand that she can do anything. So, I never had any anxiety after that, at all.
How and when did you decide that two more seasons would be the right amount to finish telling this story?
FIELDS: Mid-way through Season 4, John Landgraf reached out to us and said that he wanted to put into our hands how we would end the show and how much time we would take to end the show. He thought it was good for us to be able to have the freedom to think about that early, so that we could build out what our ending was going to be.
WEISBERG: You know what we should have said? We should have said, “No, you decide! Enough with this empowering the showrunner!” That would have been good.
FIELDS: “You know what? We’re actually going to run the network next year. You write the next two seasons. We’re tired!” It was very generous of him. As with most things with John, we said, “Thanks,” and then we started to think about it. Basically, if we make the wrong choice, we’re going to destroy something very, very valuable and lose all credibility with our audience, the critics, our family and the industry, but it’s in our hands.
Are you thinking of these two seasons as the end game that you’re working toward, or are you still taking it one season at a time?
WEISBERG: It’s both. By figuring them out together, we’re able to figure out how to make it the end game, but next season really is a stand-alone season. We could just do next season without thinking too much about the final season, but it does start to lay the emotional and plot groundwork for the final season.
FIELDS: And I’m not sure we could quite hit the pieces we’re hitting next season, if we didn’t know where we were going.
WEISBERG: Definitely not.
Even though it’s still a ways until the Season 5 premiere in 2017, what can you say about what’s to come?
WEISBERG: Well, we’re going to answer all of those questions, and I think more of them sooner than later.
FIELDS: In a lot of ways, this next season is going to see many things come to a head that were set in motion, at the beginning. We’ll also have Frank Langella back as Gabriel and Margo Martindale will be back as Claudia. We’ve got some exciting new parts that have not yet been cast.
WEISBERG: A lot of the family stuff that’s been simmering between Paige and her parents is going to start boiling.
It’s been remarkable to watch Paige’s journey. At what point did you realize just how much you could throw Holly Taylor’s way, and that she’d be able to handle it?
WEISBERG: It has to be said that when we auditioned her, she was amazing. There was a lot of promise there, but it’s true that there was no way to know that she could do anything. It was always clear that her story was going to go in some semblance of this direction. What we didn’t know was that it could have this much breadth to it and that it could have this much time given to it. I think it would have always been this story, but it might not have had this much screen time given to it.
FIELDS: It just wouldn’t have been as good.
At this point, how do you deal with Henry being the only member of the family that doesn’t know what’s going on? Is it more challenging to keep him in the dark?
FIELDS: Well, I think what’s interesting is that it becomes easier and it becomes harder. It becomes practically easier, but emotionally harder. The family is, in its efforts to protect the last member who doesn’t know, cutting that person out of the family.
WEISBERG: But, how good is that for us? We live for shit like that.
FIELDS: One thing we’ve talked about is that, if you look at those first two seasons and 10 episodes before she knew, Paige and Henry were so bonded, and they were bonded in this unconscious way. They shared this darkness. And as soon as she was brought in, she starts to get more bonded with her parents and she’s torn away from her brother.
What can you say about what’s to come for Stan?
FIELDS: There’s some interesting turns coming up for Stan, as well, and a new relationship.
Will we ever see Martha again? Do you think about what she’s off doing?
FIELDS: We know what she’s off doing. She’s not dead yet.
WEISBERG: In other words, we’re not going to tell you. One of the things we like about that story is that it works both ways. It works if you never see her again, and it works if you see her again. That’s a sweet spot for us.
The Americans returns for Season 5 on FX in 2017.