The Americans kicked off its New York Comic Con panel with the one announcement every fan wanted to hear, as FX Production’s Senior Vice President of Current Series Jonathan Frank revealed the drama’s third season will premiere in January. An exclamation of “Yes!” came from somewhere in the crowd, followed by a full room of applause.
After a brief clip package reminding the audience where the characters were left at the end of Season 2, moderator Andy Greenwald of Grantland welcomed the panelists onto the stage: showrunner Joseph Wesiberg (whom Greenwald introduced as "soon-to-be guest star"), executive producer/writer Joel Fields and stars Keri Russell (Elizabeth Jennings), Matthew Rhys (Philip Jennings), Noah Emmerich (Stan Beeman) and Annet Mahendru (Nina Sergeevna).
Greenwald pointed out that everyone on stage was wearing the same shirt: a black tee with red letters that read “Commie Con”. The wardrobe was Rhys’ idea, because, as he joked, “Growing up in the very socialist South of Wales, I actually thought there was a convention called ‘Commie Con.’”
Wesiberg opened by saying the first season of the Cold War thriller “was an exhausting, stressful, horrible experience, and the second season was, y'know, OK. But this season has been fantastic; everyone’s really been having a great time.”
While Season 2 focused on the marital drama between Elizabeth and Philip, Season 3 will turn its attention more toward the “perils of parenthood.”
“For us, the show is working best when Philip, Elizabeth and the other characters are all struggling with the things that everybody struggles with in their relationships,” Wesiberg said, noting that the unique circumstances of the show heighten the sense of life-and-death consequences. “We all feel like it’s life and death in our marriages and our relationships; with them, it really is.”
Russell said she sees her character’s relationship with daughter Paige as a reflection of Elizabeth’s own arc, especially in the final scene of Season 2. “I think there are so many layers in this moment as a mother, having Elizabeth watch this daughter be everything that she was, kind of rewatching this whole history taking place.”
Greenwald pointed out that Rhys’ character has opened each season with some sort of cowboy attire -- a hat in Season 1, boots “and ruthlessly [murdering] two people” in Season 2 -- and wondered what would happen if Philip ever went to Texas. “I think he’d probably have a hell of a time,” Rhys joked. “Probably come back with some chaps in his bag.”
Seeing as Philip and Elizabeth are required to be actors themselves to keep their identities secret, Greenwald asked what challenges Rhys and Russell faced playing characters who are, in turn, playing characters. The question actually stumped both actors for a few seconds, as they exchanged looks and waited for the other to speak.
“I’m still struggling with that one,” Rhys admitted to laughter from the crowd. “They were recruited at the age of 16, so the KGB didn’t really know how good they were as actors, so there’s a real beautiful safety net there. Philip probably thinks, ‘I don’t have to be a great actor; I just have to convince the person in front of me.’” He said that’s a mentality his own acting teacher taught him. Truth, he said, usually comes from scaling back on things like “a hump, and a limp, and a lisp, and an eye patch” and just keeping it simple. “That’s sort of the key to telling great lies.”
“Noah, Stan had a rough year,” Greenwald said, garnering a knowing laugh from the audience.
“Yeah, I feel for Stan, too,” Emmerich said. “And I feel for me, too.” He recounted all the successes he seemed to have early on, but said it’s been a steady decline since. Greenwald even said Stan’s high-water mark was the pilot episode.
“That’s because Nina wasn’t in the pilot,” Mahendru quipped.
Asked whether there were any plans to show mercy on Stan in Season 3, Wesiberg replied, “We talk about it all the time! We say, ‘Stan’s gotta catch a break,’ but then he just doesn’t catch a break.” Greenwald mocked Wesiberg for using the passive voice, as if the writer had nothing to do with what happened to the character.
Greenwald suggested more squash games with Philip, saying that the characters’ friendship is a joy to watch. “It's a funny thing because in the first two seasons, we loved seeing them together, we loved seeing their friendship. But the story never really drove them together," Weisberg said. "In this third season it's finally going to happen, I'm pleased to say."
Also ahead in Season 3 will be more of Mahendru’s Nina, despite the fact that she seemed to be heading toward a bullet at the end of Season 2. “The only thing I’m allowed to say, because these two guys are here,” she said, pointing at Wesiberg and Fields, “is that she’s still alive.” The audience was definitely happy to hear that.
Greenwald pointed out that the show films in Brooklyn, and that year one was shot around the time Hurricane Sandy hit, and the Season 2 shoot was plagued by the worst winter New York had seen in a while. “Turned out,” Wesiberg said, “that that winter historically was the worst winter in the history of Washington, D.C.,” referring to the fact that winter 1982, when Season 2 takes place, was indeed nasty for the region. “So we actually feel what we did was entirely accurate, and that Mother Nature was making up for what she did to the show the prior season.”
Weisberg said he’s looking forward to the first war in Afghanistan playing a role in the new season, although he isn’t surprised at the lack of enthusiastic response to the idea. (“Because it turned out there was another war in Afghanistan,” Greenwald said.) Fields, on the other hand, would only say the new season will be as much about parenting as last season was about marriage.
Asked whether the showrunners were as secretive with the cast as they were being with the panel, Emmerich joked, “I still don’t know which one is Joe and which one is Joel.”
The discussion moved to an audience Q&A, with the first fan asking how difficult it is for Russell to transition from different characters when she’s working on different projects simultaneously or after liv,ing with a character like Felicity for so long. Rhys interjected with a giddy smile and said he could answer for her: “She says she plays Felicity and Elizabeth exactly the same, except with Elizabeth she straightens her hair and doesn’t smile.”
Asked what the actors think their characters would be like if they survive the Cold War, Mahendru responded flatly, “Yes, Nina should survive,” clearly indicating her desire to remain on the drama. Everyone else seemed to think their characters would enjoy surviving the war, except for Russell. “I don’t think she’d be too happy,” she said. “It’s complicated.”
It may not even matter, as Wesiberg pointed out it would be difficult for them to reach the collapse of the Soviet Union in the lifespan of a television series, not to mention the fact that they have child characters who wouldn’t age appropriately.
The next fan asked how much research the writers do to learn about the technology of the Cold War. “I wish I could call it research instead of memory,” Wesiberg said, poking fun at himself. He went on to explain that the characters not having access to devices like cellphones and computers actually makes their stories work in more interesting ways. “We have a great props department that goes back and picks the best examples of these things to use, the things that are the most visually interesting.”
Someone asked whether the music in the show’s many montages had any secret meaning. “Everything has hidden meanings in this show,” Wesiberg said, although he was likely joking, as he indicated the music isn’t something they usually plan too far in advance.
Returning to the topic of the characters themselves being actors, a fan wanted to know whether Rhys and Russell enjoyed any particular disguise most. Russell said they have a lot of fun in the makeup trailer. “We name them all,” she explained. “Among our favorite of Matthew's is one in particular we call ‘Fernando,’ and he speaks with a very low Spanish accent."
"Fernando's voice was actually stolen from Buzz Lightyear when he gets switched onto Spanish mode,” Rhys said, doing an amusingly accurate impersonation. He added that they tend to give the disguises rich backstories as part of the fun.
Greenwald asked whether the writers ever find themselves “writing to the wig” when something coming out of hair and makeup strikes them. “Certainly with Clark,” Wesiberg replied, invoking a whistle from the audience. Fields added that some of the disguises would actually be returning in more “fully formed ways” for Season 3.
The final question was from a Russian-American woman who wondered whether the cast’s perception of Russians has changed since being on the show. There was an uncertain silence for a few seconds while everyone looked at Mahendru, who is Russian on her mother’s side. “What?” she asked defensively.
Finally, Rhys leaned forward, smiling cheekily, and replied, “I’ll just say that they’re a wonderful group of people that deserve to be celebrated and congratulated.”