FX hit show “The Americans” just wrapped up its sixth and final season this spring. The final big event for the ATX Television Festival on Sunday was a celebration of the spy thriller with series’ actors Keri Russell (Elizabeth Jennings), Matthew Rhys (Phillip Jennings), Noah Emmerich (Stan Beeman), Holly Taylor (Paige Jennings), Keidrich Sellati (Henry Jennings) and Brandon J. Dirden (Dennis Aderholt). Show creator Joe Weisberg, showrunner Joel Fields and Chris Long, who directed the series finale, were also on the panel.
Most of the conversation centered on how the series “stuck the landing” with a gut-wrenching final episode that was a masterclass in acting and directing. Though (spoiler alert) lead characters Philip and Elizabeth Jennings were forced to make the devastating decision to abandon their children and return to Russia, many of the plot lines were left open ended. At the panel, the cast and crew were reluctant to fill in the blanks.
“The rest is written in our imagination,” Noah Emmerich said, emphasizing his opinion that any viewer’s interpretation of the finale is just as valid his own.
But we did learn a few things about how the actors believe it might have played out.
Paige was ready to hang up her life as a spy. “Somebody had to stay there for Henry,” actor Holly Taylor said, clarifying her character’s motivation for getting off the train in Canada, one of the most brutal moments of the finale. Asked if her character would continue a life of crime, she said, “I think she’s out.”
Stan’s girlfriend Renee was probably a spy. Emmerich didn’t want to spend much time parsing his character’s internal struggles, instead asking the audience to let his performance speak for itself, but he did admit that he believed Stan would begin investigating his girlfriend. “It’s hard for me to imagine Stan letting that lie,” he said.
Matthew Rhys said he believed Phillip was mostly being honest in his powerful monologue in the garage when he persuades Stan to let the family leave. He said that his character revealing his suspicion about Renee was a “great act of love and respect” to Stan. “Never trust a woman who goes to bed fully made up with her hair done,” he added with a laugh.
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Philip and Elizabeth had a limited number of disguises, but each reflected a fully formed life. The showrunners gave only general descriptions (i.e. home nurse) for the characters Philip and Elizabeth played when they disguised themselves, but the writers fleshed out full biographies to give to the actors. They believed Philip and Elizabeth would create a detailed backstory for each character that would stand up under interrogation. To keep it realistic, they didn’t want the couple to have an unlimited stash of disguises. There were roughly 10 wigs, which they kept reusing. Sometimes Philip wore Elizabeth’s wigs.
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And the kids did not love that ‘80s look. “Wearing mom jeans was the worst,” Keidrich Sellati said. He (accurately) believed acid-washed denim was a travesty. They weren’t fans of the itchy wool sweaters their characters wore either. “It’s like they want you to be hurting,” Holly Taylor said.