'The Americans' Star Alison Wright on Martha's Return

"She seems to have a little bit more of a spine," she says of her character.
Jeffrey Neira/FX
Alison Wright in 'The Americans'

Warning: The follow article contains spoilers of "IHOP," episode 9 of The Americans' fifth season. Proceed with caution.

This week's episode of The Americans welcomed back a familiar face.

Fan-favorite Martha, played by Alison Wright, returned to the FX spy drama after being absent for nearly an entire season. While she made a brief appearance in an earlier episode this run when she was seen shopping at a grocery store, Tuesday's installment marked her first speaking role in the fifth season.

In the scene, viewers see her sit down for dinner at home when she's paid a visit by Gabriel (Frank Langella), who recently retired and moved back to Russia. But when he tries to check in on her and tell her how much her ex-lover Clark — one of Matthew Rhys' many alter egos on the show — misses her, Martha isn't having any of it.

"She seems to have a little bit more of a spine," says Wright, who has kept herself busy in the interim with parts on Ryan Murphy's FX drama Feud, Amazon's Sneaky Pete and Broadway play Sweat. "She's got no time for this man. I think it's nice to see her assert herself like that."

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Wright ahead of the ninth episode's debut to discuss her big return in the penultimate season, what showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields told her about her character, and what she thinks about Martha's new life in Russia.

When did you find out that you would be coming back?

I've known for a long time. They told me a long time ago what their plan was. What I like really about this episode is that we see her interacting with Gabriel, with him showing up at her door and her obviously not expecting him or not knowing what he could possibly want and fearing the worst. I like that although we get to see her exist with him — and she seems to be slightly more centered and stronger than we last saw her — she really does remains a bit of an enigma in terms of how she is in her brand new life in Moscow and how she’s managing and adapting to it. So it interests me that we do see it a snippet of her there with Gabriel, but there is still a lot to learn about what her reality is now and how she feels about it.

When you first heard that your character was going to be shipped off to Russia, did you ask what was going to happen to Martha? Or did you not want to know?

When they first told me that, I remember I was really sad for her and they were so surprised. They thought it was great that she was going to be wind up alive and that she wasn't going to be dead. I was thinking, isn't being shuttled off to Moscow in 1984 just as bad as being dead for her? And they were surprised that that was my point of view at the time. But I asked if you were ever going to see her journey again. That could have easily been the end of her story.

But you assumed you'd be back as an actor on the series, right?

Well, there's no guarantee like that at all in television because they're changing their minds all the time and alternating what appears in each episode. Things have already shifted around time-wise compared to what they initially planned, so it's always in flux and moving.

We see you briefly earlier in the season, presumably just to let viewers know that you were alive, yes?

I would assume that that was the intent, yeah. And now, obviously now we get to see a little bit more of her. I knew that that wasn't going to be all that we saw of her when we shot it, but I think it was a nice, typically Americans-esque smart little thing they put in there. They're assuming that the audience is paying attention and watching and not off making a cup of coffee or anything. I love that they did it and put it in there without much pomp or circumstance. I really like that. It's very appropriate for how they operate at The Americans.

When you read the script, what were your initial thoughts?

Well, I'd been in constant communication with the J’s [Fields and Weisberg] since she went off to Russia about how she is feeling. What they write for her, that's just what she's saying. But there's so much more going on for her that she doesn't get to say or talk about. We've always had to stay connected in terms of what was happening and what story they wanted to tell and how they wanted to portray how she was now in Russia. I don't think that we have a full explanation of that yet, even after this episode. We see that she seems to have a little bit more of a spine. It seems that she's been ruminating for this whole nine months about every single interaction that she had with Clark or anybody that turns out may not have been who they said they were, such as Claudia. I think she's been piecing those things together since she got there alone, trying to figure out where her life all went so wrong.

Do you feel bad for Martha the way viewers seem to?

I actually don't think it's portrayed [in a sad way.] Yeah, she's in Soviet Russia, but it's a pretty nice apartment that she's in. She's clothed and she's looking like she takes a shower and brushes her hair in the morning. She's putting one foot in front of the other. It might have been a very different sort of thing if it hadn't been Gabriel at the door. We don't know that yet though because we haven't seen enough of her life yet to know really how she's adjusting. She's on the defensive as soon as she sees that man at her door. She's thinking, “It couldn't possibly be good news. What the hell does he want?” There's a million terrible things that are running through her head when she sees him. That’s where she's playing the scene from.

Why do you think she tells Gabriel not to ever come back?

Because I think she's insulted at the way he's speaking to her and insulted at the way he tries to bring up Clark and say that Clark has been thinking of her. I think she draws the line there. And when it seems like he doesn't want anything or he's not telling her exactly what it is that he wants — like she said, she's figured it all out now. She understands everything now. And that’s a horrible, horrible truth and heavy burden to bear. She's got no time for this man. I think it's nice to see her assert herself like that. Even though it's a rough situation, it's the opposite of that, I think.

How do you think Martha feels about Clark now that she understands more?

Well, we don't know that yet. They haven't written it. I could come up with a million theories in my head — and I do because that's my homework, but then we see what they write. I think when you have a terrible breakup with somebody you obsess about it. You think about nothing else. You think about everything you said, didn't say, what they said, what it could have meant, what you ignored, what you were in denial about. You ruminate on those things all day long for months and months and months. And I think that's where she's at. It's a harsh reality about what she's responsible for herself and what she allowed to happen to her.

Have you been watching this season?

I've been a bit a little bit busy because I'm doing a Broadway play at the moment and our schedule is pretty brutal. I've seen some of the episodes though and met a lot of the new actors in person. So I'm catching up as I can.

Is it safe to assume we'll see you again this season?

I couldn't possibly comment.

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