Emmys 2013: The Brutal, NSFW Set of FX's 'The Americans'

"The Americans"
"The Americans"
 Dorothy Hong

This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There is a lot of driving and talking in The Americans, the FX drama about Soviet spies living undercover as an American family in 1980s suburban Washington, D.C. On a frigid February morning at the LaGuardia Airport Marriott overlooking the airport in Queens, there are several late-1970s sedans and an ambulance in the parking lot as shooting on the episode "Mutually Assured Destruction" (which aired March 20) gets under way. Inside the lobby, which looks like it has not had a face-lift since the Reagan era, stars Keri Russell, 37, and Matthew Rhys, 38, rib each other about their chemistry. "He doesn't argue with me," jokes Russell. "He says yes to everything I say." Rhys agrees: "I toe the line." Russell laughs: "And that's exactly what I was looking for!"

PHOTOS: 'The Americans': Exclusive Looks at Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys on Set

Russell was cast first in creator Joe Weisberg's series, which finished its first season with an average of 3.4 million viewers an episode, tying Justified as the network's most-watched first-season drama. (FX quickly ordered a second season in the winter; production begins in the fall.) She admits that the Russian dialogue presented challenges: "At one point, our Russian expert said, 'You say this very well.' I said, 'Do I sound like a Russian?' She said, 'Not even close.' " Asked whether she brings her kids -- son River, who will turn 6 on June 9, and 17-month-old daughter Willa -- to the set, Russell says, "One scene I'm being beaten by a belt in my underwear in a hotel room. … You know, it's kind of adult."

Sex and violence abound, though both make sense within the context of spy work and its globe-spanning ideological stakes during the Cold War. When Rhys read with Russell for the first time, the scene was a heightened confrontation that ended with Russell slapping Rhys hard across the face. "I don't know how to fake slap," she admits. "So I was just like, kapow! -- and I could see the red handprint on his face. But he just looked right back at me. He didn't take a moment to recover; he stayed right in the scene." Asked whether the slap hurt, Rhys grins and points to his heart: "Only here."

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