'The Americans' Star on Martha's Fate: "She Always Has the Option to Kill Herself"

"There's definitely a little voice in her somewhere thinking there's another way out," castmember Alison Wright tells THR.
Patrick Harbron/FX
Alison Wright

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's episode of The Americans.]

Ahead of The Americans' season four debut, showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields promised that the FX drama would "reach boiling point." Now seven episodes in, the spy thriller is beginning to do exactly that. 

With Martha, played by Alison Wright, learning increasingly more about her husband Clark's (one of Matthew Rhys' many alter egos) true identity as a KGB spy, she finds herself in a precarious position. "She had to find out at some point. She had to ask," Wright tells The Hollywood Reporter.

What's more devastating to Martha is not that her already mysterious husband is working for the Russian government but rather that his "sister" Jennifer (one of Keri Russell's character Elizabeth's secret identities) isn't actually his sibling, prompting her to wonder about Clark's devotion to her. But in the end, it's the one truth she still clings to despite all of the deception.

"She loves him terribly, and she believes that he loves her too," says Wright. "All of the situations may have turned out to be lies, but she still thinks their love is real and that it always was."

Following the drama's seventh episode, Wright talks to THR about whether or not Philip (Rhys) loves both of his wives, how she saw her character's storyline playing out and where Martha can go from here ("She always has the option to kill herself," she says.)

These past couple of episode have taken Martha to new depths. Has it been fun to go there?

Martha behaves in ways she hasn't really up until now, so it was definitely a different kind of territory. The writers gave me both episodes six and seven as one big episode because they count as one for Martha, really. But yeah, it was a dream as an actor to have that much going on. However, this will have been the worst two days of Martha's life. I think she's completely numb and shell-shocked at the end of episode seven, especially. She's lost her life. Her life as she knew it is gone, and she's numb thinking of all the possibilities of what comes next.

What do you think is going through Martha's head when Jennifer shows up at the park?

She's in an extremely vulnerable moment there when Jennifer shows up because she's waiting for Clark and he doesn't bloody show up. Someone else shows up! So right off the bat, she's angry and afraid. When she asks Jennifer, "Are you sleeping with my husband?" I don't think she has any idea that the situation is anywhere near where it actually is. It's just a knee-jerk reaction question. If your husband's been involved with another woman who was supposed to be someone and is apparently someone else, that's a really basic human thought all of us would jump to. I'm pretty sure Martha has never been punched in the gut before. I think that was a first. Bless her.

Do you think that Martha believes Jennifer after that conversation?

Yeah, she thinks Jennifer is just someone that Clark works with. She has bigger fish to fry. She asks that question, gets that answer and she puts it back into her subconscious. She'll deal with it some other time.

Why do you think she ultimately decides to go with Jennifer?

I think she acquiesces. She surrenders at that point. Jennifer's telling her, "They know who you are. They're coming for you, and you're going to ruin Clark's life, too, if you don't play along here." And that's what does it for her. That's why she walks away with her because she's still concerned about him and doesn't want to get him into any more trouble than he is already in.

Do you think Clark/Philip is in love with both of his wives?

I think he's very much in love with his wife Elizabeth. But I don't think he's in love with Martha, no.

Why not?

I think Elizabeth takes up all of his heart. He cares for Martha, he respects her and may well have spent some great times with her genuinely enjoying her company — but Martha is work. They have that beautiful moment with Elizabeth in episode seven, that gorgeous scene where Philip's like, "Are you crazy? I love you. Are you nuts?" And that's the story I go with, too. That's what I believe.

Is this how you saw Martha's storyline playing out from the beginning?

I suppose so. She had to find out at some point. She had to ask. But she wakes up a different woman that morning in the safe house after finding out that Clark is KGB. She has a seriousness that she's never had before. It's almost like a calm before the storm, and she takes out all that fury on Gabriel (Frank Langella) when she runs out. She can't take it out on Clark because one, she doesn't want to, and two, because he's not there, again. But we still get to see her anger and her fury, which was great. We just had to talk about how we were going to calibrate that since it's not a huge part of her personality already.

Why do you think Martha keeps going back to Clark?

Why do women do it every single day? She loves him. She loves him terribly, and she believes that he loves her too. He's been a Prince Charming. This has been the best relationship she's had. She thinks they can get though anything and that they will be able to be together and be happy in the end. And she thinks that Clark wants to be with her. All of the situations may have turned out to be lies, but she still thinks their love is real and that it always was.

What about the moment she finds out that she's going to be shipped off to Russia and Clark isn't going with her?

It's a tragic moment. It's like when you lose somebody very close to you, or if somebody dies, there's a part of you that feels like the world should stop and it feels offensive that the world is still continuing on because it should stop at the horror of the moment — and that's where she is. She just starts to think about the practicalities; it's heartbreaking. She even bothers saying to him, "I don't speak Russian," as if he doesn't know that. She's just thinking about how she'll survive there and what her mom and dad will think. She's just gone back to basics because he's just taken her life away, so she can only think in baby steps.

So, what options does Martha have at this point?

Something that was always in my head — it didn't necessarily come from the J's [Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields] — but the idea that she always has the option to kill herself. She considers it in episode seven. It's not clear when she calls her parents to say goodbye if that's what she was actually doing and that she just changed her mind. But I think when Clark is telling her all this about getting on a plane and starting a new life in Russia, even as she's listening to him and taking it in, there's definitely a little voice in her somewhere thinking that if she can't do that, there's another way out. That's seeped into my work and into my ideas about Martha because of all the real-life case stories we have. Three out of four women committed suicide within 24 hours of finding out that their spouses were actually plants for the KGB or for the Stasi in the German cases — and not because they had found out that they were working for the KGB or for the Nazis but because they had found out that the men had never actually loved them.

Right, it's more about how they've been personally affected …

Yeah, and that's going to lead to humiliation and feelings of deep shame, of embarrassment and self-hatred — all bad things. (Laughs.)

What'd you think about how the writers killed off Annet Mahendru's character, Nina?

It was amazing storytelling, and they executed it splendidly. I was shocked that they did it but happy that they had the integrity to do what needed to be done and not keep a character around for any other reason than it serving the story. I thought it was a really bold move. And who knew the Soviets were more humane than we are in terms of executing somebody? They say they do it quickly on purpose so that the person doesn’t have enough time to lose their minds and be terrified, which seems better than keeping someone on death row for 10 years.

Were you ever worried about your character's fate in earlier seasons?

A little bit in the first season. When they killed Chris Amador [Maximiliano Hernández] fairly early on, that kind of changed the landscape. Everyone was like, "Holy shit, they just killed a series regular before the end of the season. What the fuck dos this mean?" For a good while, everyone was terrified and was reading through the scripts to see if there character was getting into any danger. I'd have to ask [Joe and Joel] if they ever had a different story in mind for Martha, but I think it's been exactly what they planned for exactly as long as they planned it. With these marriages, they wanted to stress the point that they went on for years and there were children and entire families. It was a long-term thing.

What was the most challenging scene for you in this episode?

Sadistically, I enjoyed them all. None of them were difficult in any way that they shouldn't have been difficult. I'm very lucky to get to do all this stuff with Matthew. He's the best partner to have. I felt a lot of responsibility because it's the fourth season. She's finally asked the question and she finally knows almost everything, so there was a big responsibility to bring that story to fruition in the way that was truthful to her and the storyline. That was a pressure but a good one.