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When writing for the married Russian spy couple at the center of FX’s The Americans — Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings — so much of their relationship is about what’s left unsaid that Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg often find themselves winnowing down scripts to bare moments that the actors then breath meaning into. Whether with a glance or the perfect tone, Russell and Rhys bring the writers’ words to life. It’s just one part of the collaborative writing process that Fields and Weisberg divulge in their scene breakdown from their nominated script, “Persona Non Grata.”
1. “In our first draft, Philip and Elizabeth had a lengthy discussion about what life would be like for their family in the USSR if they went back home,” said Fields and Weisberg in a joint email. “We pared it down and down until it finally became just these two lines.”
2. “We have a special calendar we keep on the wall of our ‘writing vault,’ which shows the dates on which the episode occurs, including some real-world events that happened during the episode. We are obsessed with the real timeline in which our fictional characters are living.”
3. “We do a lot of our writing while walking,” says Fields (above left, with Weisberg).
4. “The cutout of Ronald Reagan in our writers office always is there to remind us of his presence in [the era of] the show.”
5. “We get extensive notes from every member of our writing staff on every draft.”
6. ?“We talked a lot about the right tone for this — was Elizabeth asking nicely, was she being bossy, was it a matter-of-fact request? We had our own feeling about how it should play, but we don’t give our actors directions on lines, and Keri and Matthew found the perfect tone for it: worried, urgent, but collaborative parenting.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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