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[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of The Americans.]
At its heart, The Americans was always a family drama more than it was a spy thriller. So it’s no surprise that in the end, the series delivered one of the most heartbreaking relational twists.
Holly Taylor, who plays Paige in the show, made the utterly surprising, gut-wrenching choice to step off the train that her parents (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) were on in route back to Russia after their covers were blown in the U.S.
“I was so shocked when I read that. I was not expecting that at all,” Taylor tells The Hollywood Reporter of the pivotal moment. “And you see Elizabeth’s reaction with her hand up to the window and you’re just like, ‘Oh, my god, my heart is in a million pieces on the floor.’”
Taylor gave THR an inside look at what it was like the film the last two episodes of the series, the joke on set about where Paige ends up in life and whether she thinks Stan’s wife is KGB.
What was it like to read the scripts for those last two episodes?
When I read the script for the first time I was really shocked, especially referring to the conversation between Paige and Elizabeth where Paige calls her out on some stuff she’s been keeping from her. That was definitely not a conversation I was expecting, especially because this season, their relationship seemed to go a lot smoother and now all of the sudden this has really made it take such a dramatic turn. I think it was something that was going to happen eventually, I guess, I just wasn’t expecting it. It was really interesting shooting that scene because I felt so bad for yelling at Keri; she’s so nice. I was like “This is so horrible” and she would tear up in the scene. But then I would start crying — but I didn’t want to cry in the scene — and they were like, “Try it again but without crying” and I was like, “I’m trying, but she’s crying so it’s making me cry.” So it was hard, but it was a really fun scene.
Was it your last scene filmed in that kitchen?
Yes, that was really sad. I was hoping for a family scene or something, but that’s what I got and I guess it was in true fashion of the show. At least it was a really amazing scene. And it was with Keri, and she’s awesome and it was a good way to leave that set. But it was really sad because I’ve been there since I was 14, so I couldn’t really process that that was my last time being there.
Did you talk with Keri beforehand about that scene?
We usually don’t talk about the scene before we get to set. I mean, we’ll go in and rehearse it, and maybe the director will tell you what they’re envisioning for it, we’ll try it a couple different ways to see what works. I think we found something really nice and what I like about the scene is that nobody really wins. In the beginning, it kind of looks like Paige is the one who is going to take Elizabeth down, but then Elizabeth comes right back at her. They’re both just kind of at a loss.
What did you think when reading the words you had to say for the first time?
At first, I didn’t think it seemed fair the first time I read it. I was thinking that I would never, ever say those words to my mother in real life, so I thought it was very different. But then I understood the circumstances that Paige is in and how much is kept from her. She’s really trusted her mother all this time and she’s asked her this question straight out before, if she does participate in these kinds of activities and she lied to her face. I think that it was fair for her to feel betrayed and lied to at this stage.
What do you think set your character off this time?
Because she knows that her mom has been lying to her for years and this is the first time where she’s felt that her mom is finally telling her the truth about things and is letting her in on stuff, and she still isn’t. It’s like she finally started to gain trust and think that her mom is bringing her in, but she was still hiding all these things from her that were in plain sight.
Why do you think Elizabeth is still lying to Paige?
I think that’s it’s something embarrassing for any mother to have to talk to their daughter about. Sexual situations like that are not a comfortable conversation. She also didn’t want Paige to ever think that she would have to do something like that. She didn’t want to tell Paige, ‘oh you know this is what I’m doing’ because then Paige might have thought, ‘I can try that out too.’ I don’t think that’s what Elizabeth and Philip ever wanted for her. I think they try to protect her from that aspect of it.
Did the finale go where you thought it would?
Well, I had no idea where it was going to go because I can never guess correctly, but I knew that this conflict came at the worst time for Elizabeth and Paige, and it was definitely going to create more tension no matter how the show ended. If they all have to run away and escape somewhere, Paige isn’t going to trust her own mother. If Elizabeth dies or Paige dies, they’ve now left things on a bad note. Any way that it ended, it just made everything worse.
What were your first reactions reading the script?
When I read the finale script, I was speechless for about 20 minutes. I couldn’t even comprehend what I had just read. The more I thought about it and the more I sat on it, the more heartbreaking I realized it was. I feel like that was the saddest possible way for the show to end. It could have been violent, there could have been a shootout, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as heartbreaking as this was. That’s definitely what the writers were going for and they did an amazing job. I don’t think there could have been a better ending.
How did Joe and Joel give it to you?
They’re very secretive; they’re like spies. And they just email you the script, and it’s all a surprise and you just read it.
What was the first thing you said to them after you read it?
I went up to them and I said, ‘I can’t believe how tragic that ending was.’ Everyone who read it was like ‘that is that saddest thing I’ve ever read in my life.’ Hopefully it comes across on the scene that way too.
What was it like to film that first scene in your dorm room?
That was a really difficult scene to film because there’s two such opposing sides to it. It was really hard to play where Paige was coming from, and it’s totally valid where she’s coming from and wanting the whole family to figure it out and think about Henry, but at the same time in the back of her head she knows that she has to get out as soon as possible. It’s like if anything traumatic happens to you in your life, you’d like to think that you have a plan and that you’ll follow through with it, but when it actually happens, you don’t know how you’re going to react. I think that’s how it was for Paige. I think she knew that she had to get out of there, but at the same time, she wanted to know, like, ‘how are we going to get out of this’ and ‘what’s going to happen to Henry? We can’t just up and leave and have all these loose ends.’ Especially for her brother, no one is really mentioning him. And she’s like ‘how can we just abandon him here, you guys don’t really seem to care.’ So that was a really challenging scene.
Why do you think Paige went with her parents?
I think because she knew she didn’t really have a choice, because like I said she does know from Elizabeth teaching her what the protocol is. And she is involved now, so if she were to be left at home, would the police bring her in? Would she end up going to jail just from association? Things could really spiral out of control, and in the spur of the moment she knew that that was her safest choice.
And what about that scene with Stan? What was it like to film?
It took a really long time. I think we did that and two other scenes that day, which is not a lot for us. Noah and Matthew and so many lines that day, it was all about getting as much coverage as we could because it’s such an important scene. Everyone has been waiting for that since season one, to see how that goes down. But it was definitely a long night, but everyone did an amazing job. Again, it was so sad.
Did that confrontation go down the way you imagined it would?
I knew it was going to go down at some point, but I didn’t think he was going to let them go. So I was surprised by that. But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. That’s how it all feels. Whenever I get a script, I’m like, ‘oh, I never thought that would happen,’ but then you think about it and that’s really the only logical response. Philip was Stan’s best friend and we were all he really had for a while, so that must have been really hard for him to turn both people in. But yeah, it’s really shocking.
What’d you think of the big moment where Paige gets off the train and leaves her parents?
I was so shocked when I read that. I was not expecting that at all, like I said for everything else in the show. But I thought that was the straw on the camel’s back. Everything was bad enough, and then that happens. And you see Elizabeth’s reaction with her hand up to the window and you’re just like, ‘Oh, my god, my heart is in a million pieces on the floor.’ And so that was really fun to shoot, but we actually rented out the whole train on a Sunday and shot it on a Sunday, which was interesting. It was like, it was so sad. And like you said, you’re expecting Paige to go with them and for a moment she is. But the more she thinks about it and the more she thinks about that conflict with her mom and how much her parents have lied to her, how is she going to make a new life with them in a country she’s never been to where she doesn’t even speak the language? Here, at least she has Henry she can watch from afar and try to take care of.
When do you think she actually made that decision?
I’m sure she’s thinking of it the entire time. But I think once they’re at the train station and they’re getting on the train and she has some breathing room from her mom and dad and figure things out for herself, I think she took advantage of that moment of privacy and made her decision for good.
It’s hard to tell if she’d been planning it for a while or if was spontaneous.
I think that it was a bit of both. In the back of her head, I think there were so many loose ends and ‘what am I going to do’ and so many unanswered questions. But she knew that if she waited for that moment to do it, her parents wouldn’t be able to get off the train in time to stop her. It was one of those decisions where there was no turning back and for once, no one could try to change her mind. So that was really the finale of it.
How’d you feel about the last scene of you back in the apartment drinking?
That was the first scene that I shot for the final episode, so it was kind of backwards. I still couldn’t process that that was going to be the end. When I’m watching it, that’s the last thing you see of Paige is her, foreshadowing that she becomes an alcoholic (Laughs.) That was our joke on set. We were like, ‘Oh, that’s where Paige is going.’ So that was interesting, and again, not expecting that at all, but it leaves it so open-ended in a way. You see how damaged she is and how much trauma she’s been through, but you still have no idea what she’s going to do there in America, how she’s going to live with her whole world flipped upside down.
Do you think she goes to Henry?
I would like to think so. I don’t know if she’s allowed to, in case she gets taken into custody or something. But I’d like to think that she’s watching him from afar and making sure that he’s OK and hopefully reaching out to him at some point.
Where do you think Paige ends up down the road?
I feel like at this point, her relationship with her parents is pretty ruined in most ways. I don’t know if they would be able to put that together. I think she is going to try to get to Henry in any way that she can and I don’t know if she would ever work for the U.S. government. I feel like after everything she’s been through, she might want to stay as far away from that as possible and just go knit things in the mountains somewhere.
Perhaps Stan would cover for her?
Yeah, maybe. He loved us so much, maybe he’ll adopt us.
Do you think Stan’s wife is KGB?
I think she is. I was hoping they were going to answer that question, but of course they didn’t. I think she is. I mean, there’s just too many coincidences. You really have to make your own decision, but I think most people are on board and think she’s a spy.
Does he stay with her?
Probably. I feel like he probably doesn’t find out. He was starting to get some trust issues at the end, so maybe he’s becoming a little skeptical of her. I guess we’ll never find out.
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