Brow Beat

A Slap, a Hug, and a Squeak

The stars of The Americans share their strongest memories from the show.

Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in The Americans.
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings in The Americans.
Pari Dukovic / FX

FX’s spy drama The Americans aired its final episode on Wednesday, May 30. Over the last three years I’ve interviewed many of the cast and crew in the course of hosting a behind-the-scenes podcast about the show. I asked five of the leading actors to share their strongest memory from their years on the show. Their answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, joined Season 1, Episode 1

Rhys: For me it’s being slapped in the audition.

June Thomas: Who slapped you?

Rhys: Keri!

Russell: We were doing some screen-testing with Gavin O’Connor, who directed the pilot, and when we screen-tested with Matthew, Gavin pulled me aside and said, “When you do that scene, really slap him this time.” It was the laundry room scene where Philip brings up to Elizabeth the idea that they would defect. Elizabeth is supposed to slap him across the face, and say, “How could you even say that? The kids, the blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, “OK!” So I did. I slapped him so hard, I could see the handprint on his face, but when I slapped him, he didn’t even blink. He literally turned his head and looked me straight in the eye. Gavin was like, “That’s our guy.” He didn’t even flinch. That’s what that guy needed to be.

Mine? There’s so many. I would say one has to do with a general thing—I’m sure Matthew will know what I’m talking about—which is just being in New York in the dead of winter in some crazy street somewhere at 3 in the morning and just standing out in the cold. That is so The Americans to me.

And then I would just say those first few years of just doing night shoots and shooting with Matthew and just laughing so hard. Even though we were doing all of these crazy, serious scenes and having these great tennis matches of scenes together. Really laughing together, just him making me laugh.

Noah Emmerich

Special Agent Stan Beeman, joined Season 1, Episode 1

I was just looking through photos the other day, weirdly, and I saw a picture of us shooting the pilot. I remember very well the feeling of it, because when we shot the pilot, it was just a pilot. We didn’t know it was going to be a job. I remember auditioning for this show and making a tape, because it was unprecedented experience for me. I went in. They were interested in me. We had some meetings. We talked. They want to see you in the character, saying the words, so I went in and Matthew [Rhys] was also reading. We read some scenes, and they said, “Great. This is great. We want you. We’re going to do this. Great. We’ll send the tape off to LA and have everyone else look at it.”

Then they called me the next day and said: “So, we’re really embarrassed, but it didn’t record sound. The video is great, but we can’t hear what you’re saying. Would you come back and do it again?” I never had that happen before.

Costa Ronin

Oleg Burov, joined Season 2, Episode 1

I still remember walking on to the set and meeting all the set builders and all the guys who had no idea who the hell I was. Meeting Annet [Mahendru] and Lev [Gorn.]—Nina and Arkady. That was my first day working with them. Dan Sackheim was directing, and Dan was at my casting rounds back in LA. I walked in, and he gave me the biggest hug, and I thought everything’s going to be fine.

Brandon J. Dirden

Special Agent Dennis Aderholt, joined Season 3, Episode 1

In my first season here, I hadn’t done much television at all, just little guest spots here and there. I was doing a scene, and we’ve got them cornered. Tommy Schlamme’s directing this episode. We go into the FBI vault. I’ve been called in because I’m the specialist. I’ve actually caught an illegal before on another assignment.

I come in, and they’re looking over the map. Gaad is there, and Stan and some of the agents are there. They’re looking at the map, and they’re saying, “We got these, you got them here. The agents are following here, here, here.” I come in, and they’re updating me on what’s happening. I take charge, saying, “This is what’s gotta happen. You have to do X, Y, and Z.” And I’m so nervous, because I have to drive this scene. It’s my first scene where I’m actually having to drive the action. And it’s Tommy Schlamme directing, who I have admired for so long. The West Wing! Come on! He’s so specific, and he’s so good. And I know Tommy doesn’t have to do this. He doesn’t have to direct here. He does it because he loves this show.

I’m really nervous—I’m still the new guy. I come in, and I put my hands on the conference table desk. This is in a rehearsal. And the table was a little uneven, so it kind of squeaks as I put my hand down on the desk. OK, cut on rehearsal. And the boom operator comes over to me, and he says: “Hey, great. But when you put your hands on the desk, it makes a little noise. So, maybe don’t put so much weight on the table.” I said, “OK. Sure. Sure. Not a problem. Not a problem.”

And this is one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten from another actor, and I’m so grateful for Noah and his generosity with me. Noah Emmerich pulls me aside and he says, “Don’t worry about that.” He says: “When you’re in a scene, you can’t be thinking about how to make the sound work. You have to be thinking about what it is you’re doing, what you’re trying to do in this scene. So, if they need to fix a table, props will come in, and they’ll shimmy the table, and they’ll fix it. But you have to be concentrating on what you came in here to do. Because at the end of the day, if you have a terrible performance on camera, the audience member isn’t going to say, ‘God, that was awful, but the sound was perfect!’ ” Things can be fixed, and it’s not always your job to fix it.

Now, I don’t blame the boom operator for asking the question. That wasn’t the point. The point is know what it is you came to do and do it, and get the things that you need to get in order to do your job effectively. That’s stayed with me on so many other jobs: Do my job. In addition to that, don’t try to do anybody else’s job. Because I come from, the world of theater, where you want to be helpful. If there’s a scene happening, the director says, “Oh, we gotta get that cup off the table, because it can’t be there for the next scene.” All the actors say, “Oh, I think I can probably take that cup during this moment.” And when you do that for film and television, you screw up everything. That’s somebody’s job, you know? So, you don’t have to do that.

Read more in Slate about the finale of The Americans.