The Americans star Matthew Rhys tackles both intense and insanely funny drama on FX this week, as he follows Wednesday’s confrontation between Clark and Clark’s undercover wife Martha on The Americans with a guest appearance on Thursday night’s Archer. Rhys, who also plays a role in Kurt Sutter’s upcoming FX drama The Bastard Executioner, talks to Yahoo TV about the Super Bowl junket that led to his Archer gig, his unofficial role as the face of all things Wales-related on FX, and how the very stressed Philip Jennings may be about to reach a breaking point.
“Achub Y Morfilod,” your episode of Archer, is described as being “inspired by a rousing tale” from you. What is the story behind the story?
I was fortunate enough to be, along with a few other Fox and FX contributors, taken to the Super Bowl two years ago. I had the great fortune — or maybe misfortune — to sit in the back of a bus with the creative team of Archer. I think we were a little bit inebriated on boarding this bus, and they were intrigued, I think, with Wales, as many are, because to some Americans, there is very little known about it. We are a very little country. Anyway, so I told them the tale of Wales, and it came to pass that one of them said, “Well, are there any terrorist organizations there?” That’s when the tale came in where I told them the story of the Free Wales Army.
How much of the episode storyline is true? Or is any of it true?
Oddly enough, there’s only a little bit that’s true. The part I told them wasn’t told in any form of jest. In fact, it was quite the opposite. One of the reasons that the Free Wales Army formed was this awful flooding of a valley in Wales. I told them that story, and that was when they picked up on it and sort of turned it into this comedy moment. I had a problem with it at the beginning, because it’s something that is… it’s still a very sensitive subject in Wales. It’s still something that was held as a sort of act of terrorism, really, by the British government. I kind of said, “I’m not too comfortable doing that,” and they said, “Well, you know, Archer is a forum for this kind of incredibly acerbic irreverence, and that’s what they do.” That sort of weighted the scales, and I thought you know, in some strange or small way, the story itself is getting to a wider audience, so I decided to do it.
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Did they tell you right away that they wanted to turn it into an episode? How did you find out about it?
Not at all. It was bizarre, because it literally… I thought I bored them to tears with the political state of Welsh revolution over how many centuries. Then we watched the Super Bowl, and that was it. Then a few weeks later, they got in contact and said, “Look, we’ve written this episode based on the Free Wales Army.” First of all, I honestly thought it was a joke. Then it turns out they weren’t [joking].
Did they ask you at that point to be in the episode?
Yeah. They weren’t sure in which sort of guise. The initial episode went under several transformations. [The final episode] is incredibly different from what they initially wrote. It was certainly a long journey of change before they landed on the one that [will air].
In the episode, they kind of flip it around and make fun of the fact that Archer doesn’t know American history when Lana tells him about the Tennessee Valley Authority floods. They kind of turned it around on their own characters, which works very well.
Yes. I appreciate that element enormously. As I’ve said, in some way, we served a purpose in getting two messages across.
Have you had a chance to watch the finished episode?
I have. The actual making of it was something I’ve never experienced. And I’ve never laughed as much in my life. I’ve never experienced doing anything like that, the way in which they do it… we had so much fun making it. You basically record and record and record, and they get such a kick out of it themselves, because they’re like, “Ooh! Ooh! Try it like this! Try it like this, or try it like this!”
Your character, Lloyd, looks very much like you, which they don’t always do, and is great.
They said, “How would you feel about your likeness being used in Archer?” I said, “I would be utterly honored, as long as you filled in a deeper hairline, so it wasn’t as receding.” So obviously, the thing they do is give me a receding hairline like I have.
There’s even a little nod to The Americans when Lloyd has to don a disguise.
[Archer executive producer] Matt Thompson is a big Americans fan himself, so he was insistent that there should be some kind of reference to The Americans. I think the way in which they did it was very funny.
It’s a really funny, typically quirky episode. Lloyd’s obsession with toast, for instance.
That really struck me, too, because Wales… I think Brits do have an obsession with toast. When that came up, I was so shocked that it had made it into the ether, that I wondered, “Is this something they’ve heard or read about?” Because it’s one of those things that exists, but isn’t necessarily talked about. That made me laugh a lot. Then they said, “Do you know anyone who would be right to play the part of your brother?” I knew exactly of someone, a friend of mine called Jason Hughes, who I suggested immediately. I have to admit, his stuff made me howl the loudest.
Any chance that we may see Lloyd pop up again?
I hinted, maybe a bit too strongly with the boys [laughs], that I would love Lloyd to make his way to the shores of the New World and bring the might of the Free Wales Army with him, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I’m glad this much has happened.
Between this Archer set in Wales and your role in Kurt Sutter’s Bastard Executioner, you are becoming the official FX voice of Wales.
I’m hoping. This is what I’m angling for, that FX will open some kind of studio themselves in Wales, and then I can just head that up.
Have you filmed your role for The Bastard Executioner yet?
No, that’s coming up in April, so I’ll be heading home soon. I’m looking forward to that immensely.
You’re playing Gruffudd Y Blaidd, a leader of Welsh rebels. Do you know much about the series yet?
No, they’ve been shrouded in mystery over there. They’ve been very tight-lipped about the script and the plot. I think we’re keeping it as secret as possible.
Will you be in just the pilot, or do you think you’ll appear in later episodes as well?
I have absolutely no idea. Only the pilot is guaranteed at the moment, so it might be a litmus test. My performance may influence whether I’m in it.
Is it nice to get the chance to go home, though, where this big show is being filmed, and to be part of it?
It really is. The fact that something of this size and caliber is being filmed in Wales, and they’re not just using its location as a backdrop — the series itself is set in Wales, and it’s taking a lot from Welsh history. Purely and simply, just to be able to use my own native accent is a real luxury.
We have to talk about this week’s episode of The Americans. The thing that keeps resonating most — with Annalise and the suitcase, the DIY dental work, Philip’s relationship with Kimmy, Vinter’s shocking death — is that, in Philip’s mind, he’s thinking these are the things that Paige will experience, too, if they allow her to be recruited by the KGB. And that’s just crushing.
Oh, good. Yeah, I think that’s totally in the forefront of his vehement attitude towards not recruiting her to the KGB, and the fact that he’s so adamant that she shouldn’t join the intelligence agency, for the reasons you just listed. As he knows, it doesn’t matter what’s promised. He knows full well that it always changes. As it would be for any parent, that’s at the forefront of his fear.
Now that he knows he has this other son who is also in danger, on the frontlines in Afghanistan, and the situation with Martha, how much can Philip take this season? He really is one of the most stressed humans in primetime right now.
Yes. I’ll tell you, his coil is tightly sprung at the moment. I think there is a danger that it could potentially go off at any time. Which is all great; it loads the bases and adds to that conflict beautifully between him and Elizabeth.
That brutal scene with Vinter, where he’s set on fire, is one of the rare times we’ve seen that kind of look on the faces of Philip and Elizabeth, where they’re truly distressed about something they’re involved with. What about this in particular really hits them?
Basically, they’re just party to something incredibly brutal. They become witnesses, and I think it’s stepping back and looking at your life and realizing what you do and what you witness. You touched on the idea about what your child might potentially go through. To me, the series always works best when we see the cracks. They’re not super spies. They’re not Jason Bourne. The interest lies in their faults. It’s one of those moments where you do see the cracks. You do see it affect them. It makes it all the more real for [Philip] then.
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We also see this big confrontation between Clark and Martha, which everybody has sort of been waiting for, as you said, a crack to show in that relationship. When he tells her, “Is that enough, or do you need more than that?” is he kind of saying to her, “Do you really want to know what’s going on?”
Yeah, I think the beauty about the writing being so subtle is just before he says that, he says, “I would do anything to protect you.” I think what he’s trying to do is warn her that if she were party to more knowledge, it would endanger her. My hope was that that’s kind of what was gently relayed. “Listen, if you need to know more, you can, but it might be detrimental to your health.”
We do get a sense from that that he does genuinely, on some level, care about her. At least cares enough to put her in as little danger as possible.
He does. What comes with Martha is this incredible sense of guilt — stringing an innocent along and manipulating her and using her life to his end. His beliefs are slowly diminishing. It’s hard to play with someone’s life in that way, and then when the crumble begins, it’s a hard smack in the face when you realize what you’ve actually done.
What can you say about the rest of the season? What are the big things that are going to pop up in these last few episodes?
As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s what happens with Paige that is the greatest issue, and how that’s dealt with and its aftereffects is absolutely the most prominent storyline.
Archer airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. and The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.