Warning: This interview for the “Amber Waves” episode of The Americans contains storyline and character spoilers.
Teenager Tuan may be Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ new undercover partner, but that doesn’t mean Philip, or rather Philip’s portrayer, Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, agrees with his colleague’s TV tastes.
In Tuesday’s The Americans Season 5 premiere, young Tuan watches a cigar-chomping George Peppard in a scene from the 1983-87 NBC drama The A-Team, and shares with Philip and Elizabeth his harsh review: “It’s stupid.”
Rhys, like other fans of the beloved Mr. T hit, has a completely different feeling about the series — and several other ‘80s TV gems — which he shared with Yahoo TV. He also talked about how Tuan will play a key role in the Jennings’ ongoing conflict about daughter Paige being recruited into their line of work, a job Philip and Elizabeth are growing ever more conflicted about themselves.
Tuan is a nice kid, but he does not have the appreciation he should have for The A-Team. [The Americans showrunners] Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg told me you also had an issue with that, because The A-Team was a favorite of yours growing up.
A huge favorite. I was like, “How can you say that’s stupid?” I wanted to slap [the character] just for that.
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They said you used the show to kind of perfect an American accent when you were growing up?
Yes, kind of, because you know, we’re often asked where our accent training comes from, and I always profess that it starts at an early age, because we’re raised so heavily on American television. I was a huge fan of The A-Team, Knight Rider, Airwolf, Starsky and Hutch a little earlier. You know, all those huge shows that were just great exports. As kids, we’d always play A-Team in the backyard or in the school yards.
And who were you?
I always wanted to be B.A. Baracus, but I sort of lacked the weight and gravitas and strength, so I was usually Murdock, “Howling Mad” Murdock.
He was the most fun character to be.
He was in retrospect, but at the time, you wanted to be the tough one who beats everyone up.
But you also probably lacked the jewelry at that age to be B.A.
I did. I did. Gold jewelry of that caliber was thin on the ground in Wales.
Tuan, despite his poor taste in 1980s network TV, does seem to be a pretty skilled operative. We don’t know much else about him, but he’s also young. This storyline seems very likely to resonate with both Philip and Elizabeth in terms of Paige and the ongoing question of whether or not she’s going to be recruited.
Yes, absolutely. And [regarding] themselves, I think, what they’ve been trying to do, who they were coming to America at that age, an incredibly young age, and not having lived the life they possibly wanted to. And looking back, they realize it’s a life that was more forced upon them then chosen.
Philip has always been more conflicted than Elizabeth about returning home or staying in America permanently. We’ve seen him enjoy being in America more than she does. But they’re united in their disgust with Pascha’s dad’s complaints about Russia during the dinner at Pascha’s. It’s a little surprising when we see how strongly Philip reacts in the car with Elizabeth.
Yeah, I think with him the sort of perennial conflict, on so many levels, is that he enjoys this life, but ultimately he does miss home. He wants his children to be safe, and that probably means being raised in the United States, but he’s also aware, I think, [Pascha’s dad] probably didn’t have it as bad as Philip possibly did. It’s an ongoing, complicated question as to how exactly he feels on any given day about [that] subject.
Is the Paige situation, especially now that she’s dating Stan’s son Matthew and the complications and potential danger of that, is that coloring how much Philip wants to stay in America versus how much he is willing to return to Russia at this point?
Yes. That’s the sort of the beauty of this season, I think… this real dilemma as to where their future lies and how they arrive at an acceptable or realistic place whereby everyone’s safety is guaranteed, and there’s possibly a happy ending. How realistic that is, I don’t know. But that’s certainly the struggle… where they are in the world is a very interesting question for them throughout the entire season.
Is that the overall theme of Season 5?
It’s one of the big ones, certainly. Their old dilemma is what it is they’re doing and continue to do, versus the greater importance of the family’s safety and well-being.
You just mentioned their conflict with their job, what that entails them doing, and whether they want to or can continue to do it. The premiere’s ending, where Hans takes that tragic fall and Elizabeth has to shoot him, clearly upsets her. We’ve seen Philip and Elizabeth have to do some awful things — stuffing Annalise in that suitcase, for example. But it’s a good reminder that, despite how skilled and efficient they are at what they do, and how calm they remain during it, they’re not heartless. They are still very much affected by the things they are asked, expected, to do.
Yes, and I’m very glad of that. My worry was that they do all these… the scale of what they do is so enormous, and if there aren’t any consequences, they just become generic, stupid spies with no feelings. There’s no humanity to them. So I am glad [it affects them]… especially Elizabeth. Her actions time and time again show her loyalty to the motherland. But the cracks do start to show. I think it’s great dramatically, because you kind of go, “Oh, she is a human being with feelings.” It’s so easy to say she’s this cold, calculated killer, and the fact is, she isn’t. It does have an effect on her, and it does get to her, and I think that in itself adds to this sort of inner conflict, which there is a lot of for Philip and Elizabeth this season.
Also with Hans, Elizabeth has trained him a lot, spent a lot of time with him, and there seems to be sort of a parental connection there. She felt responsible for him. We see that throughout the premiere: Elizabeth and Philip for Paige, for Tuan, for Hans… the fact that Mischa is coming to find Philip, Oleg returning home to his parents, Gabriel has a parental feeling for Elizabeth and Philip, and he also talks about wishing that William had gotten the chance to go home and have children… parental relationships have always been a theme of the show, but it seems even more prevalent already this season.
It is, and, as you touched on, [has been] throughout the seasons. There’s a lot of lost children in this show, not the least of which: Philip and Elizabeth. So many of the characters are kind of victims of circumstance, a set of circumstances, and that makes them a little lost, certainly parentally. Philip and Elizabeth… Gabriel and Claudia… they’re kind of dysfunctional folk. We see it again, like you said, in Tuan. This show is a sort of orphanage for all these lost souls.
The Americans airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.