It all started with a slap for Matthew Rhys. Trying out for "The Americans," he took one in the puss from Keri Russell.
This new FX drama focuses on two KGB spies posing as an ordinary American couple shortly after Ronald Reagan became president.
As Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, they have a comfortable home in a Washington suburb, two sweet kids, a travel agency they run and, by all signs, a solid piece of the American Dream. No one would suspect that they are Russian-born plants bent on burying the United States with subterfuge and brutality.
No one, that is, unless it's their new neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman (played by Noah Emmerich), who has recently moved in with his family across the street.
"It's an incredible balancing act to portray: the domesticity of their suburban lives and the struggle of their relationship as an arranged couple, and then the extreme spy stuff," Rhys says.
"The balancing act is very difficult," Russell echoes in a separate interview. "We're spies, but how much do you play that reality? And, how do you play the masquerade that you're not a spy?"
"The Americans" is a good, old-fashioned thriller, set in a pre- cellphone, -Internet and -PC world where gumption counts as much as gadgetry in the espionage game, and where the world is an anxious place, yet, handily divided between Good and the Evil Empire (as Reagan dubbed the Soviet Union).
But, however driven in their partnership, they are butting heads. Elizabeth despises American values. …