'The Americans' Producers Tease Season 5, Dodge the 'Martha' Question
At long last, viewers can have their TVs tuned to startling and lurid tales of Russian espionage, intrigue, and attempts to destabilize democracy.
Fictional tales, to clarify. And not of the "fake news" variety.
As "The Americans" debuts its fifth season this week, it's certainly not lost on the producers of FX's widely admired '80s era Cold War drama that many of the themes and topics the show's explored throughout its run are suddenly appearing in contemporary headlines at the top of every news cycle.
But for creator Joe Weisberg -- a former CIA officer himself prior to his Hollywood career -- and executive producer Joel Fields it's a development they with some bemusement and a healthy dose of wariness just as they're embarking on creating the series' sixth and final season, as they revealed in a chat with a small gathering of journalists during a recent press tour.
"There's something -- in a twisted way -- that's kind of fun about seeing all this stuff in the headlines that we're trafficking in all the time," says Weisberg. "But, on the other hand, the initial idea of the show was really to say, "Hey, look. These people who we think of as enemies are really just like us," and that was at a more peaceful time in U.S./Russian relations, and to see things have spiraled so out of control, frankly, just doesn't feel so good."
When you look at the headlines today, are you thinking, "Maybe we can do one more season,' and play with the themes that are percolating in the world right now...
Joe Weisberg: We don't have to do another season to do it, right? The themes are all in there automatically. We always say, we try to say in a bubble because we don't want anybody to ever feel the people doing this show were watching current events. You can't do that with a period show. If it were a current show, then we could let them all in, but in a period show, it has to feel totally separate.
But the show being what the show is about, it's in automatically. All the operations are being accused of running are operations we've been running on the show. That's through no effort or genius of ours: that's just, if you do a show about Russian espionage and it's in the news, it's in your show.
Has it influenced what you want to say within the show?
Joel Fields: It's funny. It seems like what we were saying within the show, maybe more specifically relevant with regards to Russia, but that seems coincidental, because we felt we were saying it just with regards to the concept of a generic enemy, and how important it is to remember that our enemies are human, and that those cultures who we believe are out to get us somehow, that those are comprised of human beings who aren't that different than we are, whether or not we agree with them.
It's surprising to find that that's people from Russia again. But that lives in a show as it is in the '80s, as it did before any of this happened.
Can you talk about the first episode, with the opening scene featuring "America the Beautiful"?
Fields: That was with us from very early on.
Weisberg: We went back and forth a lot about, we actually recorded it in English with those guys singing with Russian accents, and we recorded it in Russian. We knew from the start we didn't know how we wanted it, which of those two. Or did we want to switch off in the middle? And we watched it in the cut always. We watched them singing all in Russian, all in English with Russian accents, and then with the first half in English in Russian accents, turning Russian, and vice versa. We loved it all those ways. It was a hard choice.
Was there a running mental list of things, like dangling plot threads, that you knew you wanted to get to? Or did you go back and review and say, "Oh yeah, we need to close that one? The viewers will kill us if we don't."
Fields: I would say, sort of both, but more the former. Which is to say, we keep a running list. We keep what we used to call the Master Document, which had all of our story beats in it, and in this past season, we changed it to what we call the Final Document, since we now know we're coming to these last two seasons. And we're following those stories that we've broken out there and writing between us.
We also, then, because we're neurotic, go back and review everything and make sure we haven't left anything on the table that we want to serve up.
So, in that vein, are we going to get a Martha check-in, since we're in the Soviet Union this season? Or is her story pretty much finished?
Weisberg: We've been asked many times; we have yet to answer. Many people ask us this question. We are among her fans.
Fields: We love Martha.
Weisberg: We will tell you about Henry, that we feel that we've got a good Henry story cooking. After many years of being asked, "What about Henry? Why isn't anybody doing anything with Henry, you idiots?" And we always say, "We love Henry, but the problem is more about finding space," and we found a little bit more space for Henry this year. He looks 20 years old. We're not thrilled about that. We want to stunt his growth a little bit.
Fields: Turns out, it's not legal. SAG does not let you do it.
Weisberg: We researched it. We asked the lawyers.
Joe, you must be inundated by people wanting to talk about current events now, given your real-life intelligence background. Is that something you've just been barraged with by people in the industry? By people on staff? By cast and crew these days?
Weisberg: I get a lot of questions. I do. I spend a lot of my time when I'm not working walking around in circles thinking about it. I'll say that ... I do think the idea of the show was, as Joel was saying, the show was, even look at your enemies. Your enemies don't have to be enemies. As I was saying to Joel earlier, "I don't think the show worked!"
Distinguishing between Russia and Vladamir Putin, do we need better relations with Putin, particularly, or the Russian people?
Weisberg: I think better relations is a political question, so I don't think you're going to get there without better relations with Putin. He's running that country. He's very popular. The two are going to go hand in hand.
Do you think Putin has seen your show?
Weisberg: We wonder about that all the time. We get various reports about people who watch us in Russia, people watching in Russia. We've never heard of him watching it. We do know Obama's been watching it. That means a lot. That's pretty cool. But we haven't heard about Putin or Trump. But they can feel free to let us know if they're watching and enjoying, that would be super cool.
Donald Trump was around in the '80s. Did you ponder a cameo?
Fields: We were just saying, ironically, if Donald Trump hadn't become Donald Trump, and hadn't become the [president], we might have been able to do that. But now, I can't imagine, we can't imagine any way of doing that that wouldn't seem absurdly self-conscious.
"The Americans" Season 5 premieres tonight (March 7) on FX.