On FX's Cold War drama The Americans, KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) regularly demonstrate how they are the best in the business: masters of disguise, killer hand-to-hand combat skills, fluent English speakers, etc. But it's Philip who would actually win the Spy of the Year Award – if there was such a thing – for his ability to convince an innocent FBI secretary that she is married to a milquetoast Internal Affairs pencil-pusher named Clark Westerfeld (actually Philip in a blond wig and glasses). Alison Wright, who plays "Clark's" unsuspecting wife Martha Hanson, provides a healthy dose of comic relief throughout the series, offering up well-timed reprieves from the heady story lines. But as Philip descends further into a hell of his own making, Martha is dragged down with him, potentially placing her in the kind of danger she never fathomed before. Rolling Stone checked in with Wright – a Northern Englander who has called New York home for the past 16 years – recently to chat about her character's sex life, loyalty and whether or not Martha could handle the truth about "Clark."
In the most recent episode, "Martial Eagle," Martha plays a pivotal role in tying up several loose plot threads. What was your reaction when you first got the script?
It’s amazing how she’s so close to everything — without knowing, of course. Just a couple of ideas or thoughts click into place, and who knows what could happen? And I often think, you know, those drawings that are in the FBI offices, of Philip and Elizabeth? If she were to just get a good look at the one of Philip…. But she could complicate things for Stan or Philip, or make them really easy for them too.
OK, enough beating around the bush. Let’s get into Martha’s sex life. Does she have a huge goody drawer stuffed with dildos and vibrators? I mean, she gets to see her "husband" what, once a week? She needs something to keep her satiated.
[Laughs] Yes! Thank you! She does have two little side tables, and in one of them, for a fact, I have quite a few vintage condoms that I got from eBay, from 1981. They come in an individually cardboard packet with like a saucy Seventies picture on the front and they’re all wrapped in plastic. They’re dated, like, 1981, so I got a whole bunch of them and I’ve got them in the drawer. I imagine she’s a girl that has a very healthy sex life.
Would you say that she’s the one who taught Clark/Philip all of those rough sex tricks?
Let me tell you, when I saw that scene, my mouth was agape. I was like, “That’s not what Clark and Martha do.” I don’t think it’s anything like that at all. I think that when Martha was talking about him being an “animal” [she meant], like, powerful, and being exciting in bed, just completely overpowering her in a really great, exciting way…not like whatever that was. So, poor Elizabeth – that was so horrible.
Was that sex scene supposed to show us what Clark and Martha’s sex life really was like? Or was it just an outlet for all of Philip’s twisted, repressed emotions?
I did wonder too: "Wow, OK, I wonder if that’s what people…" Just because, you know, she makes a lot of noise, and they have good sex and a lot of it. I was as taken aback as you were, so I’m not sure, but that’s not what I think in my mind is the answer. I don’t think that’s going on.
Because we would have seen it.
We would have seen a sex thing or a gimp mask in the background. [Laughs]
So what is it about "Clark" that Martha finds so sexy? Does she just have a thing for geeky pencil-pushers?
I think it’s been this exciting, fairy-tale romance. It’s cloak-and-dagger, to the extent that she thinks it is Internal Affairs and stuff.These meetings and doing these naughty things — that’s still exciting [to her]. I also think that Clark is probably playing her perfectly. He’s seeing what kind of person she is, what she responds to. She thinks she’s got this great guy, and everything’s perfect for her, as far as she knows.
Considering how passionate Martha can be in bed, how the hell has she not pulled Clark’s wig off yet?
[Laughs] I will say that I do give it a good tug – I'm always told that I’m not supposed to touch it. Everyone will be like, "The wig! The wig!" I’ll have my hands on his head, underneath the blankets or something. But I think it's the last thing on her mind. I think she thinks he's pretty perfect the way he is, and she's really enjoying being in the bedroom with him, not thinking about his glasses and his wig.
In last night's episode, Martha says, "I'm not afraid of the different sides of you, Clark. I love all of you." So if that’s the case, do you think she’d be strong enough to handle the truth?
Yeah, I think so. I think it was important that she said that to him, and I think she really means it. In these situations, you’ve got the hope that there was some kind of empathy with these people that were marrying these poor people that were so unaware. You've got to hope that they came to at least like them to some degree. But I think that, yeah, I could see Martha going lots of ways – I could see her spying for him. I think if she found out, without him telling her and being honest, if she were to just find out on her own, that would be harder to forgive him. But if he manipulated her in the right way...I think she maybe could handle a version of the truth.
About that crazy vintage Eighties office-mail robot: You’re the one interacting with it the most.
Isn't that great? It's hilarious! Martha's got a real love-hate relationship with it. All the funny mail-bot stuff gets cut out – like I have fights with it all the time. It starts to drive away and I haven’t finished getting the stuff out, and I’m trying to grab all the stuff out of it. It’s very funny, it cracks everybody up on set.
I think it should be on the Season Two DVD gag reel then.