Matthew Rhys, star of smash hit TV show The Americans spills the beans to Gabriel Tate.
Even in Los Angeles there can’t be many druids. And, while Matthew Rhys is a proud member of the so-called ‘LA Taffia’ – a coterie of rugby-loving Welsh actors including Ioan Gruffudd and Michael Sheen – his memories of the 2008 ceremony cause him to cringe. ‘I don’t sacrifice goats, no. Being a druid is an honorary title to recognise those who’ve contributed to Welsh life. The roll call at mine included a Lord who’d revolutionised Welsh politics, a pioneering neurosurgeon and me, who was in [hit NBC drama] Brothers and Sisters for five years. Um thanks.’
Not that he isn’t proud of Brothers and Sisters but The Americans, a superb new thriller series, has given Rhys his defining role. For a man whose default phrase is ‘to a degree’, he’s unusually unequivocal about it. Having flown into London last night, Rhys is jet-lagged but jovial and his eyes sparkle with excitement about a show he was ‘desperate to do’.
‘The Americans,’ he grins, ‘lets me run round, wear daft disguises, do kung fu and shoot guns. Childhood fantasies.’
Fortunately, it’s a blast for us as well. Rhys is Philip Jennings, a KGB agent who, along with his wife Elizabeth (Keri Russell), is working deep undercover in the DC suburbs of Reaganite America, juggling family life with commandments from the Kremlin. With US embassy workers recently ordered out of Russia on charges of espionage, it’s acquired an unexpected pertinence.
Inevitable comparisons have been drawn with Homeland. The Americans does use enemies within to tap into muddy issues of loyalty and faith that once seemed so straightforward. But the tension over the couple’s potential unmasking is balanced by even more keenly observed and skilfully played family dynamics. This is a messy, dysfunctional marriage thrown together by circumstance.
‘How much do you choose someone [to marry] before you find out who they are?’ Rhys muses, wryly considering his own enduring bachelordom.
‘The first job I ever did was House of America, directed by Marc Evans. I loved it so much, and I remember thinking that was how you always felt about things. I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.’ Then he turns the conversation back to the upcoming second series of The Americans, and you suspect he’s caught it. Rhys can hold his head high at the next gathering round the cauldron.
The Americans is on 10pm Friday, OSN First and available on www.amazon.com