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Behind the scenes of The Americans

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All is not as it seems in fast-paced spy thriller The Americans, on and off screen. While the lead duo, a pair of Russian KGB agents masquerading as an all-American couple, thrive on deceit, the show itself, set in Washington DC, is actually filmed in Brooklyn.

We know this for a fact because we visited the set of season two and got through security with no elaborate disguise. Okay so we were invited but still.

For the uninitiated, The Americans is an '80s-set show that stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as the central pair, fighting the US from the inside. The first season shook off any Homeland comparisons with ease as it carved its own niche as a dark and morally ambiguous drama which has struck a chord with audiences and critics, no matter what their leanings might be...

"I’ve been surprised by the broad spectrum of political affiliations amongst the fans," executive producer Joel Fields told us. "And I think perhaps that’s because we’re dealing with history. And perhaps that’s because the history tells us that the Soviet Union collapsed. So in a way, our bad guys are, at the end of the day, fighting for a paper tiger."

The dynamic of rooting for the bad guys to actually get away with their nefarious pursuits, even if that means the destruction of the US government, gives the show a juicy selling point. Although co-star Noah Emmerich, who plays the role of FBI agent Stan Beeman, believes it's something else that has audiences willing the lead duo on.

"They don’t want ‘em to succeed in taking down America, but they want their marriage to work," he believes. "There are no good guys and there are no bad guys. We’re all human beings. They’re doing their jobs."

It's a side of the show which appealed to Matthew Rhys. "I love the fact the whole show began with an anti-hero premise," he shared with us. "We're gonna make the Americans root for the Russians during the Cold War."

Given the fact that the two leads are Russians trying to take down the US, Rhys himself has had second thoughts on what the KGB agents must have gone through.

"They had very little choice in those days," he explains. "They're recruited young so they've gotten inside their heads at an early age. And then they were up and running. I do have more empathy for them."

Aside from the action, which there's a damn lot of, it's the central relationship that helps to truly centre the show, which in different hands, could be rather campy, what with all those wigs. It's something that Keri Russell is very aware of.

"I think what interests me most about the show is this really complicated relationship," she explained. "Hopefully if you set that up to be believable, the other stuff that's harder to believe will follow kind of behind. Believe me, there are many times when we're doing something, you're just working, you're like sitting on the set or whatever and you go back to your room and you see yourself in the mirror and you're like oh my god. What have I been looking like, oh this is a joke, no one is going to believe this."

The wigs themselves have became a major component of the show, allowing the characters to disappear into a a multitude of characters. But given the, ahem, rather sexual nature of the show and the situations the pair find themselves in while "on the job", we were curious as to how they stay on so well...

"That was one of my primary questions to the creators," Rhys quipped. "I was reassured that Philip was a master wig wearer." One of his main disguises seems him play Clark, who couples up with Martha, a naive woman working at the FBI, something which was an actual technique used back in the 80s.

The show was created by Joe Weisberg, who spent four years in the CIA, lending a noticeable air of authenticity to proceedings. His partner in crime, Joel Fields, told us that they stuck to the truth where possible, including how gender was seen at the time.

"Interestingly, there's a sense that there were less formal gender separations in the Soviet Union, among KGB officers," he explained. "It's an interesting perspective because they're starting their real marriage, as hard as it is, on an equal footing that didn't exist a lot in the early '80s."

The gender equality in the show, set at a time without as much, allows Keri Russell to play a rare TV character: a dominant, empowered woman who is a lethal fighter, something she isn't used to playing.

"I have to say when they sent me the scripts, I was like, why would they want me to do this?" she told us. "I was picturing some incredibly cold tall Russian model, like brooding in the background. It's been such a surprise, that's for sure!"

With season one all wrapped up, what can we expect from season two?

Russell teases that something happens which will leave us "shocked and grossed out" in the opening episode. Which is enough to have us counting down the days...

The Americans is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

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