EXCLUSIVE: How 'The Americans' Budding Spy Holly Taylor Stole This Season With a Single Word
By Shana Naomi Krochmal
It's the best and worst of times for prime-time teenagers right now -- as dramas pack peak-TV, critically acclaimed shows with meaty coming-of-age storylines (see Mad Men'sKiernan Shipka as Sally Draper), it's sometimes the kids who take the biggest beating from the social media masses -- like Dana on Homeland.
The Americans, FX's Cold War series starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies raising a family undercover in the U.S. during the 1980s, didn't rush Holly Taylor to center stage. But as Paige Jennings grew from a wide-eyed tween to budding second-generation agent, Taylor didn't just see more screen time -- Paige became the central and most compelling storyline on the show. What did she know? Who would she tell? And what side would she pick?
Is it asking too much for fans of the criminally under-recognized show to hope this year they'll draw Emmy love? So far its only win has been for guest actress Margo Martindale, making any of its leads a long shot — even though the show last year picked up a prestigious Peabody Award.
ET talked to Taylor about whether Paige will go full Soviet spy, helping cover up Russell's pregnancy from the cameras, handling Paige's Twitter haters, and how she put the button on the season's most suspenseful episode with a single word.
ET: As this season wrapped up, I started to see a lot of Emmy buzz about you from viewers and TV critics online. You're 18, and this is your first real TV role. What does that feel like?
Holly Taylor: Whether the Academy is considering me or not, just the fact that there's someone out there that thinks that my performance is worthy is a really huge compliment. I really enjoy being on the show and it is a really challenging role to play. It kind of gets my hopes up maybe a little too much, so then I realize I have to hold it back in.
In the final scene of the penultimate episode, Paige pushes her parents to explain their current mission -- to secure a biological weapon -- and for the first time they basically admit what’s going on. Paige's response is simply to say, in a dry, almost sarcastic tone, "Great." How many times did you shoot that one-word response?
We didn't spend a big amount of time on it like with some other scenes that have been really heavy. But they had me say that quite a few different ways. They had me just go with my instinct, and then try a few different feelings just to see what they wanted to cut from. It was so amazing to see how many different ways you could say one word.
Did you have any idea which one they were going to pick?
The one that I actually liked the most, I think that it just felt like most natural. The line was kind of funny, because there’s like all this crazy stuff going on and all she can think is, "Everything is great. I just found out that my parents are spies, and they're killing people now in front of me, and they have all these biological weapons and it's just like, you know -- great."
Elizabeth is kind of the best and worst mother ever -- she loves Paige and would do literally anything to keep her safe, but she also struggles to show emotion and seems to want Paige to become a tough soldier for the motherland, too.
I really like how Paige and Elizabeth's relationship is getting a little warmer. I mean, it's definitely hard -- but now we've seen as she's trying to explain why she killed a man in front of her daughter. So I really enjoyed that. Keri is always so nice to work with no matter what, and she's so fun and accommodating to everybody. It's really nice to have those scenes with her where we get to connect more.
Keri was pregnant during this season, especially during the last few episodes, but on the show it was business as usual. What was your favorite way they concealed her growing baby bump?
Probably with the salad bowl -- we were all standing in the middle of the floor and there was no furniture for her to like hide behind. They were like, "Just get a huge salad bowl and have her hold it right in front of her stomach." Another time they raised the counter in the kitchen a little bit. They did a good job with that.
When Paige first found out her parents were Russian spies she was wrecked -- and eventually broke their confidence to confess to her youth group pastor. But this season her mom opened up about her Russian childhood and confessed she couldn’t even count how many other times she’s killed someone, and yet Paige seems far less ruffled. Is she getting closer to becoming a spy?
It's always hard to tell -- I feel like I never have any idea what's going to happen next. All these traumatic things kept happening to Paige this season, and it's like now she's kind of understanding it a little more. She's being brought into the light a little bit. There's still a lot she doesn't know -- and now she wants to know, especially to make sure that her parents are going to be safe. I think it could be leading towards her maybe becoming more like her parents. That's what I would like for the storyline. I would love for Paige to kind of become more spy-like.
As viewers, we know plenty of crazy things her parents have done. What is there that Paige doesn't know yet but could still actually shock her?
If she ever finds out the extent of the killings that her parents do and how they have to fake all these relationships and they have so many identities. It's really absurd -- I mean, they literally have a little compartment with wigs and disguises in it in their house! It's not a normal thing for people to have just hanging around, you know? The more she finds out, the more she's gonna be in shock. She's starting to understand now that it is dangerous, but at the same time she still doesn't know half the stuff that's going on. I think that everything that comes out is just gonna be like a bombshell for her.
What do you think Paige's intentions are with Matthew (Daniel Flaherty)? He's the cute boy next door, but he's also the son of an FBI agent.
From the way the last few episodes played out, it could look like it's more calculated -- but at the same time I have no Idea where they're going with it. I think it could be really cool if Paige were kind of using him for information -- not that that is cool in like real life. For the show's sake, I think it would be really interesting to initiate her own client and really try and get some information out of him. I mean, they're neighbors. She's right there. There's information right there waiting.
What have you learned about the Cold War from doing the show?
I think that a lot of people don't realize the fear that was in America at the time -- I mean, I know that I didn't realize it. Some of the guys on set, like crew who were Paige's age during the Cold War, said at times they were really, genuinely scared everyday leaving their house that like a bomb was gonna drop. They really don't teach you any of the emotional aspects of it in school. Obviously the show has done that a lot -- shown how it affects people emotionally and their families and relationships with each other. I think that it's a really cool perspective to see.
You retweet both negative and positive comments about Paige. How do you handle the haters?
All of this is very new to me, so it was very weird for me to see people say anything about my character -- let alone saying mean things, or how they want me to shut up or leave the country or something. [Laughs] It was kind of hard to get used to. I would just kind of ignore it. There was one tweet where someone was like, "Ugh, Paige is the worst, I can't stand her." And I just replied, "Thank you." I was hoping they would answer, but they didn't. I know that everybody is really invested in the show and I try to take it as a compliment when people say my character should die. I'm just glad that people just care that much -- that's an amazing accomplishment for the writers and everybody that's involved in the show.