“Philip is really good at his job and he’s played her like a piece of music from the very beginning,” says Alison Wright about her role as FBI secretary Martha Hanson in “The Americans.” Lately the walls have been closing in on Martha, whom Philip (Matthew Rhys) has manipulated into spying for him. “In the real cases, [the KGB] delved into the psyches of these victims. She thinks their love is very real.” Watch our interview with Wright above (WARNING: contains spoilers from the April 27 episode, “Travel Agents”).
The most recent two episodes of the fourth season, “The Rat” and “Travel Agents,” have been an especially strong showcase for Wright. Martha is pursued by both the FBI and the KGB, which puts her in the impossible position of deciding between a life in prison and a life in Russia.
“[Showrunners Joel Weisberg and Joel Fields] did something pretty good. They gave me [both episode scripts] together because episode seven really informs episode six. For Martha, they really are more or less one episode; it all happens in less than 48 hours,” Wright explains of her two pivotal episodes. “She can no longer deny or avoid like she has so far. She was not self-aware at all. There was no real introspection, but she’s going to have to do that now, like it or not.”
“The Americans” is Wright’s first TV series – in fact, it was her first pilot. But she learned early on that there were big plans for Martha for seasons to come. To develop her character, she researched the true stories of women who were seduced by KGB agents – stories as tragic as Martha’s, if not more so: “One of them was in jail already. She came out and they told her that her husband was never real, that the KGB had forced him to marry her – she went back and hung herself,” Wright explains. “There was another woman who found out and wasn’t that bothered about being caught, but when she found out about her husband, she threw herself out a window.”
In addition to “The Americans,” Wright also appeared this spring in HBO’s “Confirmation” as one half of another complex marriage: she plays Virginia Thomas, the wife of eventual Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. “It really wasn’t that long ago that women were having these struggles,” says Wright of Anita Hill‘s sexual harassment allegations against Thomas in 1991. “I think it’s important as women that we band together and try to support each other in those kinds of times of harassment and abuse.”