Holly Taylor has been playing Paige Jennings, daughter to Soviet spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) for six seasons on “The Americans,” which just wrapped up with its series finale in May. The series ended with Paige making a bold decision in defiance of her parents, a decision that Taylor herself didn’t necessarily predict for her character.
Taylor recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow in a video chat about Paige’s journey through “The Americans,” what she thinks Paige will do beyond the series, and her new upcoming TV project. Watch the exclusive video above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Holly Taylor, how did you think Paige’s story would end?
Holly Taylor: Not the way that it did. I was very surprised when I read the final script. I didn’t even think that Paige was gonna become part of the spy training at all so that from the start was a surprise for me and from then I just had no idea what was gonna come next.
GD: And what do you think Paige is thinking when she gets off the train?
HT: I think she’s thinking that her parents have lied to her so much and she’s been betrayed pretty much her whole life that what was she gonna do if she moved with them to a different country, where she couldn’t even speak the language and things like that? I think she knew that there was really no hope for her there and she didn’t really trust her parents at all anymore.
GD: And what about what is she thinking later when we see her drinking alone?
HT: Probably that she has no idea what else she’s gonna do. She doesn’t know who she can see there, if the FBI is gonna come after her, where can she go that’s actually safe and who can she talk to. There’s nobody. So the next step is just to become an alcoholic I guess (laughs).
GD: Yeah, what do you think happens to her? Do you think the FBI catches up to her or does she make contact with Henry?
HT: I think that she definitely tries to make contact with Henry. That’s her no. 1 priority when she gets off the train. I think that Stan probably lets the FBI ease off of her and doesn’t give her such a hard time because she wasn’t really that much involved. She didn’t hurt anybody or anything. But she probably just kind of goes into hiding and lives a more quiet life away from all the mess that she’s been surrounded by her whole life.
GD: Although Elizabeth tells Stan that they didn’t kill anybody.
HT: Yeah, but I feel like he knows at this point. Once you have that job, I’m sure Stan knows what goes with it and although they may not have killed some of the people closest to him, he knows that they took part in some bad activities.
GD: Did you think that that would be in the cards for Paige, eventually killing somebody, working as a spy?
HT: I don’t know if it would’ve happened but I think that it wasn’t the plan for her. Paige has tended to go off-plan sometimes in the past so I don’t know, but her parents just wanted her to be a part of the state department and maybe work for the CIA and do insider intelligence, stuff more like that, paperwork and planting bugs here and there, but no honeytraps or murder. I don’t think they wanted that for their daughter.
GD: I feel like they definitely didn’t want that for Henry. How much of a joke was it on-set where you guys were always saying, “Oh, he’s at the library,” “He’s upstairs sleeping,” or at Stan’s, that kind of stuff?
HT: Yeah, it was a joke because it was like every scene we would come in and it was like, “Where’s Henry?” Nobody really knew where he was. I guess that was their way of reminding the audience that Henry was still a part of the family, it’s just that he wasn’t always present. He had his own life doing things, but I remember seeing that on Twitter a lot when I would look at people live tweeting and everything, that was always one of the biggest jokes, so many memes about Henry (laughs).
GD: And the karate, that was another one I remember. Who do you think gets the happiest ending in “The Americans”?
HT: Nobody. I think that every single person has a tragic ending and in a sad way, that’s kind of just the reality of it. I think that that was the saddest way they could have ended it. Not murdering people or a huge shootout. I think that that was way more heartbreaking ‘cause you realize that they have to live with the choices that they’ve made. They don’t get an easy out, you could say, by being caught by the police or having their life have some finality to it, so everyone is left hanging in this morose, somber mood. It’s really sad.
GD: Do you think that is the best choice for Paige, staying behind?
HT: I think so for her personally because her main priority was always Henry and she’s always been taking care of him and kind of like a mother figure to him, because her parents had been so absent, so to stay behind with his safety in mind, I think that that was a really good choice for her. And like I said, she doesn’t even speak Russian or know that much about the country so she would’ve had a hard time there.
GD: And when you signed on for this role, how much of a commitment did you think it would be? In “Mad Men” over eight years they had four different child actors play the son, so did you ever think that you might get recast or anything?
HT: Yeah, I did a couple times. After the pilot I wasn’t sure if they were gonna keep me, ‘cause that happens a lot. They’ll hire people for the pilot and then change it for the whole season, so I was nervous about that. It was my first time doing a pilot so I didn’t really know how it worked, so as soon as someone tells you that there’s an opportunity for recast, you’re immediately thinking you’re doomed straight away. And then this year, I was kind of scared. I didn’t think they would recast me but it was a big time jump and I do look a lot younger so I was scared that they were gonna think that I wasn’t able to do it so I’m really thankful that they still let me have that challenging role.
GD: Especially in TV, all the teenagers are always like 30 years old.
HT: Yeah, exactly. I had to convince them all ‘cause I’m actually turning 21 this year, and that’s how old Paige is. So a lot of them thought that I was actually 16 ‘cause that’s the role that I’d been playing for so long, so I kind of had to remind everyone and hand in my birth certificate and be like, “Look, this is actually how old I am, I swear!” It was funny but at least I proved that I was able to do it.
GD: I understand that you say your friends don’t watch “The Americans” and it’s not a show with a very large audience anyway, but what’s it like being on the most critically acclaimed drama of recent years?
HT: I think that it’s a really perfect scenario for me. I love being on the show because it does have such a nice tight-knit fanbase that are so passionate about the show and think that’s it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen but then I can go grocery shopping and I hardly ever get recognized or anything. I still have my own life outside of it. It’s not like I was on “Stranger Things” or something and immediately was bombarded with fame. So I think that it’s been a really nice balance and I’ve been able to go to school but still have people talk about how amazing and beautifully done a show that you’re on is. I think that’s really an honor.
GD: What was the last thing that you filmed?
HT: The last scene that I filmed was when we call Henry after dinner, ‘cause I say that I wanna say goodbye to him but then I can’t talk to him. That was the saddest scene that we could’ve shot on the last day, and it was like five in the morning and there was a random blizzard that came that wasn’t even in the forecast and we were crying and freezing to death, so it was really in true “Americans” style.
GD: By the time people see this the finale will have aired. What do you think the reception will have been?
HT: I think that people are gonna like the ending just because of how heartbreaking it is. Some people might be expecting a little more violence or exciting action but I think that this is really the most honest way that they could have ended it. I think that would’ve just been kind of phony, in a way. I’m hoping that everyone will love it. I love it, so yeah.
GD: My mom comes from a small community called Riverton, which is a suburb of a small town called Stellarton in Nova Scotia. You’re from a small town called Middleton, also Nova Scotia, originally. How much of a celebrity are you there in a town with fewer than 2,000 people?
HT: (Laughs.) I have no idea. I feel like they probably don’t even know who I am. I have done a few interviews for Canadian papers or articles like that but I don’t know ‘cause I haven’t really been there since I’ve been on the show but that would be really interesting to see. I do know that I’m more known in New Mexico than I am in New Jersey, which is really random. I’m shooting something there right now and I get recognized all the time, whereas when I’m here it’s like once every couple weeks or something.
GD: What are you shooting there?
HT: It’s a show called “The Unsettling” for AwesomenessTV. It’s a little horror show, so lots of scared faces, typical Paige stuff. It’s really fun, so I’m hoping it’s gonna come out really great.
GD: And is that something you wanna do more of, because at this point you’ve had a full-on acting experience and it is also kind of your first big role and you’re also in graphic design, I understand, now. Is acting something that you see yourself doing long-term or you’re still unsure what’s going on?
HT: I think I wanna definitely do it for the next few years. I’m still auditioning for things and I’m enjoying it right now, but I do like to have backup options and try different things so I’m trying not to put all my eggs in one basket, as they say. So maybe I’ll change it up in the future but I don’t really have a plan as of now.
GD: Has anybody reached out to you now that you obviously have availability not being on “The Americans”?
HT: Yeah, well that’s how I got the show that I’m shooting now. They were really excited to work with me ‘cause I haven’t been available for the past six years so that was really nice. And then hopefully after that I’ll get some more people reaching out and keep auditioning for things and hopefully keep working, I don’t know (laughs).
GD: Do you keep in touch with anybody from “The Americans”?
HT: Yeah, mostly I keep in touch with Keidrich [Sellati]. He’s like a little brother to me in real life too so we have a really nice relationship and just make fun of each other all the time. So that’s really fun. I’m gonna see him at the For Your Consideration event at the end of the month where we’ll do a screening of the finale, so I’m really excited to see him there.
GD: What would you say is your favorite memory from working on “The Americans”?
HT: My favorite memory is really just any time in between scenes where you’re hanging out with the cast. Everyone has just been so nice and the whole time I was on the show everyone would say to me, “You don’t get this on every show. You don’t go to a set where the whole cast and the crew is this nice to each other all the time.” So that kind of scared me going into other projects, but it made me realize how lucky I was just to be able to laugh and have fun with all these people in the midst of such a sad show for six years.
GD: Have you been able to use any of the physical skills that you learned on the show in your real life?
HT: In real life, no, but I’ve had dreams that I beat people up using my skills (laughs). I kind of hope that I don’t have to put those to the test in real life ‘cause I feel like it wouldn’t look as good as it does on TV. But I take boxing classes so I’m able to apply some of that there, some of the technique that I’ve learned it applies to that or just different martial arts and self-defense training, so it’s really cool to have those under your belt and hopefully never have to use them in a dangerous situation.
GD: With all the physical situations, is that the most challenging thing that you do or is that just kind of fun?
HT: I think it’s fun. It’s definitely challenging just because you have to get it really precisely or else you could really hurt someone or yourself. To make it look good but not actually be hitting people is really hard, but it’s a lot of fun ‘cause I started out as a dancer so to me it’s kind of similar. It’s just like learning choreography and then performing it. So I really love that stuff, but I think that just the acting, it’s harder for me.
GD: And finally, what do you hope people take away from Paige’s journey?
HT: I hope that people take away the importance of being honest with your children and how much that can mess up your kids if you’re not, because we see how Paige and Henry might turn out. And also just compassion, because I think some people lack that for Paige and don’t really see her side of the story, but she has a really hard life and I hope that even in the series finale that people feel bad for her and realize how much she’s been through and how much she still has to deal with for the rest of her life.
GD: Thanks so much, Holly, and we look forward to seeing “The Americans” at the Emmys this summer.
HT: Thank you so much.
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