Welsh actor Matthew Rhys made a lasting impression as out gay attorney Kevin Walker on the ABC show Brothers & Sisters.
On the big screen he starred in Julie Taymor's Titus, then played Dylan Thomas in The Edge of Love.
His latest project is the FX drama series The Americans, where he stars as Phillip Jennings. The Americans also stars Keri Russell as his undercover wife and follows a story set in the 1980s about Cold War KGB agents.
Windy City Times: Hi, Matthew. Did you always want to be an actor?
Matthew Rhys: I'm not sure, that might be a chicken-or-egg question. When I was growing up I sort of wanted to be all these sort of classic boyhood things like a soldier and a cowboy. I think there must have been a point when I realized if I was an actor I could play all those parts and then go home at the end of the day. That's the glory, in a way, of doing this crazy, maniacal job is that you do get the opportunity to live out boyhood fantasies and at the moment I'm checking the box off on the spy one.
WCT: What made you want to do the show in the first place?
Matthew Rhys: The draw of the part was always the emotional stuffthat sort of incredibly complex relationship you find them at. Sort of steering that emotional voyage has [had], for want of a better pretentious cliché, this sort of hard element to it all.
I look forward to the action stuff because it's like a welcome break from this sort of slightly heavier emotional stuff. It's like doing games when you're at school. What do you call it here? Sports?
WCT: P.E. Has there been a role that has required you to wear so many hats for a part?
Matthew Rhys: It's just like my social life! There is no real change for me coming in. Certainly, this is the most diverse part I've ever had for sort of playing different parts within one part. That's an actor's dream, I think, to get to have that variety within one part. It's sort of everything you want. There is no danger of going stale.
WCT: What was it like working with Keri Russell?
Matthew Rhys: I don't think we have the time. It's a nightmare! [Laughs] She is everything I imagined that has been reported about her in the past, as sort of the consummate professional when she turns up. She is a real dream to work with, to be perfectly honest. I said about her the other day, nothing is a problem for her even when it is. She takes that sort of ethos on the set every day. We do have a lot of fun. There is a lot of sort of poking fun at each other, but we do make each other laugh, which is great.
WCT: Did the costumes and sets help you get into the part?
Matthew Rhys: Absolutely. I think any physical influence like that will inevitably help steer and guide you as a character. I think just the way it obviously aids us as a dramatic piece, we're not in an age of technology and that you realize that espionage at the time was incredibly based on human intuition and ingenuity, really. It aids it all, really.
WCT: Did you speak Russian prior to the role?
Matthew Rhys: I was fluent before I took the part, funnily enough. No, I wasn't at all. You will, in fact, unfortunately hear me butcher the beautiful language of Russian in an upcoming episode. It's been a little bit of a linguistic struggle for me.
WCT: Have you had a favorite moment from the filming?
Matthew Rhys: I suppose the scenes for me that are the most satisfying are the boundaries we push emotionally and psychologically with Philip and Elizabeth further pushing their own relationship in striving for potential or possible relationship. You realize for two people to spend so long together and who are trained to gather, glean, and gain information, they're incredibly bad communicators with each other.
It's been a slow creep for the two of them in getting to where they are. There is a lot of push and pull in the relationship that sort of sets them back and pushes them forward and sets them back further. It's those scenes I find most rewarding as you very slowly, and sometimes painfully, chip away at the veneer of what their relationship is.
WCT: Did you enjoy getting back to the '80s?
Matthew Rhys: I have, I have. They were very formative years for me sort of growing up. There have been elements of the clothes. We go, "Oh my God, I remember my mom wearing these!"
Strangely enough, it was a time where we were watching American television so I have this strange, slightly removed nostalgia when the cars come out. I remember those cars watching them on television thinking oh, my God, they're so exotic, those Mustangs and Buicks, and now I'm being allowed to drive one recklessly, which is fabulous.
WCT: Thanks for your support and playing a gay character on Brothers and Sisters.
Matthew Rhys: It is absolutely my pleasure. I was very lucky with the writing of it really. That all stemmed from Jon Robin Baitz, so I was just a conduit really to his work. It was an amazing time.
Spy on The Americans Wednesdays on FX.