"I'm an avid recycler, so every little last scrap gets recycled from me. At my house in L.A., I have low-flow showerheads and I drive a Prius. I have horses and often give their manure to my friends for their garden," says Matthew Rhys, adding that on the set of his FX drama "The Americans," "everyone was given their own water bottle at the beginning so that we would cut down on bottles and plastic cups."
In the Wednesday night '80s-set series, already renewed for a second season, Rhys and Keri Russell play KGB spies posing as a suburban couple who face increasing strains on their arranged marriage. Initially, he explains, Phillip and Elizabeth were equally doctrinaire, but time in the U.S. — and the birth of his two children — have changed him. "I think Philip is in this great transition. It's like stalemate because he knows he wants to make a move and he wants to do something about it, it's just he isn't quite sure how to get out."
Despite the fact that he doesn't hesitate to kill, "Philip comes from a decent moral place in many ways and he has a love for the lifestyle they've created," Rhys continues. "There's a lot of push and pull in the marriage; the chess game they play with each other where revelation after revelation has come out and the amount of betrayal involved so it won't be resolved overnight."
That emotional complexity was the main draw for Rhys, previously best known for "Brothers and Sisters," but there were other reasons he deems the role "an absolute career high. It has everything you want as an actor. The action element is fantastic. I have a magnificent stunt double, but we did a few weeks' martial arts training and Joe Weisberg, the creator, who is an ex-CIA operative himself, did some counter-surveillance work with myself and Keri," notes Rhys, who also read and watched documentaries for research.
Learning occasional lines in Russian "has been a little bit of a linguistic struggle for me," Rhys admits, but he relishes the variety of disguises he's called upon to wear. He also enjoys working with Russell, calling her "an absolute joy. She has an incredibly mischievous sense of humor, which drives me insane, but we do have fun making this show."
As a boy, Rhys fantasized about becoming a soldier or a cowboy and other "classic boyhood things," and realized if he became an actor he could play those parts. "The glory of this crazy, maniacal job is that you get the opportunity to live out boyhood fantasies. At the moment I'm ticking off the 'spy' one."
When filming ends next month, Rhys plans to go on a horse riding expedition in Mongolia. "That's my idea of heaven," he says. "I'm looking forward to it enormously."