THE FX drama series THE AMERICANS is such an incredible television show, filled with such finely-nuanced character portrayals, that viewers are often conflicted about rooting for a family of Russian spies working against the United States. But that is the paradox of great television: sometimes you find yourself identifying with those who hold vastly different political ideals and beliefs. It has been a pleasure, if not moral conundrum, to be a fan for the past five seasons of THE AMERICANS. While at this past Winter Television Critics Association Tour, in an exclusive interview, Holly Taylor talked about the extraordinary journey she has taken with her character Paige Jennings on THE AMERICANS and reflects on her own six season adventure as a young actress on the show.
It was very interesting to see the time jump and to see that Paige has chosen to go into the profession, and how she’s acclimating, and to see her growing pains just a little bit.
HOLLY: Yeah. It’s really cool. I’ve always wanted this for Paige, in a weird way, and I never thought that it would
Should we be worried about her? It seems like she’s tentative about what she’s doing at times.
HOLLY: Yeah, definitely. Anything working in that side of the business, you have to be so careful about everything, and the littlest thing, something could go wrong. Paige is still learning and she’s not going to be perfect. I mean, she has so much to learn still and she’s just being exposed to this, so it can be a little tricky here and there.
Do you think she’s got a ruthless enough heart to really take on this difficult business?
HOLLY: I don’t think so, to be honest. I think that right now she doesn’t fully know everything that her parents do, so she’s passionate about it and she’s on board, but I think if she were to find out how many people they’ve killed, or the people that they have killed, or the “honey trap,” I think that she might think very differently of it and be too sensitive to other people’s feelings.
So you think she’s a bit over her head then?
HOLLY: Yeah, I think. But, it’s also similar to how Phillip is in that he understands repercussions of his actions, whereas Elizabeth is like, “I did that because that’s what I have to do and that’s the end of it.” I think Paige is more like her dad in that sense.
How is this affecting her relationship with her parents? Because it seemed like she was always striving to get so much closer to them.
HOLLY: Yeah, Paige is definitely closer to Elizabeth now. She has a reason to be since they’re working together and Elizabeth is kind of like her mentor now. I think she’s learning a lot from her and becoming stronger, just like her mom. She’s so close with her dad, she just doesn’t see him as much because he’s kind of out of it now.
But it doesn’t seem likes she’s close to her brother anymore.
HOLLY: Yeah, I mean I think that’s only because she can’t be because they’re both living away from home. Unfortunately, she can’t be around him as much, but she still cares about him. It’s kind of like she raised him anyway because her parents were always gone, so I think Paige has a very close relationship with Henry.
Would she want him to join the family business as well?
HOLLY: I don’t think so. I think Paige cares too much about him and wouldn’t want him to be damaged in that way.
We’ve seen your character go through quite a growth spurt. I mean, this takes her right out of her teen years into her twenties right away. How has that felt for you to portray a character going from such a large character arc?
HOLLY: It was really intimidating at first, but at the same time that’s how old I am in real life. I’m 20. So it was convincing people that I am that age in real life because everybody thought I was Paige’s age. No one realized. So it was kind of just reminding everyone I can do this. That’s how old I am. I’m in college too. So, I am grateful for that experience to show people that I can be my own age, and also just showing how much Paige has grown, and learned, and how much more comfortable she is with herself.
She seems more empowered now too.
Which is right now — particularly in light of all the news and the MeToo movement and stuff — it’s nice to see a young woman embracing things, and choosing things, and getting empowered along the way.
HOLLY: Yeah. That’s one of the things I love about THE AMERICANS is just how it highlights strength in females. I mean, the strongest character in the show is Elizabeth and she’s the mother of the show, but she’s so strong and dedicated to her cause. Philip is the sensitive one. Paige is very strong willed, and has a good head on her shoulders, and she’s always been independent. Elizabeth has taught her to defend herself, where usually it’s the dad who teaches you physical training like that. I love that about the show, how it highlights that women can be strong, and men can be sensitive, and it works.
The show has taken two characters, a man and a woman, mom and dad, made them equal from the very get go. So it allowed to show the younger daughter growing up and seeing that example, and recognizing she could achieve that as well.
HOLLY: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s a great example for anyone to watch. I’m surprised people don’t notice it more. I love when people point that out because it is such a strong, amazing part of the show that makes me so proud to be on it. I mean, even Paige who is not your typical teenager, where her main crisis in life is that a boy doesn’t like her back, or something happened at school. It’s like she has real issues, and she cares about the world, and social justice. There’s so much more to teenagers than what’s usually portrayed on TV.
What do you most admire about Paige?
HOLLY: I admire her passion, which I think she gets from Elizabeth, because she is so passionate about other people’s well being. She cares about everybody, which is why she loves Henry too. That falls into place. I think she just believes in herself and that’s all that matters to her.
Paige has kind of a crossroads coming up. She had this before when she had confessed what to her family did to her pastor, but she was very young at the time. Now, she’s got her eyes wide open and there’s the possibly or a chance where she might have to choose between the well being of her family or her brother, or even herself, against the very thing that she’s been kind of taught through her training. Is she going to be ready for that, or is that going to just kind of make her feel frozen in her tracks?
HOLLY: I’m not really sure. I think that Paige has a lot to learn about her family’s business, per se, but at the same time she is just someone who cares about everybody. She wants to make sure that everyone is okay before herself. She needs to understand what’s going on when it’s going on. So, I think that any event like that would probably confuse her.
So she’s still learning and trying to figure that out.
Paige always kind of struck me as, amazingly, the back bone of the family because her parents were always under the weight of this other secret life that they were living, and their old lives and where they come from and the weight of that as well. So they always seemed a little more burdened. It always felt like Paige was the one that was stepping up to be the mother for Henry, and taking care of the family. I am surprised, but impressed, by how she takes that inner strength and uses it when she needs to.
HOLLY: Yeah. She has a huge responsibility, huge pressure on her shoulders. Even when she found out her parents were spies … Like, how can you trust a teenage girl to go to school the next day and just pretend that everything is okay?
She hasn’t cracked yet. She held it together.
HOLLY: Yeah. If something happens in your family, even if just someone passes away, or something happens, you go to school next day and you’re able to talk to people about it, and you’re able to be sad, and to show those feelings, but Paige never had that opportunity. She always had to act like everything was okay. I think that’s why sometimes the audience got frustrated with her because they were only seeing her expressing her confusion at home, because that’s all you see from her. You don’t see her going to school, and going out running errands, and putting on this happy face that she has to put on. She’s had a really hard life since she was little.
And she only had herself for a long time. She really didn’t trust her parents.
HOLLY: Exactly. That’s the thing. She couldn’t talk to anybody about any of this. She had to bottle it all up and that isn’t good for anybody.
That’s been fascinating to see. So how would you kind of generally describe her arc, where she’s going this season?
HOLLY: I think that Paige, this season, is just more involved with her mother. She’s more compassionate towards her mother, more understanding. She’s still the curious girl she’s always been, wants to know more, wants to learn more, but that’s one of her strengths. We see this year she’s had a better relationship with her mom. If she does mess up, she knows it. She’ll admit it and she’ll fix the mistake. So, I admire that about her this year.
There’s kind of an openness, kind of, I don’t know, more confident for her.
HOLLY: Yeah, she is. She’s more confident this year.
What did you kind of learn portraying this character for over the six seasons?
HOLLY: Portraying her for six seasons, I’ve learned a lot about Paige, and just about family dynamics, and growing up, and the struggles that every family has, and how it relates to the show. We just have it on a heightened scale. Every family has quarrels, and parents disagree on what they want for the kids, and kids disagree with some choices their parent’s make, but it’s just in this show it happens to be about such a huge thing. It’s that their parents are spies, not just that the parents went to this event or something, you know. It’s like their whole life is crazy. I’ve learned a lot just about family dynamics from this show, being a part of it.
Do you ever look at some of your neighbors now and wonder if they could be spies?
HOLLY: I do! I do sometimes think about it, because you see in the news and they’re like, … I saw an article the other day actually that said there’s more undercover Russian spies in California right now than there ever was in all of America.
Scary statistic, huh?
HOLLY: Yeah. That’s crazy, and also how do they know that that many of them are here and they’re just letting them live there? Isn’t that weird? How did they even get that statistic?
And if they have information on it, why aren’t they telling us?
HOLLY: Yeah. It’s like, are there aliens too? I don’t know. [Laughs]
It’s definitely made me a little more suspicious of people I encounter and wonder a little bit sometimes. Like, “wait a minute – that person travels an awful lot.”
HOLLY: [Laughs] That’s a good way of looking at it.
Well, what do you think as an actress you might have learned from this experience?
HOLLY: As an actress, I’ve learned an insurmountable amount of things from working on set of THE AMERICANS. I’ve learned so much just about camera angles, terminology of being on set, and how to separate your emotional character from your real life and not hold onto it during the day. That was hard for me at first. I’ve learned a lot just from watching Keri [Russell] and Matthew [Rhys]. They’re so talented, and just as people how respectful they are to every single person around them all the time is absolutely amazing. I can’t even begin to list every single thing that I’ve learned because I have literally learned everything that I know from being on the show, which I’m so thankful for.
What do you hope it propels you into next?
HOLLY: I would like to do something comedy wise. I actually have more training in comedy, which is weird because now I just cry all the time on this show. So, I would really love to do something like that. Something a little more light-hearted that’s not as depressing. That would be good.
To see where Paige’s journey ends and if she makes it out alive, be sure to tune in for the final season of THE AMERICANS on Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on FX. To find out more about the show, you can follow it on Twitter @TheAmericansFX and to follow Holly as her career continues, you can find her on Twitter @hollytaylor97.
THE AMERICANS SEASON 6 TRAILER:
THE AMERICANS, SEASON 6 RED CARPET WITH THE CAST: