'The Americans': Noah Emmerich on Stan's 'dark and difficult' season 2 journey

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Image Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/FX

You would think that as an FBI agent, Noah Emmerich’s Stan Beeman would have it a little easier than most of the characters on FX’s hit spy drama — but not so much. Last season, he became involved with Russian informant Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru), who turned out to be a double agent of sorts. And as we saw from his reactions in Wednesday night’s episode, “New Car,” his personal and professional life are pretty close to disintegrating completely. “It’s sort of a painful place that we find him in,” Emmerich admits, speaking about his character’s journey so far in season 2. “He’s struggling.”

EW spoke with Emmerich about how Stan is adapting to his painful struggle, how his relationship with Nina has affected him, and what he thinks is in store for Stan as we head into the home stretch of the season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First of all, congratulations on season 3! I’m so excited for you guys, which means my first question is going to be about if you know where Stan is headed…or if you know how far your character has been mapped out at this point.
NOAH EMMERICH: I’m not sure where they are in the mapping, but I certainly don’t. I’m not sure if they know themselves, actually. I think it’s still yet to be determined. I’m hoping for a little more sunlight.

And less depressing storylines? I’m not sure that’s possible on this show…
[laughs] It seems to be inherent of its nature.

Last season, Stan’s relationship with Nina became kind of a through line, and this season it’s become an even bigger part of his character journey. How has this relationship changed Stan as a person?
I think on some level, Nina has reminded him of himself at an earlier stage in his career. I think that coming out of the three years undercover and relocating to Washington, D.C. and the new counterintelligence division, we find him in the beginning of season 1 somewhat post-traumatic-stress disordered out, somewhat in shock, somewhat estranged from his family and from himself. Clearly, his first engagement with Nina is to turn her into a source and a tool for his job, to unravel the Soviet mystery and get inside enemy lines. But I think that evolves rather quickly into empathy and compassion for her. And maybe in some Freudian sense, he’s trying to save himself as he develops feelings for her and trying to save her and trying to excavate her from the wrath in which she’s entangled. I do feel like it’s a complicated dynamic. But I think he feels very empathic and sympathetic and hopeful that he’ll be able to, on some level, save her from some of the scars and bruises he’s endured in his own career. Of course, ironically enough, it turns out by the end of season 1 that she’s in fact manipulating him as well…but he obviously remains oblivious to that reality.

I feel like this season, we’ve really seen Stan become more transparent. He’s lost a lot at this point, a lot of things are chipping away at him, and we’re seeing what happens as he becomes more unraveled – and we know what happens when he loses it. But I think there’s a lot to be said in Nina bringing out that emotional vulnerability in him.
From some point of view, Nina is all he’s got right now. He lost his partner last season, he’s deeply estranged from his family, even his colleagues at work — his boss, Agent Gaad, has harbored some sort of ill will and resentment to the sort of the pickle that Stan has put the Bureau in with Vlad’s murder. So he’s evermore sort of alone and isolated and the only real tether that he has at this point, the only continual connection and through line he has, is via Nina. And along comes this new character, Oleg, who seems to be nosing around and knows too much about Nina and knows too much about Stan and Nina, so there’s a real threat to the one surviving connection that he has in this job. And I think that sort of raises the stakes and pressure and feelings of isolation that Stan is going through.

As a viewer, it’s so fun to watch the mind games between this new “threesome” of Stan and Oleg and Nina. Stan is trying to stay one step ahead and double-cross the people who are also double crossing him, it seems he’s already kind of compromised.
Yeah, it seems hard to imagine that something’s not going to explode. There’s too much tension and too much emotion in the stew, and something’s gotta give. The question is where and how it happens, if in fact it does. It seems hard to imagine it will have a happy ending.

I find Stan to be such a fascinating character. So many people see him as a bad guy, but I think he’s the one person on the show that is actually a really good guy who just gets caught up in this darkness in the wrong way. From an actor perspective, is that how you see him, also?
I see Stan as a thoroughly good person. I see Stan as someone who has dedicated his life to serving a cause greater than himself at great personal expense, he’s committed to serving his country and to protecting the security of his country, and he’s in this terrible Cold War. He’s a part of this, as are Philip and Elizabeth. I think they’re good people, and doing what they think of as patriotic and noble and in service of a cause that is bigger than themselves. They’re certainly not leading selfish lives, any of these characters…they’re all dedicated to things outside their own personal gain. And the circumstances and context of the Cold War demands very questionable actions, but those decisions are made by people higher up than these characters. They’re sort of, in a way, servants of the Cold War, so it does cause incredible personal compromise and impeachment of their own moral personal integrity. But in many ways, their lives aren’t in their own hands – they’re on the front line. So I don’t think Stan is a bad person at all. I think he’s trying to be as noble and moral and patriotic as he can be, and you go down the rabbit hole of this time in the world and you’re forced to confront all sorts of demons and compromises to perhaps what may be your own personal outlook on life, or desire to be an upstanding citizen.

Given how complicated Stan has become, what are some of the challenges you’ve found between season 1 and now with playing him?
Well, season 1…as painful and difficult as it was for Stan, it was certainly an easier season. Things go badly for Stan at the end of the season 1 when we see Nina’s betrayal of that relationship, and this year, they’ve only gotten worse. So as dark as difficult as it was, I feel like it’s even more dark and difficult. He’s more isolated, he’s less on top of his game. Last year, he got really close to catching Philip and Elizabeth and he seemed to be hot on their trail. This year, he’s not as close to them, he’s not as close to solving the mystery, and he’s being manipulated by forces he’s not even aware of. And yet he’s doubly committed and dedicated to trying to execute his job successfully.

In last night’s episode, there were some great moments between Stan and Philip – it was a nice reminder of the fact that this relationship is still something that’s important, given everything else that’s been going on this season.
I think there’s a lot of room for an interesting relationship to evolve. It hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of airtime this season thus far, but I think this friendship outside of the true relationship that Stan is oblivious of — in terms of knowing who Philip really is — I think there’s a simpatico dynamic between them. There’s obviously some resonance and some attraction to each other, and I think that’s a really interesting relationship to explore. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to do that much more as the series progresses.

Philip and Stan are more similar than anyone realizes, both hiding secrets and technically playing each other. As a viewer, it’s so fun to watch that interaction and pick up on that conflict.
It’s almost like they’re two sides of the same coin. They’re opposite sides, they’re really cut from the same material, they’re reflections of each other to some extent. They have so much overlap in their work and in their lives. Certainly, unbeknownst to Stan, Philip is aware of it, and then how much Stan knows or doesn’t know or suspects or doesn’t suspect, we’re not really 100 percent sure of. I think there’s some intuition and sense that they come from somewhere similar, and there’s some deeper sense of mutual understanding than would be expected normally in that relationship. And I think its quite fun for the audience. Obviously, the audience knows everything, so watching these two characters can be really fun.

Is there anything you can tease about what’s coming up for Stan as we head into the end of the season?
I would just sort of say that everything is coming together into some sort of necessary breaking point. It can’t be sustained, what’s happening, as we discussed. It’s going to come to some sort of climax or conclusion or eruption or disaster or evolution…we don’t know how, but it clearly can’t stay. We have more than two trains headed for the same spot, so something’s gotta give. Something’s gonna blow up – that seems inevitable. Hopefully, the curiosity of what that is is compelling and intriguing for the audience. Stay tuned…that’s all I can say.

The Americans airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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