Students at Friday’s BU Cinematheque asked The Americans executive producer Stephen Schiff about the show’s spycraft, such as trading sex for information. All true, he said. Photo by Jake Belcher
Students at Friday’s BU Cinematheque asked The Americans executive producer Stephen Schiff about the show’s spycraft, such as trading sex for information. All true, he said. Photo by Jake Belcher

Sure, The Americans is about a couple of KGB spies. But executive producer Stephen Schiff told the audience at last Friday night’s BU Cinematheque that the FX series is really about much more: it’s about us.

“There’s a lot of skullduggery and spycraft and people doing nasty, nasty things to one another,” Schiff said. “But it’s really about family, and the complications that come from the sensation that we are all spies in our own lives.”

The Americans follows the overtly normal lives of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Kerri Russell), two deep-cover Soviet agents living in the Washington, D.C., suburbs in the early 1980s. Their marriage is real and their two teenaged children, Paige and Henry (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati), are real American schoolkids as well, but at the same time the whole family image is just part of their cover.

“All of our lives have to do with some combination of the deception we bring with us—because we want to be a little secretive at times, we don’t want to tell everyone everything—and at the same time this urge we have to be known, to be seen, to be honest, to be understood, to be loved for who we are,” Schiff told a packed house of about 250 people at the College of Communication.

In a recent episode, Philip and Elizabeth let Paige in on their real identities, which seriously complicates just about everything. As does the spies’ friendship with Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI counterintelligence agent who happens to live across the street. “If you follow our show a little, that means not following it at all, because it’s really hard to follow,” Schiff said.

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