PASADENA — If the only images you have of Keri Russell are as the sweet young entertainer who went from the "The Mickey Mouse Club" to "Felicity," you've not seen her FX channel series, "The Americans." Russell has traded her good-girl image for that of a hardened communist spy who will use any weapon — ANY weapon — to get what she wants.
The second season of the FX series, starting Wednesday, throws Russell back into action as it picks up in the early 1980s during the Cold War. Russell and Matthew Rhys play two KGB spies who live the American dream as a typical suburban Washington, D.C., couple. Their lives bounce between parent-teacher conferences and deadly espionage encounters.
The role is a major divergence from anything Russell has played before, but she doesn't think of the series in those terms.
"I guess I'm not thinking about it being different, but it is interesting," says Russell, who is wearing a pair of white pants so tight she looks like an extra for a remake of "Grease II."
"I find myself with this role being more exposed. I enjoy the vulnerability and sexuality of her and continually interested in mining the relationships. It's all very fun."
These spies engage in a lot of sex, not so much for pleasure but as part of the job. Season two kicks off with sexual activity that breaks new ground for basic cable television. Russell is more comfortable with this disconnected form of sex than the more romantic variety played out in TV and films.
"The good thing about the sexuality in the show, at least where I'm coming at it from, is there is a gift in it not having to be this big sweeping romantic movie where you have to be so in love and so beautiful and so sexy. You're usually using the sexuality, at least in the spy end of it, to get something," Russell says. "So there is kind of a freedom in that, because it's kind of messier or more direct than that."
Russell looks at her role on "The Americans" as just another credit in a growing résumé. She does admit that because of the role — and maybe the fact that she is a 37-year-old mother of two — she is feeling a lot more grown up these days.
Playing a sexually charged, rear-end kicking spy hasn't changed the kind of jobs Russell is being offered. But the way she feels about acting jobs is different.
"It's changed my career because it's interesting to me," Russell says. "This second season will add to that because of the relationship with her family, because she wants to be with them and engage with them. She's going to be off-center this year and that's interesting to play."
The first season show averaged 3.4 million viewers, tying "Justified" as the most-watched first season of any FX drama series. Critics also loved the show, which received four Critics' Choice Television Award nominations — the most of any first-year drama series.
In addition to the nomination for Best Drama Series, "The Americans" scored acting nods for Russell and Rhys, along with a supporting actor nod for Noah Emmerich.
"The Americans": 10 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, on FX
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.