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The Americans: Holly Taylor on Paige, growing up in the '80s

The actress, 18, shines as the FX drama’s secret weapon

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James Minchin/FX

It’s no secret that Paige is in the crosshairs following the betrayal of her parents’ secret on season 3 of The Americans. But as she struggles with the consequences of her actions, the 18-year-old actress who plays her has taken the expanded role in stride. “When I first got it, I had no idea Paige’s part would develop as it has,” Holly Taylor says. “I got so über lucky.” As the FX drama heats up for season 4, Taylor shares some intel on Paige’s next moves, spending her teen years on the gritty series, and living in the ’80s:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You started working on The Americans when you were 13. What has it been like spending your teenage years as Paige? 

HOLLY TAYLOR: Trying to keep [our lives] separate has been a little challenging. It’s hard to tap into those deep, complex emotions and go to school the next day and be Holly… [Paige] is hard to read because she doesn’t even know what’s going on in her head. She loves her parents but doesn’t know if they’re hurting people. She’s upset, she’s angry, she’s confused. It’s mentally draining. In season 1, a lot of people would ask me if I relate to Paige, and there’s a lot of me that can’t, because obviously her parents are spies and as far as I know, my parents aren’t. You never know. But just being a teenager myself has helped with other things. In season 1, she wasn’t really sure who she was, and she joined the church to find some more pieces of herself and make different friends, so I think that’s a really natural thing that teenagers go through. 

Paige might now be the biggest threat to her spy parents, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys). Are you enjoying this meatier role?

It comes with pressure. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I’m really hard on myself, so I don’t want to disappoint myself either. With it being my first show, I was so honored [the writers] trusted me with her story and giving me all this material to use, so I hope I’m living up to their expectations.

What is it like having Keri and Matthew as your TV parents, especially when it comes to those intense screaming matches?

Those are always hard for everybody, but things do get a little loopy sometimes. Matthew did such an amazing job with [the “You respect Jesus, but not us”] scene, but of course there were times when he would spit on my face when he was yelling at me or he would drop the Bible by accident in the middle. [Laughs] We try to stay in character and be respectful to the person whose character is having a mental breakdown that day.

How do you decompress after all these tense scenes?

I head to craft services and eat chocolate chip cookies. [Laughs] I mean, that’s not really particular to me being emotional, I just do that in between every take and every scene, but I guess that’s one thing that helps me.

Jeff Neumann/FX

What can you tell me about Paige’s story this season?

I think Paige’s arc is going to be driven at first a little bit by the guilt that she feels for telling Pastor Tim [played by Kelly AuCoin], and she doesn’t know what she should do with that now, how she can continue to keep her parents safe even though she’s put them in jeopardy to some extent. She knows the truth, and it’s obviously not the truth she was expecting at all, but with that comes a lot of ambiguity, you know? She has no idea what comes with their job, and she wants to find things out so she can know how to keep herself safe, know how to keep Henry safe, and know when not to be worried about [her parents].

Have you thought about a potential ending for Paige?

The show is so unpredictable, anything I say [the writers] will probably read and say, “Oh, we can’t do that anymore, we’ve gotta change it.” [Laughs] No, I’m just kidding. For Paige, I’m not sure, I’d like her to maybe join the KGB or infiltrate the FBI. It’s hard to say.

What about you? You’re done with high school — what are your next moves?

I’m starting college in the fall at Penn State Online [the university’s distance education program]. That way, I can continue to do the show if that’s still going. I’d like to do other projects like movies or some comedy in the future. That’s my main goal, but if not, I have my education as my backup.

Just to switch gears: You weren’t alive in the ’80s, when the show is set. Has the era rubbed off on you?

I’ve been wearing a lot of high-waisted pants, and I’ve been attracted to turtlenecks lately. It’s so funny because I used to tell the wardrobe department, “Please don’t make me wear any more turtlenecks!” Now if I wear one in real life, I feel low-key guilty about it. 

Could you pull off being a spy?

I think I would be a good spy! I can be sneaky. And I have really impeccable hearing. I can hear people whispering in another room. It’s like I have bat ears or something. [Laughs] A lot of my friends’ parents watch the show, so if I go to one of their houses, sometimes their parents will ask me questions and want spoilers. I never say anything, so I’m very spy-like.

The Americans returns 10 p.m. ET on FX. 

A version of this story originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1406, on newsstands now or available for purchase here.