WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the series finale of The Americans. Read at your own risk!
Noah Emmerich, who stars as FBI agent Stan Beeman on FX’s Cold War spy drama The Americans, still remembers the weather from the day he filmed a crucial scene from the series finale. “It was a beautiful day,” the actor recalls. “A beautiful, sunny, blue sky day.”
That was outside. Inside was a different story. The scene Emmerich was filming opposite Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Holly Taylor — who play, respectively, Elizabeth, Philip, and Paige Jennings — was one fans have been waiting for for six seasons: the moment when Stan finally catches the Jennings and hears them confess to being Russian spies.
And yet, even after cornering them in the garage, drawing his gun, and coming so close to arresting them on the spot, Stan lets them go. Years of history between him and this family he grew to consider his best friends stops him from doing his duty.
It’s a decision Emmerich admits he wrestled with, and below, he reflects on Stan’s journey to the critical moment and where the series finale leaves him.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction to reading the garage scene in the script?
NOAH EMMERICH: I was really, happily surprised. I thought it was very beautiful and humane and poetic, and very Americans. This whole endeavor has been, in a way, about excavating the humanity in people, inside these roles that we play in this world, and these political divides and the socio-economical divides that we have in this world. I felt like it was really true to that dynamic. I found it very moving and very beautiful.
It’s a scene we’ve been waiting for for so long. Did you have any idea how this would play out before you read the script?
I really didn’t. I mean, I had lots of guesses, but I just sort of gave up even guessing, and I didn’t want to be guessing, because I wanted to just be where Stan was in the moment. I didn’t even want to think about the end, because it would pollute the present, you know? But I was really surprised and delighted.
The scene also packs in so much material, considering how much emotional ground these characters have to cover.
Yeah, just technically, it was something like a 10-minute scene, a whole act. It was the longest scene I’ve ever shot, maybe ever, so it has this one act play quality to it in a way. It was a beast. We’re used to shooting a page or two pages or maybe three — because film is like that, it’s not theatrical — and this was really a hybrid of theater and film. It’s just a dense, loaded, complex scene. And it was really exciting.
What was the mood like on set for it?
It was sort of an electrified mood, because it was a scene that the show was building toward for six years, so there was a lot of weight and pressure and a lot of expectation baked into that. Everybody was going, “This really has to work.” [Laughs] You can’t come off that day, going, “Well, I think we got it.” … I think the biggest pressure of that scene for me in a way was believing that Stan would let them go. Having that feel real was a tricky path to navigate.
So… do you think Stan made the right call, to let them go?
That’s a really tough question to answer, and I’m hesitant to give it a specificity. As I touched upon earlier, I think it’s somehow a triumph of humanity on some level over politics or good versus evil or good and bad, you know? There’s a real deep, profound connection between these characters, between Stan and Philip and Paige and Elizabeth and Henry and I think when it all comes into that moment, Stan’s not capable of destroying all that, even though he would be justified in doing so.
We see him take all these little, almost hesitant steps: He calls the travel agency, he calls their home, and he goes to Paige’s apartment but doesn’t let the FBI in on it. Was he, up until Philip confessed, still hoping it wasn’t true? When do you think Stan truly knew?
I think in a situation like this, we know, but we’re still hoping we’re wrong until we can’t anymore. If you think your partner’s having an affair and there’s all this evidence around, you just, you know and you know and you know, but what you’re really doing at that point is you’re hoping and hoping and hoping you’re wrong. All kinds of emotions are going to be stirred up, but somewhere in the heart of that is going to be the desire to be wrong.
And I think that’s what’s happening for Stan. Each door of hope that gets closed in his face is confirming what he already knows and maybe has known for a long time, but the black-and-white moment, superficially, is when Philip says, “We had a job to do.” That’s his confession. Until that moment hope is still possible! [Laughs] I think also the moment when he sees them coming out of Paige’s dorm room, he knows as well. It’s all degrees, and we talked about this a lot — me and [the showrunners] and Chris Long, the director — because it’s a really slow roll for Stan. There’s not that moment where it comes together and boom, he knows for sure. It’s a slow bleed of ever-growing suspicion.
Speaking of suspicion, I’m really curious how the script described your scenes with Renee (Laurie Holden). Does it hint either way, whether she’s really a spy or not?
It’s just the facts. What the script just said was, “Stan looks at Renee sleeping.” It just says that, and then that’s the fun of my job, to get to play what that means.
Well, what do you think it means?
[Laughs] Well, that question, “Is Renee a spy or not?” has now been asked, so it can’t be unasked. I don’t think Stan’s going to let that lie. I don’t know he knows — that’s one of the titillations of the end, that it’s not wrapped up in a bow — but I don’t think that’s going to be left unattended.
Of course not. Even when he was hugging her, he looked worried.
Yeah, it’s a really weird moment for Stan. All he’s got left in that moment is Renee, and she’s not even really there anymore for him because of that question. It’s been poisoned. Maybe it’ll be cleaned up, maybe it won’t, maybe it will have the worst of all possibilities, but it’s not known at the end of our story.
Philip’s a really crappy friend, leaving Stan with the burden like that.
Yeah, but one could argue that he’s being a good friend. He’s taking care of Stan as best he can in that moment by saying, “I care about you, and I’m protecting you.” And I would argue that if she is, in fact, a spy, I think Stan would be grateful to Philip for telling him.
And how do you feel about Henry? How does Stan look at this relationship now?
Well, I think Stan has real love for Henry and I don’t think that’s polluted. I think he believes Paige when she tells him that Henry didn’t know. There’s no one this is more tragic for than Henry. This is a completely innocent child whose life is just destroyed, and all he has in that moment is Stan. So there’s something quite beautiful about that. And I think Stan will take care of Henry in a real way.
I like the sound of that.
Yeah. [Laughs] Henry’s gonna be okay.
Now if you had to imagine, where would Stan go from here? A colleague of mine was like, “He’ll have to go through tons of therapy, right?” He’ll be suspecting everyone from now on.
[Laughs] I think he’s pretty shattered, yeah. I think it’s going to take Stan a long time to reconstitute himself, if ever. It’s a pretty grim present for Stan. It’s cost him everything.
And finally, looking back, what will you miss the most?
I’ll really miss the people. Our crew and our cast and our writers and directors have become a real family over the years. I don’t think I feel [like it’s ending] right now, because around this time of year we’re always done. But we always come back in October, and this October will be really sad not to be reuniting with this Americans family. Right now we have more to do together — there’s some press stuff, some screenings and festivals — so we’re still connected to each other because the show still is alive, but in a few weeks, that’s really over, and we’ll scatter in the winds. We’ll stay in touch and we’ll see each other around campus and stuff, but it’s a great loss.
It’s like the end of summer camp, you know? I went to camp for six years, two months every summer, and at the end of those six years, you wept like a baby because that magical moment was over. l feel like Camp Hollywood is over. And I’ll miss everybody.
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