Multi-talented television, film, and theater actress Alison Wright is making a name for herself in the entertainment industry. The British born Wright currently stars as Martha Hanson, Matthew Rhys’ semi-clueless, yet confidential informant at the FBI on the hit FX series, “The Americans”.
Set during the Cold War period in the 1980s, “The Americans” tells the story of Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), two Soviet KGB officers posing as a married American couple living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Although a newbie to series television, Wright is no stranger to entertainment and the performing arts. Her first acting job was at age 11 in Catherine Cookson’s ‘The 15 Streets’ at Newcastle Theatre Royal. She then went on to train professionally at Newcastle Centre for Performing arts in the UK, and later in New York City at The Barrow Group, Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, and HB Studio, Her favorite medium may be the stage, but Wright’s talent extends all formats.
Wright’s film credits include roles in “The Nanny Diaries” with Scarlett Johansson and the short films “Nights”, and “Braaains”! Her stage roles include off-Broadway productions of The New Group’s Marie & Bruce (opposite Marisa Tomei) and Rafta Rafta, as well as regional performances in Educating Rita, Godspell, The Little Mermaid and Bye Bye Birdie.
When she isn’t acting, Wright is an avid world traveler; having already been to six continents and visiting everywhere from Buenos Aires and Australia to Abu Dhabi and Morocco.
I spoke with Wright about her role on “The Americans” and more in this exclusive interview.
How would you describe the story of “The Americans”?
Essentially, it’s the story of a marriage and all of the difficulties that go on within the relationship between two people who just happen to be KGB spies [laughs].
How did this project come about for you?
It was very out of the blue. I remember I was at the theater and during an intermission I was checking messages. I got one from my manager who told me that he had a great audition opportunity, but I needed to have it turned around, taped and back in LA in ten hours. I finished watching the rest of the play, read the scenes on the drive home and we filmed it at ten o’clock the next morning. I had one more audition after that and then it was done.
What initially attracted you to the role of Martha Hanson?
It was an exciting character that I could easily connect with. I could imagine putting myself in that position quite easily. Sometimes when you read things you immediately know that you have a take on it. I felt that way about this one.
How would you describe Martha?
Martha’s changed quite a bit now that we’re coming to the end of season two. She’s a sweet lady who only wants to believe good things about people. Basically, she’s happily in love with this guy who unfortunately (just like the essence of the show) happens to be a KGB spy. But as far as she’s concerned, she has the perfect relationship.
What’s the chemistry like on the set?
Most of my scenes are with Matthew. It’s awesome and hilarious. He’s from Wales and I’m from England so we just constantly banter back and forth: stupid voices, stupid jokes. For us, it’s great!
You also did a few scenes with Keri Russell.
That was a total surprise to have one with her. It’s so fun because our paths don’t cross too often and when they finally do, she’s this weird character wearing a wig and glasses playing Clark’s sister. It’s very fun to get to be with her when it happens.
As an English actress, do you find it difficult to give your character an “American” accent?
I grew up in England being exposed to a lot of American television. It’s a very familiar sound that I’ve been used to hearing from an early age, so it’s easy to copy. It’s like a switch you can just turn on.
Coming from the theater and film world, are there any differences doing a television series?
Huge differences. This show is my first step into television and it’s a whole different ballgame. There are a lot of things to learn about and consider. The language, lingo and what’s needed. Luckily, I work with Matthew who has plenty of experience and can help me if I need it.
Did you always know that you wanted to become an actress?
I think so. I started at a dancing school when I was four and that led to performing in big regional theaters before I was ten. It was a natural move to transition to acting. I was working theater in England and when I finished college I came here to go to school in New York to study method acting. I’ve been here ever since.
Do you have any other interests outside of acting?
I really like art and scenic design. That kind of visual design and decoration – I really love that. I also like to travel. I’ve spent a few summers in Paris and then when Paris shuts down in August, I’ll sometimes head down to the south of France and Summer there. It’s awesome!
What can fans expect from the season two finale of “The Americans”?
I remember when I read it for the first time and finished the last page, I was shocked. I certainly didn’t see what was coming. It’s going to be a very cool and exciting finale.