Ok Emmy, I’m giving you the chance to get on the Matthew Rhys bandwagon before it’s too late and you end up looking like a dumbass as usual. The thing is, you should’ve acknowledged him last year in the debut season of The Americans, but I realize there’s so much great TV now it’s hard to keep up with what’s what… oh, wait… keeping up with what’s what is your job? Oh yeah, it is and you blew it last year. Well, it’s not too late to correct that mistake this year.
Admittedly, Rhys is no more deserving of a nomination than is his costar Keri Russell, but he delivers the most obviously terrific performance. In the first season, Russell was hampered by a single-minded character who is less relatable than her male counterpart. It’s not fair, but there it is. Much of the conflict in her Elizabeth happened below the surface. This year, her doubts have risen to the surface and she seems on the verge of wanting to protect her family over her job (last year I wouldn’t have been shocked if she threw her kids under a bus).
But in both seasons, Matthew Rhys has been amazing and this year’s Lead Actor in a Drama category is much less crowded than the Actress category Russell would have to compete in. So, If you’re an Emmy voter and you’re reading this, please consider Keri Russell for a vote, but by all means don’t overlook Matthew Rhys.
Here’s the thing: after binging the first season of The Americans, I was surprised to find out Rhys is Welsh and not American. OK, a credible accent isn’t the only aspect of a good performance (Damian Lewis does it too), but it’s something and don’t forget that Rhys regularly brings subtly different American accents to each episode. That’s right. His job as a Russian spy in 1980s America requires him to assume multiple identities. Beyond the goofy wigs he wears, Rhys brings subtly different manners of speech and, more importantly, variances in personality that are all still recognizably his main character Philip Jennings.
What’s more, even as Philip he delivers multiple shadings because in the show he’s not only a spy, he’s a fully committed father and also the husband half of a sort of sketchy arranged marriage in progress. Even without the showy wigs and accents, Rhys essays a marvelously complex series of characterizations. More importantly (and this is the part that makes him a more likely Emmy candidate than the equally terrific Russell), his primary character is full of complexities and contradictions.
Philip Jennings is a highly skilled espionage agent, but he’s also drawn to the material wealth a life in the USA promises and he’s therefore highly conflicted in a way his wife does not seem to be. He’s drawn to the world his job requires him to undermine. That’s the crux of the show (and honestly the best argument in favor of it getting a Best Drama nomination too, but that’s the subject of another article) and Rhys nails the nuance every week.
A great actor makes you forget they’re acting. Rhys is a subtle chameleon who does just that each week as he runs the scale of multiple characterizations while always remaining grounded as a single recognizable human being. It’s time to reward him with an Emmy nomination.