Alison Wright had been holding onto the secret for a while by the time Martha made her surprise Season 5 cameo on “The Americans.”
In a panning shot of a Moscow grocery store in the March 21 episode, “The Midges,” Martha — the much-too-trusting wife of Matthew Rhys’ two-timing spy Phillip Jennings— is seen combing the shelves for whatever food is left, wrapped in drab headscarf and shawl. A tangible and collective “She’s alive!” erupted across social media as soon as it happened.
“I am just so touched that people cared about her,” Wright tells us — to say nothing of the relief she felt that it’s now out in the open, and strangers aren’t stopping her on the street poking around for answers. “I was also lying to my friends, to people close to me!”
But to Wright it was inevitable for the show to give us a sign that Martha was actually okay. It was clear to her that fans weren’t satisfied with just being toldshe had made it to Moscow — theories were beginning to swirl that she’d actually been pushed out of the plane over Cuba, or met some other dastardly fate: “I think it was something that had to happen, to relieve that pressure.”
And while Wright was obviously tight-lipped on future cameos, she’s optimistic about Martha’s fate.
“Look — she’s clearly getting out of the house, at least! She’s managed to wash her face, had a shower… I think she’s surviving.”
And the fact that she is surviving is partly why audiences cared so much about a character who, in the grand scheme of the series, didn’t take up a whole lot of screen time. But the scenes Martha was in, she commanded. She offered a bit of innocence and humanity in world of moral ambiguity and cynicism. She was, for all intents and purposes, us.
Martha draws parallels to another recent break out character who ended up dominating the conversation based on very little actual screen time, or even dialogue — Barb, from “Stranger Things.” After Barb’s two-ish episode arc where she mostly just fretted after her BFF Nancy Wheeler, the character became a movement.
When asked if this comparison was a legit one, Wright was quick to point out that while she is an obsessive fan of the show, #PoorMartha was definitely the original. “And I would tell that to David Harbour’s face,” she joked. She attributes the breakout success of these characters to their relatability. In the surreal settings of Cold War spying and mythical Upside Down worlds, they’re both grounded, everyday women — and we can see ourselves in them.
“That’s key,” Wright says. “That — and they both display incredible fashion sense, which probably doesn’t hurt.”
And like the actress who plays Barb (Shannon Purser), Wright is successfully leveraging her newfound notoriety into other top-tier projects. Most notably another FX series making waves, Ryan Murphy’s “Feud.” In it, Wright plays Pauline Jameson, the right-hand woman to director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) — who has ambitions of becoming a director herself in a time in Hollywood when female directors weren’t really a thing.
In a big Pauline-centric episode which aired the same week as Martha’s cameo in “The Americans,” the character comes close to realizing her dreams when Aldrich appears to support her ambitions, agreeing to help produce a script she has written and wants to direct. In the end Aldrich backs out, consumed by his own problems — and revealing that he’s just not ready to admit women can hack it.
The nexus of this episode was supposed to be centered around Joan Crawford (a Jessica Lange tour de force) getting an Oscar nomination stolen from her, but by the time the camera fades to black on Pauline sharing a sundae with with Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman), Joan Crawford’s housekeeper and confidant, you suddenly find yourself pulling for the pair’s quiet friendship more than anything else.
“I want Pauline and Mamacita to have their own sitcom! Jackie Hoffman is so funny.” Wright says of the episode. But while the two actresses may eventually hang out in real life (they are both currently in plays on Broadway in New York City) Wright was again tight-lipped about any future lunch plans between Pauline and Mamacita in the rest of the anthology’s season.
“I can’t talk about the two of them doing anything together, but they are both still around in the show,” Wright assured us — and we can’t wait!
This interview was originally conducted for Screener.