IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Executive Producer Graham Yost Talks 'The Americans'

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 09:32 Written by  Justine Browning
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Executive Producer Graham Yost Talks 'The Americans'

As Justified continues its stellar fifth season, show creator Graham Yost continues to lend his talents to The Americans, as the hit thriller's Executive Producer.
Set in 1981, the series follows two KGB spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), posing as a married couple in the suburbs of D.C. The pair, who has raised two children as part of their cover, has grown to develop real feelings towards one another and their children, which begins to hinder their ability to carry out covert missions in the name of Mother Russia. If that's not enough, their neighbor happens to be a dedicated FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) who specializes in counter intelligence.
I recently had the chance to speak exclusively with Yost on keeping fans happy, colorblind casting and how he advised The Americans creator Joe Weisberg on developing his first series. 

IAR: I recall that when you were developing season four of Justified, people were coming up to you and asking, "So, who's this season's big bad guy," and it made you realize that you didn't want to have a concrete villain. That ended up serving the story quite well. At a time when online reactions are nearly impossible to ignore and shows can have loud fan bases, how to you take into consideration the opinion of viewers while staying true to your own vision?
Graham Yost: I think that there's a dialogue that's going on now more than ever but to a certain extent, it's always our job to anticipate that dialogue. As much as we create the content, we're also consumers of the content we watch other shows and we watch our own show. We say to ourselves, "What have we done and do we want to do that again? Let's mix it up. Let's try to find something new to do." That can be in different forms. Last year, there ended up being a "big bad" but that sort of developed--with Mike O'Malley's character Nicky Augustine. He ended up being a big focus towards the end of the season, but that wasn't planned, it was just…Mike was fantastic. This season on Justified, we went in thinking, "We want to use the Crowe family. The Crowes were a big part of Elmore Leonard's world so we wanted to do that.

Obviously the work of Elmore Leonard has been a massive influence on your work. Does that ever carry over into the ideas that you have for The Americans?
Yost: Not so much. I think there are basic principles in Elmore that apply to all writing. He's got his ten rules. That's more for writing novels than it is for writing scripts but a lot of those rules do apply. There'll be times when I hear a pitch from Joe and Joel (Fields) and I just imagine questions that Elmore would ask. "Why is this character doing this? What else could happen?" They honestly don't need a lot of input from me. I'm really just sort of flagging a few things. Asking, "How did this character figure this out?" Yeah, the Elmore rules apply.

How much of an input to you have in terms of casting when it comes to The Americans?

Yost: Joe and Joel will make a choice and they'll run it by me and the guys at DreamWorks and we'll weight in. Most of the time it's just a sign off. There have been a couple of times where we've said, "Could you look again?" Last year, the big one was that they were casting the part of Claudia and they were really concerned about going to Margo Martindale because they had felt that she was so identifiable with Justified. It was John Landgraf (FX Network president) who called me and said, "What do you think? I don't think it's a problem. I think it's part of the fun of being on FX, it's that people appear in different shows." I couldn't agree more. So basically, he talked them into going with Margo and it was a very smart choice.

I believe you've referred to it in the past as the FX Repertory Company.

Yost: Well it is, when you have Walton (Goggins) going on Sons of Anarchy and Timothy (Olyphant) being on The League and doing a voice on Archer. It's become an all in the family kind of thing.

There seems to be an admirable level of colorblind casting on Justified, something you spoke extensively about in the Writers Guild panel "Writing in Color." The same is true of The Americans
Yost: It's something that comes up and on the one hand we don't want to say, "Oh, it's a judge. Let's make that person African American. That also becomes somewhat of a trope in television. But it is trying to think outside of the confines of what you might find, especially in Justified--with who's going to be a part of Hot's Rod's crew. Having Wood and Steve Harris was just an idea that writer Dave Andron had. So we went with that and it was sort of unexpected and worked out great. With the character of Gregory (Derek Luke) last year on The Americans, that was part of the whole story. This guy was essentially a survivor of the Black Panther era and was part of that whole world, so part of the DNA of this character is that he's African American. The 80s' weren't that long ago and yet there was a segregated society--even then.
As someone who’s created and maintained a successful show, what were some of the things you advised Joe Weisberg on, since The Americans is his first show?
Yost: There's a difference between when we were working on this show in the pilot stage and then once it went to series and Joel Fields was brought on board to run the show with Joe. Once Joel came on, there was little need for any of my show runner advice. There were a couple of times when they'd call me over the season and say, "We're thinking of doing this. What do you think?" And I would just listen and say, "What do you want to do?" or "That sounds pretty good to me." In the pilot phase, I was just there to answer Joe's questions.
The Americans enters its second season on February 26. Season 1 is available on Blu-ray February 11. 

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