This post contains major spoilers for the April 3 epsiode of The Americans. Read at your own risk.
“Safe House,” the ninth episode of FX’s breakout Cold War spy drama The Americans is a game changer. In mercilessly killing off FBI agent Chris Amador, the show has proven that it’s not afraid to take huge risks and make bold decisions. We know now, once and for all, that it’s not afraid to go there.
Hollywood.com spoke with the man of the hour, Maximiliano Hernández about Amador’s tragic fate, why he thinks the show missed an opportunity in its killing off of the only character of color, and why — in his opinion — The Americans tops Homeland.
Hollywood.com: Did you know when you signed on for the show that this would be your fate? Or were you surprised by the news?
Maximiliano Hernández: I was aware of my death by episode three. It was maybe around December that I knew what was happening. The writer’s assistant called me and was like, “Hey, Joe [Weisberg] and Joel [Fields] want to get together and talk to you. Do you have time next week?” I said, “Yeah sure, like on Tuesday?” They were like, “Do you have a favorite restaurant?”
That was a Friday. And then over the weekend — you now when that little voice gets in your head and you’re like, “What’s going on here? What’s happening here?” And then it bugged me the whole weekend and on Monday morning I sent them a text like, “Hey… Looking forward to tomorrow, maybe? Is everything okay?” And then they called me within 20 minutes and were like, “Listen, we just want to call you and talk to you and let you know that by the ninth episode you’re going to die.” And I just went quiet. And then I was like, “What the f**k are you talking about?” And they told me it had nothing to do with me or my ability or anything like that. They just needed a way to amp up the tension and intrigue and make the FBI a more important part of the heart of the show.
That makes a lot of sense. Did you feel that way, too, that your side wasn’t getting enough attention?
Yeah, I had been feeling reading the first few scripts, too, that this show is a lot more Directorate S-centric. Everyone on that side was sexy and they have missions, disguises, they’re having all the sex, and then we’re sort of like pushing papers around. It wasn’t an equal thing. And I think [the showrunners] started feeling that way, too. Like, “We need to start encouraging this liking for the FBI. These guys aren’t just doing their jobs, they’re really trying to keep us safe and trying to save the world.” So when they explained it that way and they explained the way it was going to happen, that it was going to be a big death, I was like, “Hey, whatever pushes the story forward. If it improves the story, if it pushes the story forward, then I’m all in. We’ll do whatever we need to do.”
I was just like, I don’t want a bullet through the back of my head and have people be like, “Oh, that was an interesting character who was around for a little bit.” If he’s going to go out I wanted him to go out with them trying to get information from him and he doesn’t give anything up. You would think that given his character earlier on that he would be like, “F**k this, I’m going to tell you whatever I need to to keep myself alive.” But no, he is a man of honor, and he is a guy who will be like, “No, you’re never going to get anything from me. F**k off.” And I wanted to go that way.
I’m hoping that at least in the minds of the viewers that they get some sort of fulfillment out of it. Or that they just feel something for this guy, and that he wasn’t just a wasted character with a wasted death.
It’s obviously a huge turning point for the show and for Stan when Amador dies. And I was of course sad to see Amador go, but I was especially sad to see him go after that episode. I feel like in that single episode we get more character development than we have combined to date. With the flashbacks and seeing his relationship with Stan, I was left wanting to know more about him.
Don’t we all! You should write that. Please write that down and send it in saying there should be more flashbacks with Amador!
Were the flashbacks part of the plan all along or if they were more of an afterthought?
They were totally planned. After I found out [about my death] I told Noah [Emmerich]. They didn’t want me to tell anyone but I told them that they had to tell Noah. I said, “Listen, Noah is a friend of mine and he’s a friend on stage; he and I have worked together in other movies and he plays my partner. He should know.” And they said I was right. But Matthew [Rhys] and Keri [Russell] didn’t know for a while. I knew first, then Noah knew, and then they let Keri and Matthew know. But what’s funny is Keri, Matthew, and I had no scenes together ever until this last episode. So we hadn’t built that camaraderie.
What was it like working with them in that last episode, then?
Matthew and I had hung out outside of the show, but Keri and I had never hung out like that. So it really hit me like, this is a cool chick. And I told her, “I’m really going to miss that we did not work together.” And she was like, “Me too.” Because, I told her, I think this is her best work. And I think this is going to erase anything from the past. I think the Elizabeth Jennings character erases Felicity. It’s like, [Russell] is so in it and she’s so hard-lined and when you look at her, and it’s a fight scene and she puts her hands up, she looks like she will mess you up. And she is fully committed to this. She enjoys this, she loves this character, she’s fully committed. And I told her, “This is your best work. You’ve gotta stay on point with this. Elizabeth has gotta be that b**ch.” Everyone’s gotta point and say, “She’s awesome.” And I think that’s what’s happening right now.
You obviously had the most scenes, like you said, with Noah.
Of course, my boy Noah. Noah’s my boy, he’s always my boy. It’s just so cool that we got to do those episodes together. To have that vibe and just hang and talk — and talk about romance. It was really good. But it was a little tough not being able to tell anyone [about my death] for a while. Because I knew so far ahead, before the red carpet premiere in New York, so it was bittersweet. I knew already on the carpet and while filming that I only had four episodes left, three episodes left, and so on.
And it was very tough, too, though, that it was a person of color that was dying. I just felt like we are so underrepresented, the fact that he was the only Latino in the counterintelligence division made it a really important character to play.
You’re totally right!
Especially in that period, 1981, there were so few black men, Asian men, anyone brown. I think in the late ’70s there were something like 200 minorities — and that included women and brown people — out of like 10,000 agents. Which to me is insane! And then, if you were a Latino agent they stuck you in something called the Taco Circuit, which is incredibly offensive. But that’s what they called it! And you either worked at an outpost along the border, or in Miami watching Cuban dissidents. And even if you were overqualified, your job was only in a translator capacity. So even if you tested higher than a guy who is your direct superior, you could never be his superior. You were just there to translate.
So for me it was a really important character because I wanted to explore that a little more. I wish I would’ve gotten that chance.
He was a pioneer.
He really was a pioneer, so that was a bit of a bummer. But I’m not one of those guys who screams, “Whoa! The brown guy’s dead!” It was funny to me because it wasn’t the first thing I thought, and someone on set who isn’t brown said it to me, under their breath, like, “Hmm… funny they got rid of the brown guy.” And I looked at him and said I didn’t wait to say anything. And he said it was the first thing that popped into his head. No way am I claiming any racism or anything like that, but it’s just so funny that I really wanted to [go further with that].
For sure. While I was watching the episode and it was still touch and go for Amador, the person I was watching with said to me, “If they kill him off then we’ll know this show is serious.” For me, The Americans had been walking the line between camp and a show that really takes itself seriously. But now we seem to have stepped up to a whole other level. I’m wondering what you think of that fact that your show has now joined the Homelands and the Game of Thrones in that you worry about every character in every episode.
Well, you know, I like that he had that idea because I also feel the same way while watching those shows. Like, I love Game of Thrones, and watching it I feel the same way, and when you don’t know what’s going to happen you are so shaken. And you’re right, it kind of went from where it easily could have been campy, and then there are these moments of really serious stuff. And to me, the serious stuff always plays better when it comes to this kind of espionage stuff. The fine line, though, is there have to be moments of humor, and you need to have those funny quips because if not it ends up becoming sort of like Homeland. Because I thought Homeland was great Season 1, but I wasn’t too big a fan of it Season 2. I think it lost a lot of its spy-iness, to be honest with you.
Do you think that’s what sets The Americans apart?
Yeah! The other thing that bothered me about Homeland was all the cell phones. Like, everything is done on the cell phone and there’s no more of the going and leaving a mark and picking something up, like real actual spy craft. The Americans for me is analogue. There’s a texture to it, you can hear it. And Homeland is digital. And when you watch the show, it really is digital. It’s all just digital stuff, there’s very little meeting at the safe house and the real spy stuff. You don’t see the disguises, you see a lot more of that on our show. But you’re right, that can be campy, too. So in a way I’m glad that it’s going this way — it’s getting tenser, it’s getting realer, and you really start feeling, “Oh my God, are they going to kill Nina?!”
I worry about her every episode!
Everyone worries about her! Everyone is always, “Oh my God. Oh my God,” about Nina. And honestly, I think that at some point they’re going to have to take out Martha, because she knows too much. She knows so much, and now these things are going to start popping up in her head, she’ll find blood or something, and they’re going to have to start tying up loose ends. And to me, I’m glad that they’re building that up because I think the audience enjoys it, too. I just hope they don’t lose all the lightness. You need to have those moments — like, the moments with the kids are great — because if you don’t then it just becomes so heavy. It’s so dark and there is never a joke made, and it can’t fall into that sort of Dark Knight world (that’s what I call it) where everything is so serious. We’d get bored, I think! But I do think it quickly got up to the Homeland level, it jumped up in a very short amount of time.
It absolutely has. Do you have any last thoughts about the show and your grand exit?
Hmm… last thoughts. Well, if I have to go, I’m glad it was the way I went. And I’m glad I went with my mouth shut. No rats, we don’t like rats around here.
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[Photo Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/FX]