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The Americans Post Mortem - Annet Mahendru Talks "Mortifying" Scene, Nina's Transformation and More



Warning: This article contains major spoilers from Wednesday's The Americans

Nina's journey is finally over.

In the closing minutes of Wednesday's hour, Chloramphenicol, Nina Sergeevna Krilova was given her death sentence with a swift gunshot to the back of the head. My review of the episode can be found here. Late last week, Annet Mahendru jumped on the phone with reporters to discuss Nina's demise, the journey that she has been on over the course of three and a bit seasons, and a lot more.

Could you talk a bit about Nina’s motivations for helping Anton [Baklanov], what her mindset is and how you dealt with the change in her this season?

Annet Mahendru: I think last season we see it goes on for a while, she’s figuring him out, she’s always about the other - she’s kind of a reactor to things - and she doesn’t quite know what to do with Anton and she sees a human being for the first time and it brings that out of her. And she’s exhausted, she’s been in this hamster wheel over and over buying her life out, walking this thin line and you know, every decision, every step, it’s life or death for her and she’s exhausted and she’s falling and she can’t do this anymore. And he moves something in her. For the first time it’s something very direct: he has a son, and she’s given all that up when she entered this profession and she finds joy in his world and his letters and love and for the first time I think we see her happy and she literally gives up everything for that moment of happiness and that’s her freedom from that tragic life that she has chosen and has been dealing with [since we met] her. So I think for joy and for just she lives for the first time and that’s what she needs to do to live and sometimes you need to change in order to survive and that’s what she does.

Nina seemed quite resigned when reading the statement from Baklanov. Do you think she’s at peace with her fate now?

Annet Mahendru: I think she’s content, she is, she’s very much settled and she’s ok now because she did something for the first time that allowed her to be who she is and something that she saw, you know she has done everything to secure the future of the Soviet Union, this cause, this great cause that is so far-fetched and to hear something so direct - there’s a boy that needs to know that his dad loves him and she did that and that’s the greatest thing she’s ever done.

What was your reaction like when you got the script for this episode? Did [creators] Joel [Fields] and Joe [Weisberg] give you some heads up or did you find out as you were reading?

Annet Mahendru: (Laughs) Goodness no, I got the first script and then I got a phone call and you kind of wait for that phone call from the get-go - everytime they call you, that might be the phone call. It finally came and I played it really cool because you’d think you’d be prepared for it but you absolutely are not. I was angry at them, I loved them, I felt every single thing you could possibly feel and I remember my mom was like “it’s not you dying, it’s Nina, it’s Nina” because it just felt like a part of me that I was so lucky to be able to tap into and that I had to also say goodbye to. And the weird thing is I felt like in the 2nd episode I’m getting to know Nina, she’s meeting her husband, she finally has her own mission, her transformation that she desperately needed and I felt like I had just gotten a taste of her and that’s it and then like an episode later she’s dead. So that little bit of joy, that little bit of her that I finally got, it was so fleeting and it was over before I could really embrace it and it was really sad. We’ve all been, since the beginning, treasuring her and fighting for her - it’s really been a fight - and it just made me realise that it’s just such a tragic life and that it’s real, you know, this happens out there and it made me really angry.

What was it like shooting that scene that day, especially since you’ve been so separate from the cast for over a season now?

Annet Mahendru: It was mortifying. There was just that long walk through the hallway, you know, she wakes up, she’s still half asleep and they tell her she’s being transferred and she’s got all her little belongings and she doesn’t know, she’s walking that thin line and then being read her death sentence and that little moment before you’re about to die and I had to experience that a few times and it was so real. When they called me at the beginning of the season to say that this was it they said “this is everything an artist wants to do” and I was like “what are you talking about?” and yeah, that was everything an artist wants to do. When I did that, as mad as I was, as broken as I was, I wanted to do it again. It was the most intense thing I’ve had to do as an artist, to play death, to play dying, and that last kind of thing of life before it goes and she’s fighting for it and then it goes. I was sitting there afterwards in my chair and I was like “I can’t believe that they made me do this.” I wanted to quit and then I wanted to do it again, so that’s how it felt.

We saw Nina’s dream in episode three, almost like a precursor to her death, where she was with Stan and Baklanov. What does that say about her relationship to Stan?

Annet Mahendru: She ultimately has great empathy. All the sides, all the people and she has found in every person truth. And she always knew his position, she kind of said right away, “he’s not going to turn” and she didn’t condemn him for that she knew that kind of cost her her life in America and her life in general but again, that was her doing, she always, I think, took responsibility for what she did and that caught up to her when she finally said “I’m not who I was,” so it was always up to her, it was always our own choices who get us where we are. And yeah, I think it was great forgiveness too, because he got her in that position but he was a decent human being - and so was everyone she ended up working with, they did what they could - but she knows that and she looks over and there’s Anton in that dream sequence and that was also her choice and her doing and she sees what she chooses to see in her circumstances and so there’s no blame, it’s just her own way, ultimately, all that has gotten her to be herself and to have her own perspective on things and choice. You know, your choice: it’s your life and no one can do anything about that. That’s something Anton said to her too, “yes, they can give you all these things and have you do these things but they can’t make you who you are.”

It seemed like Nina and Oleg were going to be given the reunion you so desperately deserved, so could this be taken as the end of Nina’s storyline or will we see them use her in storylines involving, say, the Jenningses?

Annet Mahendru: Like, in a dream sequence? Because she’s dead, you know (laughs). It’s all so raw right now for me that I don’t know when I can put her to bed so she can rest. I think it would be nice, it would have been really beautiful to see them together again because that was a very special relationship too. And it was very humbling that all these characters - Stan and Oleg and Anton and even Vasili wanted something for her. There’s that moment where he’s [Vasili] like “oh you’re happy, aren’t you, that this is happening,” that I got caught, and I’m like “no I’m not” and it feels good that all these people supported her in this odd way. I hope, I don’t know, right now, I can’t even think past [burying her] so you’ll have to watch the next episode, I re-experience all that. I’m just trying to find more joy in it because it’s been very painful. The last thing we shot was actually [the dream sequence in the third episode] her coming and seeing Stan and ironically, we were at the same location where everything started for Nina so it came full circle and in that moment, we were saying goodbye, Noah and I and Stan and Nina and so as beautiful as it is right now, maybe we’ll meet something. Her storyline started and completed in such an extraordinary way that I’m good.

The way Nina dies, the awful death for her when she finally does something really human, really kind - does that point out the lie in a sense to Elizabeth’s dream of what the Soviet Union is?

Annet Mahendru: I think it’s a great fight but it’s a very difficult one too and this whole individualist that comes in and you have to make a choice, ultimately what it is that you should be fighting for and what makes sense for you because it’s a war of ideology, but it’s so general on both sides but there we see the direct relationship with [Elizabeth and] Paige and Anton and his son and Nina and her husband and that is the world, you’re fighting for the world. It’s a strange thing and yes, she does something very selfish and is that a better thing to do? She could be jeopardising her husband, a lot more people in the Soviet Union for this note to this little boy and I guess that’s a human contradiction in all that we do is that ‘what are we fighting for?’ and ‘is it worth it?’ and I don’t know if there’s any answer to that.

What was your inspiration for playing Nina? Did you get everything out of the script or was there any other person, character or event that you put into it when you started playing the role originally?

Annet Mahendru: When I jumped into playing Nina I didn’t know the extent of the role. I didn’t know how long she would live. We were writing and it was a moment-to-moment thing dealing with her circumstances and the end of season one, I came across creator Joseph Weisberg’s book An Ordinary Spy and the hero there meets a woman, I guess in similar kind of circumstances, and she really shifts his perspectives and he works for the CIA and that’s when I realised how huge actually Nina’s life is and this role and how real it was that this happened to people and I think it really made me understand her better.

What was it like working predominantly in a different language? Where there translational issues or anything like that?

Annet Mahendru: It’s something that I feel that has never been done before, to truly make both sides look the same and it wasn’t ‘bad guy, good guy’. When I first got Nina’s part, I was kind of reluctant because I went out for not many, but a few, Russian parts before and it was very stereotypical and that’s not the kind of stories I wanted to tell because I know that culture and I think it’s important to really show if you’re really interested in something, you find these other truths that everyone, universally, can enjoy and it’s not just black and white, the easy kind of go-to and pointing fingers. So The Americans was so big in that way and I was so blessed to tap into my Russian roots on a show like that. I honestly thought I’d never play a Russian part because if you are casting stereotypical roles, I don’t fit those roles. I never wanted to tell a story like all the other things you see on TV or in movies where they portray other cultures maybe inaccurately so it was beautiful to be part of that and I think it’s beautiful that people appreciate culture and watch it and are okay with the subtitles. It was difficult again because I do everything in English and most of the other actors do too so it was a challenge for us but we would do anything because we knew how much it meant to have the opportunity to do it this way. So we had a translator on set and we also had nice moments on set where we knew no one else understood us so it was really, really fun.

Was there anything that you learned about yourself from playing Nina?

Annet Mahendru: I always hoped that when you work with a story that a story does that for you or otherwise you are just acting. It made me appreciate what I do. I also realised how difficult it is - you give yourself completely. I stepped out of what Annet liked to do and I was preoccupied with Nina and her interests and her world. It’s a very selfless kind of act and it did so many things for me professionally and personally and I feel absolutely blessed that someone sat down and wrote Nina like that, she was something else, so I’m thankful to Joe and Joel for creating a world like that that I was able to step into and all the times I spent away from Annet as Nina was absolutely worth it and it was the most beautiful thing that I’ve gotten to do so far. I’ve appreciated every single thing, I’ve thought about it in so many different ways that it made me open so many perspectives on how you view people, [how] you view the world and that’s why I think I’m a storyteller because I love to continuously learn and expand and shift and find truths in things that I didn’t think I liked and so that story did that for me.

Could you compare working on a show like this to working on a show like The X-Files?

Annet Mahendru: You know, it was really ironic, it was like a double death for my characters this year. It was a lot of death but Sveta died for the reopening of the X-Files and Nina died for starting something very important for an individual. It was a really difficult season and also the greatest season at the same time. The X-Files was a real treat and it was another special story that I got to tell.

How do you think fans are going to react?

Annet Mahendru: I don’t even know how I’m going to approach next week, I think I was asked to live tweet. I don’t even know if I can watch it. The fight is over. You know, at the end, she’s being wrapped up in a burlap and being carried away like nothing. Just a dispensable life but such a great life and it’s really heart-breaking. I don’t even know what to say to people next week, I think we just have to experience it. I think people have always hoped, she was kind of like a character that you just that’s who she is, that things aren’t gonna get better, that she’s not going to be the one to settle down and have a family and has a nice dinner and to live with joys in life, that’s not who she was but you still hope because you just like her. She fought so hard and then all she gets is to experience freedom, at least, in her dream and there is that glimpse of that with her transformation that some people don’t get to transform like that in their whole lifetime and so she does get that which is, I guess, what you could live for your whole life. So I’m so thrilled to have played her so long because that kind of life… It’s just a miracle she even lived this long, so I think we can be grateful for that.

What is next for you as an actor?

Annet Mahendru: There are a few things brewing that I’m very excited about. When I started I wanted to tell great stories and you don’t realise what it means until The Americans came along and I was like “wow that is a great story.” I could have never even mustered that up in my fantasies and I want to continue to tell stories like that.

About the Author - Bradley Adams
17 year old based in England, currently Senior Staff at SpoilerTV. Most of his posts are news/spoiler based, though he is currently the reviewer of Person of Interest, co-host on the SpoilerTV Podcast. Created and is in charge of the yearly Favourite Episode Competition and currently runs the Favourite Series Competition. A big TV fan, his range of shows are almost exclusively dramas, while some of his all-time favourite shows include 24, LOST, Breaking Bad and Friends. Some of his current favourites include Person of Interest, Banshee, Arrow, The Flash, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul and many more. He also runs an Arrow fans site, ArrowFansUK, and aside from TV, is a keen cricketer. Get in touch with him via the links below or via email bradley@spoilertv.com
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