Keri Russell Tells Us About ‘The Diplomat’ and Her Messy Character

Apr 21, 2023

[Editor’s note: The following contains some spoilers for The Diplomat.]From creator Debora Cahn (Homeland, The West Wing), the Netflix original series The Diplomat follows Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), the new US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, who’d rather be diffusing an international crisis than forging long-term relationships, but bigger powers have bigger plans for her. On top of that, as if being in a job she doesn’t want and isn’t particularly suited for isn’t enough, her marriage is unraveling at a time when she needs personal and professional alliances that she can trust.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Russell (who’s also an executive producer on the series) talked about why this was a project she couldn’t refuse even though she tried, the absurdity of politics, playing half of a fascinating and complex couple alongside Rufus Sewell, exploring such a competitive relationship, the fight in episode three, whether she’d be game for another season, now that she’s all-in on the series, and her desire not to do any super dark projects in a world that has enough darkness of its own.

Collider: I’m obsessed with this show, I’m obsessed with this character, and I’m obsessed with this couple, which is a sentence that I always said about The Americans, but can now also say about this show.

KERI RUSSELL: Oh, I’m so glad.

When this show came your way, what headspace were you in? Were you open to doing another TV series? Were you not at all thinking about it, until you read the script? Were you against it and needed to actually be convinced?

RUSSELL: I really feel like I spend most of my adult life trying to not work and trying to say, “No thanks.” Truly, I’m always like, “I can’t do that part. Why would they want me for that? I can’t do that.” And then, I read this and I was like, “What’s this very uncomfortable feeling of wanting to do something? This is very uncomfortable.” It was just (show creator) Debora [Cahn]’s wit and the snappy fun of that character. No, I was not looking to do another series. I had such a good run with The Americans that it just felt like such a good place to leave it. There’s just something about Debora’s writing that really tickled me, with the discomfort of Kate and her messiness, and her inappropriate awkwardness, and the relationship between the husband and the wife. I just thought it was completely fun to read, and it was fun to do.

Image via Netflix

Politics is so crazy that the more absurd it gets, the more real it actually feels. What was it like to figure out the political side of this and find the right tone that keeps things serious and never makes fun of the situation, but provides the audience with the ability to still laugh about it?

RUSSELL: It’s a tone that you have to feel out in the first few episodes, but I felt that way about The Americans too. I felt like with the first few episodes, we were doing this weird, sometimes Miami Vice spy thing for a little bit. And then, it really hit its stride, once we realized, “Oh, it’s this other thing about marriage.” I feel the same with this. I wasn’t sure which tone was gonna hit, and if it was gonna be a little bit more serious or a little bit funnier. With the political stuff, it’s the minutiae of it that is so enjoyable. Seeing people in those really high-powered rooms, who still are a mess and spilling food on their clothes, or having really ridiculous fights with their husbands, or lusting after a coworker, those are all relatable things. They’re just doing them while meeting the President of the United States. That’s the fun of it. That’s the trick of it. And Debora walks that line really well. She’s obviously so smart and had so much research already built in with The West Wing and Homeland. She already has those people in her sources, so this time, she just got to make it a little bit more like her personality, and add a little bit more of the fun and zip in there.

There hasn’t been a more fascinating and complex couple to watch on TV, since your last most fascinating and complex couple. Did you have a say in who they cast to do this with you?

RUSSELL: Thank God, I’m not a casting person because that is such a skill to know who’s gonna fit and who’s not, and that’s Debora. From the beginning, she and I spoke about Kate and, after a few months, when she finally pulled me from my house and made me do it, she always said, “It’s gonna be Rufus [Sewell].” And I was like, “Oh, he’s British, right?” And she was like, “It’s gonna be Rufus.” I imagined him as so Americana, and a bigger and larger than life, Richard Holbrooke or Bill Clinton kind of guy. But he’s excellent. He’s my favorite character in the whole show. He’s so much fun.

What’s it like to explore a relationship that is so competitive? These two really bring out the best and worst with each other, and their banter is clearly the banter of people who know each other better than anyone. What’s it like to explore that? When you’re doing something like that with another actor, do you feel it when it’s really clicking?

RUSSELL: Absolutely. There’s a give and take when you both are on the same wavelength, and this dialogue can be really rapid fire and funny, or mean, or biting. That’s their love language. Work and that acerbic banter is their love language, in a way. They’re just used to it. That’s what gets them going. It’s what makes the rare silences or hurts or honest expressions count because they don’t live in that world too much. It’s fun to explore that kind of relationship. The idea is that these people met in a very high stakes exciting place, like Beirut or wherever it was, where even their lives were in danger. It’s like war journalists. Everything is heightened and you have this insane intimacy, very quickly, with somebody, and truly a meeting of the minds. They really round each other out. He has all of these qualities that Kate just doesn’t have. He’s so charming and front-facing and affable and easy with people, and she’s more uncomfortable and nervous and more true to what she believes and is full of integrity. I think they recognize that they each have deficiencies that the other has, and they’re competitive in that way, too. I’m sure Kate has spent a lot of time watching him going, “Oh, well, he’s doing that wrong. He needs to do it this way.” And now that she’s in front going, “Oh, fuck, he made this seem really easy. This is really hard.” And he’s watching her going, “Well, she’s doing it wrong.” It’s fun, and probably pretty true.

Image via Netflix

There’s a moment in episode three, when she asks her husband, if two weeks prior to all of this, when he told her that their marriage could be done, whether he really believed that, and he says, no. I actually shouted at the screen, “Please punch this bastard in the face!,” and then you did, which was so satisfying. What was it like to shoot that physical fight with him, rolling around in the grass together? What do you think a moment like that says about where they are in their relationship?

RUSSELL: First of all, it was so much fucking fun. Rufus and I just looked at each other and were like, “Are we just gonna do this?” And he was like, “Yeah.” There were no stunt doubles. We just went for it. I just jumped on him and started beating him up. It was so fun and stupid and crazy and ridiculous. You’re watching this person, from the very beginning, doing things that are really against what she is comfortable doing. She’s out of her comfort zone, and she’s trying to keep everyone together. No one believes her, and why doesn’t anyone listen? She’s the one who’s right. And then, there’s her husband. You know what? She just had enough. He broke her, and that’s what happens. It’s hilarious. That’s what I love about this show.

At the end of the season, we get a couple of back-to-back reveals, but we’re left with some questions. Are you game to learn what those answers are and further dig into this character for another season? Now that you’re in this, are you all in?

RUSSELL: I would love to do this again. I’m in a grateful moment in my life. Things are really fun right now, and I’m super grateful for them. I would love the opportunity to do it again. We’ll see. You never know, with these shows, what’s gonna work and what doesn’t. The writing is so good, and I couldn’t love Debora more. It’s a great cast. It’s such a fun character. I would love to do it again.

You’ve talked about how you’re looking for some lighter, fun material these days. Is there a type of project that you haven’t gotten to do, that you never would have considered before, but that you’d like to do now, especially after like having done something called Cocaine Bear?

RUSSELL: Crazy, right? Who knows? I don’t plan too much ahead. I’m one of those people that’s a little bit more open to the possibilities. I’m not big with setting goals. I keep living my life, and then when the right thing presents itself, I know what it is and say yes. It is interesting that I did that crazy movie Cocaine Bear, and that I’m doing [The Diplomat], because it has a lot more of the bright humor to it and physical comedy. Maybe it’s just a reaction because the pandemic was so hard. I don’t need to be in anything super dark right now. We are living darkness right now, in the political sphere and in the world, in every aspect, so these bits of humor are nice. They’re a nice break.

Image via Netflix

Who would you say takes more convincing to get dressed up and go to some fancy thing, you or this character?

RUSSELL: We’re pretty equal, I’ve gotta be honest with you. I can go, “Oh, that dress is so pretty. It would be fun to go to that.” But I also know that the reality is never fun. It’s fun to try it on in your house and have a glass of wine with girlfriends. It’s not fun to get your picture taken by eight thousand people, and then people go, “That doesn’t look good.” I think we are very similar, in that regard. I was like, “Oh, I know who this person is.”

To balance the relationship between Kate and her husband, there’s this really interesting dynamic between Kate and her counterpart, Austin Dennison. What was that like to figure out? They are feeling each other out, they’re figuring out if they can trust each other, and they also have chemistry together. What was it like to play with that dynamic, especially in comparison to this insane marriage that she has?

RUSSELL: They are dramatically different people, in life and in their characters. They’re just completely different, so that helps a lot. Debora’s writing is so dense, and I really enjoyed all the diplomatic speak and the jargon, specifically with the Dennison character. They’re still using all the acronyms and all the jargon and all the political talk, but the fun of those scenes is saying all the words while the intention is just, “I hate you, so don’t waste any more of my time.” That’s the fun of doing that kind of dialogue. With Dennison, especially in the beginning, she gets to do a lot of that, and I find that enjoyable. They’re just completely different. Hal is a big, shiny, disco ball of a personality, and he takes up a lot of space. And Dennison is a completely different temperature and speed. It takes a second for Kate to get used to that, and then notice it, and notice what’s nice about it.

The Diplomat is available to stream at Netflix.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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