NEW YORK - Choices, choices.
Keri Russell scans the shelf of polishes at a nail salon and gravitates toward a very unseasonably bright fuchsia for a morning pedicure.
"This is good, right? Should I pick Commie red? That's the obvious choice. But I like hot pink," she says.
Why scarlet? Because Russell, 36, plays an undercover Russian spy in the FX series The Americans, which premieres Wednesday (10 p.m. ET/PT). Her Elizabeth is a true believer, so much so that she's in an arranged marriage with a fellow secret agent (Matthew Rhys), living in seemingly bucolic '80s suburbia with two adorable (and unknowing) children.
"I wanted to do it because I love high-waisted jeans, and I'm trying to bring them back. Any fashion that accentuates wide hips and tapers in at the ankles is amazing and something everyone should wear," Russell quips about the less-than-flattering attire her character wears on the series.
But seriously, she was attracted to the complexities of the subject matter: swirling political paranoia coupled with Elizabeth's twisted yet by all appearances normal marriage. "It's so far from a procedural show," she says. "Elizabeth is not the best mom. She's kind of cold. As we get deeper, we get to really explore the characters and ideas and the intricacies of how everything will affect this bizarre situation, this arranged marriage. Because they're spies, the stakes are huge and their lives are at stake. I'm not saying (the show) is perfect yet, but it's interesting."
Plus, Russell, with her wholesome demeanor, loves playing a hard-core moral brute, a woman who won't budge in her beliefs while her husband flounders and thinks about defecting. "She wants to be a really good soldier. That's her identity, and she wants to do it well. She's given everything to (the KGB). She's had kids with this stranger. She can't back down now."
The show is filmed near her Brooklyn, N.Y., home, which is a bonus since Russell is married to contractor Shane Deary and has daughter Willa, 1, and son River, 5. Given that she spends most of her waking hours on set, she appreciates what little time she gets at home while the series is in production.
"This month is the craziest month. This is how it goes. Work all week. Sometimes get up at 5 and go to work when the kids are asleep, and sometimes, by Friday, working until 2 in the morning. Get home, do a quick pack job, fly to Sundance (to promote Austenland). Get off the plane and brush my teeth in the airport bathroom and put on the worst makeup job of all time. Go to the premiere and get on the red-eye flight just so I can be there for my kids for a few hours. So tired. Best girlfriend's baby shower, and then, start work again Monday morning. But yes, I'm running a marathon right now," she says of the past week.
Fortunately, says Russell, her husband - a nice, laid-back guy - picks up any slack. "Luckily, Shane is so great and very invested, and his schedule can be a little flexible. Something suffers, and right now, I'm not home a lot. But come April, I don't have to work for months. I get to make cupcakes and do school drop-offs - if they remember me," she says.
Like any doting mom, Russell has plenty of photos ready on her iPhone. She brandishes a shot of her son wearing a helmet and skates. "Shane made an ice rink in the backyard. He put plastic down and flooded it and has been waiting for it to freeze. It's sort of magic," says Russell. "He's a camp counselor."
When the show wraps in April, there's an end in sight.
"And then I can be a mom and clean my house. My house is a disaster. Legos everywhere, and mail. I love to clean, so now, I can't even look in the closet. I have to shut the door in my mind."
Just like Elizabeth.