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Emmy Watch: Noah Emmerich Talks TV vs. Movies, 'The Americans'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 19, 2013 at 3:37PM

Actor Noah Emmerich is best-known for his serious film work, from Todd Field's "Little Children" and Peter Weir's "The Truman Show" to Gavin O'Connor's "Pride and Glory." Perhaps because of that film he keeps getting calls to play Irish cops, even though he's a New York Jew, he told me. (His brother Toby Emmerich runs New Line Cinema.)
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Noah Emmerich
Noah Emmerich

Noah Emmerich pops in "The Americans." Best-known for his serious film work, no matter how small the role, Emmerich always stands out, from Todd Field's "Little Children" and Peter Weir's "The Truman Show" to Gavin O'Connor's "Pride and Glory." Perhaps because of that film he keeps getting calls to play Irish cops, even though he's a New York Jew, he told me. (His brother Toby Emmerich runs New Line Cinema.) 

When Emmerich, 48, first read the description of his character in the pilot script for the FX Reagan era series "The Americans," he didn't want to play yet another FBI agent, a man with a gun and a badge, he admits. When his friend O'Connor brought it back up to him, he read the pilot again and signed on after a long meeting with show creator Joe Weisberg, who has a CIA background. It was leap of faith to go from a 60-page script to a five-year series commitment, Emmerich told me during his first-ever Skype interview.

'The Americans'
'The Americans'

But he found that he enjoyed the way the writers responded to the colors and nuances the actors brought to their roles; his conflicted, obsessively patriotic counterintelligence agent Stan Beeman --always lying, his marriage in trouble with a sexy spy dalliance on the side--and undercover Russian spy Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are two sides of the same coin, he says. 

But while the adjustment to shooting an hour show, nine scenes a day for seven days, was huge (Emmerich says a film is like working in oils while a TV show is like a quick charcoal sketch), the actor found it exciting to use his experience, skills and instinct in order to nail a scene in just two takes. When he left "The Americans" to start filming O'Connor's western "Jane Got a Gun" on location in Santa Fe (he plays Natalie Portman's husband), he had to slow things down again. "We're shooting half a page? A page? How slow are we?"

Now he embraces stage, TV, and film, he says: "Each media has its different challenges." 

This article is related to: Television, TV, TV Interviews, Emmys, Awards, The Americans, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.