Having a Russian mother and spending part of her youth in St. Petersburg has paid off big time for Annet Mahendru. Her fluency in Russian helped her land the biggest role of her career as KGB spy Nina Sergeevna Krilova on FX’s 1980s spy drama The Americans, which returns for its fourth season tonight at 10/9c.
Mahendru, who’d previously appeared in indie and short films and on shows like Entourage, 2 Broke Girls and The X-Files, has won raves as the triple agent who tried to seduce FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) into giving up secrets to the Soviets, failed, and got sent back to the Motherland as punishment.
As the show returns, Nina’s future is uncertain. Mahendru couldn’t reveal much about that, but she did tell us about her globetrotting youth, eclectic interests and why she’d make a good real-life spy.
“I went to NYU for International Relations. I speak six different languages. At my interview I think the producers thought I was a spy. Maybe it’s why I got the gig.”
Last we saw Nina, she was back in Moscow, held prisoner by the KGB. Is she still there?
She’s going somewhere new. Can’t tell you where. She goes on her own mission, something she wants to do, for the first time. She’s good at what she does so maybe she will succeed, maybe she won’t. This season she’s experiencing joy but the circumstances are dangerous. She’s so good at learning and observing. But we don’t know much about her. Where is she from, why did she get into this—it all comes together and moves forward.
Have you ever met any real spies?
Yes, in Season One I was doing a lot of that. My dad was a journalist in that time period so he’s been my go-to [resource].
Would you have what it takes to be a spy?
Funny enough, I went to NYU for International Relations. I speak six different languages and thought it might be what I was meant to do. At my interview I think the producers thought I was a spy. Maybe it’s why I got the gig.
Did they know that you speak Russian?
It was a requirement. They were looking for a Russian. But I’d never played a Russian part before.
Does growing up around the world and speaking six languages give you an advantage as an actress?
Yes for sure. I can transform and put on different shoes and I feel at home: ‘That could be me.’ I was pushing [the producers] about Afghanistan. I speak Dari.
You were born in Kabul and moved to New York with your dad at 13—was it a culture shock?
Yes. I was learning English and all those tenses and conjugation, very difficult for a foreigner. I’m still adjusting.
You’ve got a brown belt in karate—pretty badass.
I did karate for a long time, about eight years. I’m a fighter. I have a fighting spirit.
You also played competitive chess and danced.
Yes, Indian classical dance. I still play chess.
What got you interested in acting?
I was 11 and I was visiting Russia. My mom had a lover who was a great Russian actor.
What are you proudest of?
I’m really proud of Season Four. It’s going to places the show hasn’t been and it’s really transforming for me personally.
What goals do you set now?
I started in film and I’d like to do more. It captures a different kind of intimacy. But so does The Americans. It does that very well.