Joshua Bright for The New York Times
Published: March 29, 2013
When Joseph Weisberg was training to be a case officer for the C.I.A.in the early 1990s, he soon learned that deception was a crucial skill, one that involved lying to his family on a regular basis.
“It was painful,” Mr. Weisberg recalled. “Fundamentally, lies were at the core of the relationships. I lied to all my friends and most of the people in my family. I lied every day. I told 20 lies a day and I got used to it. It was hard for about two weeks. Then it got easy. I watched it happen to all of us.”
So does he find it easy to tell lies now? “It’s had the opposite effect,” he said.
That experience, though, has been put to good use in the critically acclaimed FX show “The Americans,” of which Mr. Weisberg, 47, is the creator and head writer.
The show, which is shown on Wednesday nights, tells the story of two Russian spies, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, living undercover in suburban Virginia in the 1980s, at the height of the Reagan-era cold war. Their artful deceptions — a pretend marriage, made-up back stories, ever-changing identities, quick-shifting loyalties — are at the series’ core.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, in the writer’s room of a fifth-floor downtown Manhattan office that smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, Mr. Weisberg recalled the episode in which Elizabeth, played with cool detachment by Keri Russell, pounded the face of her K.G.B. boss with her bare fists after her husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys), was accused of being a mole.
“Everyone watching went crazy,” Mr. Weisberg said. On Twitter, someone praised Ms. Russell’s ultra-aggressive demeanor. Mr. Weisberg shuddered with delight; the poster had picked up on the physical ferocity that Mr. Weisberg hoped appeared authentic in the show.
“I shouted, ‘K.G.B.! K.G.B.!’ ” he said, jumping to his feet, his two fists punching the air.