Keri Russell is making her foray back into the world of foreign politics in Netflix’s latest political drama “The Diplomat,” headlining the cast as “harried” ambassador Kate Wyler — a role Russell says is one of the most fun jobs she’s had in a long time.
“I love the crazy, weird specificity of this person [Deborah Cahn] created — the harried nervousness and bossiness all mixed in one and then on top of that, this really fun, complicated marriage that’s constantly in flux,” Russell told TheWrap. “It’s fun to get to be funny and smart — it’s a good world to live in.”
The series, which premiered Thursday on Netflix, follows State Department veteran Kate (Russell) as she gets called up to the post of ambassador to the UK amid a global terrorist attack, putting her plans to mend relations in Afghanistan on the back burner. While this switch up ordered by the President himself alarms Kate, forcing her to trade field work for hosting dignitaries at extravagant luncheons, another twist sends Kate’s nervousness through the roof: her husband and former ambassador and political star Hal (Rufus Sewell) will be joining her.
Hal’s presence stuns Kate’s new staff as they offer to include him in briefings meant for Kate. The duo must balance Hal’s effortless gravitas and impulsive decision-making while Kate finds her footing in her new role.
“He’s a shiny, charming person, and Kate is so different than that — he’s so easy in front of people and likes to be in front of people and likes to be adored, and likes to chat and small talk, and those are all things that Kate is terrible at,” Russell said. “I think even though they do a similar job, they come at it through very different perspectives and achieve it in very different ways. There’s definitely competitiveness between them, but I also I think Kate always sees his brilliance.”
As Kate busies herself with settling into the new political landscape, while preemptively trying to clean up Hal’s next mess, her staff also keeps another confidential part of their mission from her as they evaluate her viability to step in as Vice President; as the Secretary of State and her closest confidants anticipate an explosive scandal that will force the current VP out of the position.
Though the world of civil service — and the myriad acronyms for government agencies that comes with it — was entirely new to Russell, elements of Kate’s nervousness rang true to Russell.
“I just love her uncomfort — I absolutely relate to that,” Russell said. “I don’t like ton of people touching me either, I get really nervous, I sweat a lot.”
Read more Russell’s comments about the new series below:
TheWrap: You’ve delved into the world of politics and foreign policy before in “The Americans,” was there anything that was completely new to you?
Russell: The details of this entire army of people and what they do for our government was new to me. We know so little about what [State Department officials and diplomats] do, and yet they are so monumental in keeping democracy alive, and our government working correctly. I did a ton of reading about it; there’s this amazing book called “The Ambassadors” by Paul Richter. It’s about a certain type of ambassador, who is a little bit more like the character I play. They tend to work in the Middle East, or they’re promoting peace in the world, or setting up voting rights somewhere or establishing democracy in an area that hasn’t had that; versus the diplomats who are usually given [the role] as a gift for a healthy donation to a presidential campaign, and they live in Paris for a couple of years or something. There’s so much to do with the hierarchy of it all.
Kate is pulled in opposite directions when she has to abandon her post for what is widely understood as a ceremonial position. How do you understand her conflicting emotions?
When we meet Kate, she’s going to set up the mission in Afghanistan, which, especially right now, is such a volatile, ever-changing place, and I think she’s earned an amount of respect there and has her self-esteem there. That’s where her passion is and she feels like she’s doing good work there.
When you’re asked by the President of the United States to leave this thing that you love very much and that you feel is really important — to move to London to essentially give tea parties or go to fancy events in ballgowns, and meet dignitaries and be polite and charming — I think It’s hard because there’s a hierarchy and you have allegiance to who was in charge. So, the only answer is, “it’s an honor.”
Kate and Hal have a very complicated relationship. What keeps drawing Katherine back to Hal despite all the mess that he makes?
They met at a really exciting moment in their lives, when the stakes were really high — they were in a dangerous area, literally saving people’s lives and creating peace and saving the world in that heightened way. It doesn’t always translate to moving back home for years, and taking out the trash and showing up when people need you and the monotony of long-term marriage.
What’s initially going through Kate’s mind when she first realizes she’s potentially up for VP?
Panic. It’s such a leap — it’s not like she’s some high-powered senator who has been vying for this position, she was literally plucked from doing her regular job where no one knows her, but they know her because of her work. It’s a really just a complete shock for her. But I think it’s also flattering on some level for someone to think of you in that way, whether she really wants to do it or not.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
“The Diplomat” is now streaming on Netflix.