Some castings seem so obvious in retrospect. Rahul Khanna, who plays Pakistani intelligence agent Yousaf on The Americans, is central to one particularly salacious episode: He strangles an American spy, mid-coitus, before stuffing her naked body into a suitcase and carrying it out the front door. Khanna’s performance was stacked with seduction, titillation, a devilish charm – what any woman would confess he brings to the table. Khanna’s acting chops have become a talking point, so we get the actor to dish on doing the dirty on primetime.
What was your experience shooting for The Americans?
It’s got one of the finest casts and crews I’ve had the privilege of working with. I feel we’re in the Golden Age of television. American shows, in particular, are on par with feature films in terms of quality and scale. The joy of working on a project like this is that it’s so meticulously researched, it’s like a history lesson. The show was created by Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent, and every script has to be cleared by them. There’s fascinating detail about the lives of spies during the Cold War. And I particularly love the disguises, gadgets and the extremes they would go to for their cause.
Tell us about the infamous sex-to-suitcase scene.
I’d watched the show so I knew it was pretty sexy. However, after I signed on, they sent me an updated draft of the script (which was much more risqué) and a “nudity and simulated sex consent agreement”, which actors are legally required to sign. That’s when things got pretty terrifying. I tweeted that I’ve bungee jumped, but signing that document was much scarier! I had a few days of wild panic but then told myself, “One of your favourite TV shows wants to fly you to New York to play the title role in an episode, roll around in bed with a beautiful woman, and pay you for it. You should be rejoicing, not panicking.” When we started shooting for Season 3 and I got another (much more graphic) love scene, I didn’t even bat an eyelid. In fact, I was quite excited. As an actor, you don’t often get the opportunity to make love to a woman, then strangle her and then help two KGB operatives break up her body and stuff it into a suitcase! It’s Shakespearean.
How did you prep for it?
It’s amazing how self-conscious and vain you get when you learn you’re going to be spending a full day in your birthday suit with strangers and being filmed in HD. There was a fair amount of discipline with my diet and exercise regime in the weeks leading up to the shoot. On the day, the wardrobe department delivered something called a modesty pouch to my trailer. It’s a contraption invented by Satan himself: basically a codpiece that’s supposed to stick to your skin like a Band-Aid and give the illusion of nudity while maintaining a degree of modesty and hygiene on the set. Ironically, if you get a little sweaty, it doesn’t stay stuck – which can be mortifying. Let’s just say I no longer have any secrets from the crew.
The show’s set in the Eighties. What do you think about the style from that time?
When I went in for my initial fitting, the first thing wardrobe designer Jenny Gering told me was, “Everything’s going to feel weird.” And it did. The cuts and fits of the clothes back then were so different. The Eighties was a decade of economic boom, and people were dressing to reflect that. Clothes were designed to make you look and feel bigger and more powerful – wide, padded shoulders, boxier cuts and louder prints. You feel like a different person in different clothes.
And menswear today?
I see a lot of experimentation. Gender lines are blurring and menswear is borrowing a lot of styles, prints, colours and accessories that are traditionally associated with women. It’ll be interesting to see if this continues to evolve into an androgynous norm or if there will be a hypermasculine reaction to it.
Interviewed by: Shivangi Lolayekar
Photographed by: Kenneth Lam
Styled by: Tanya Vohra
Via: GQ India