On Thursday, May 30, New York Film Academy (NYFA) welcomed Emmy-winning actor Matthew Rhys to its New York City campus for a jovial, passionate, and insightful Q&A session with NYFA students. The event was moderated by Amy Van Horne, actress and Creative Director of Acting for Film at NYFA-New York.
Rhys won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his incredible work on FX series The Americans, a dramatic thriller about undercover Soviet spies living in the 1980s Virginia suburbs. He was previously nominated twice for the role, as well as a third time for his work on HBO’s Girls. Additionally, he received two Golden Globe nominations as well as a plethora of other awards and nominations for both his work on The Americans and other projects.
The Q&A discussion followed the screening of a reel produced by NYFA featuring Rhys’ well-known and applauded work in the stage play Look Back in Anger (with co-star and previous NYFA guest speaker Adam Driver); films The Edge of Love, Burnt, and Steven Spielberg’s The Post; and television shows Brothers and Sisters and the aforementioned The Americans.
The actor was more than happy to take multiple questions from students, both in the theater audience and from our South Beach campus, where the event was livestreamed.
Among other topics, Rhys discussed the grueling process of acting with an American accent (Rhys is native to Wales), and said that there are always two things that happen before he recites a line: first, he has to decide if the sound will come out right, and then he has to act the part as he speaks.
The actor was also asked which was his favorite character to play, and he replied that The Americans’ Philip Jennings is definitely his favorite, given the complexity of the show and the intricacies of the character. When asked about how he prepares emotionally to get into character—since undercover spy Philip Jennings has so many false identities—Rhys said that he always tries to identify parts of the characters that he shares a truth with to lend a sense of authenticity to each part.
When asked about his favorite director to work with, he said of course that it was the director of The Americans, but also elaborated on his experience working with Steven Spielberg on The Post. “It was like working with God,” Rhys told the audience, “and everyone in the room knew it.”
Rhys has also directed several television episodes as well as a documentary short. When asked about his role as a director, he responded that a film set is a forest, and that everyone involved on set is a tree that thinks they’re the only one in that forest. He added that directing made him better at time management.
One student asked for advice on auditioning. Rhys advised students not to try and show off in an effort to differentiate themselves. Now that he’s on the other side of the casting table as a producer on the new Perry Mason—which he will also star in—he’s noted that in auditions that “those who serve the script more than they serve themselves” always stand out.
“Turn up on time, know your lines, be bold, and great gods will come to your aid,” Rhys told the captivated audience.
New York Film Academy thanks Golden Globe-nominated and Emmy-winning actor Matthew Rhys for taking the time to share his advice and experiences with our New York and South Beach students.