Since the FX hit drama The Americans premiered back in 2012, 17-year-old Holly Taylor has become somewhat of a household name. But Taylor is no stranger to the spotlight. The Canadian-born performer began her career at the tender age of 11, performing in the Broadway production of Billy Elliot as Ballet Girl.
With that said, as Season Two of the spy-thriller unfolded, the youthful actress admits she was surprised to discover just how integral her character, Paige Jennings has become to the story and how centered she is amidst the turmoil. Growing up in a web of extraordinary lies, Paige finds roots in the Church. And as cracks begin to appear in the veneer of her parents’ world, Holly’s character finds herself caught in the middle of the breed of struggles reserved for the likes of undercover KGB spies and the like.
We talked with Taylor about her favorite aspects of playing a girl who lived in a time devoid of social media, strict curfews and cell phones.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you feel interacting with the 1980s, since it's not a decade you actually lived through like the rest of the cast?
That's true, even though I wish I lived in the 80s; it's so cool. Even now my pants are so tight and so high-waisted that sometimes I just like can't move in a scene and so that's not always the most comfortable thing. Except for some of the eccentric wardrobe choices, which have gotten better this year because Paige has mellowed down a lot. Maybe it's because she's older or something – because last season I used to talk about the sweater she had that had tie-dye and a slice of cake on it and she definitely would not wear that anymore so I'm kind of thankful for that. "Praise Jesus," as Paige would say.
Is there anything about playing a teenager in the '80s that makes you think, "oh my God I could not do this!"
There are some things, I mean sometimes I think it's crazy that they didn't have cell phones and you didn't have to text your mom, "I'm getting in the car; I'm getting out of the car; I just arrived at the door; I just walked out of the door." I do that to my mom. But at the same time I think, "wow, that's so cool.” They probably had so much freedom and they didn't have social media to distract them from everything. You could probably just do your homework in like half an hour and not check Twitter every five minutes! Not saying that I do that! Social media is one of those things that I love and I use it all the time so I can't talk bad about it. But I really think life would be so much easier sometimes if we didn't have it. Especially when you're in high school and everyone's just checking up on each other on Twitter. You just get so caught up in it. I think it's cool that they didn't have all that and that you actually had to have conversations face-to-face with people, which not many people take advantage of now. Personally I hate talking on the phone. If I have to talk on the phone with someone it makes me so anxious and then I don't know what to say sometimes so I'd rather just send a quick text or something. But it was nice that they had that skill all the time. I think that's cool.
Tell us about your daily wardrobe...
I have my cross necklace that Paige loves; she's never without that so that's like her little staple. But I don't know so far we've kind of encountered some of the 80’s music. I have the record player in my room and so that's interesting, and it brings you back because now I just like plug in my earphones to my iPhone and just listen to any music I want. They have to show me how to use the record player and I felt so uncultured and I was like, "oh my God I'm so ashamed of myself; I don't know how to use this." I was like so embarrassed. But then, another time we had to use the cell phone – sorry, not the cell phone, the phone that's connected to the cable and I had to put it down really quietly – you can see that in Season Two. They were showing me how to do that because they used to sneak around from parents and put the phone down without clicking it and it was really hard. I'm not a sneaky kid and so stuff like that for me is so hard. I'd be freaking out; I'd be the kind of person that would start shaking and the whole thing falls over and I'd get caught. I had to go through intense spy training for that one!
Do you get to keep anything from the 1980s set? Any of the props or costumes or anything like that?
I got to keep a couple pairs of jeans that they didn't think were going to work on the show but they were hard denim, you can't even bend them! And so I have them hanging in my wardrobe as a keepsake kind of thing. I was like “maybe I'll wear these” because they were bellbottoms and those came back for a few minutes. Then all of a sudden, as soon as I got them, people stopped wearing them and I was like, "really! I just got these just for this!" So I have those sitting, in case bell bottoms ever come back around and people start wearing them again.
Have you done research on Russia or on the '80s to learn more about the show or do they just to tell you as you go along?
Well, it's kind of like half and half. Since Paige’s storyline doesn't really indulge too much in the actual war because she's not involved. I think that I didn't do too much research but I definitely looked into it. Also I'm learning about the cold war in school. I actually just finished that topic in my history class; I just did a test on it, which I didn't do that well on, which is embarrassing! I did good but I felt like I should've gotten like 105 just because of the show that I'm on. So I hope that my teacher didn't put that together! But yes I kind of just take what I learn from school and what I learned from trivia games on my phone because I'm a nerd. Then also from what I learned from the scripts. I just kind of mush it all together and then if I need to do research I will.
Do you listen to '80s music for inspiration?
Well, I do listen to '80s music in general because my parents kind of introduced me to all different kinds of music. My mom is from Ireland and my dad is from Scotland so I got all the music from Europe which is really different from the 80s American music. I have a very eclectic music taste so I’ll listen to ASAP Rocky, rap music, and then I'll listen to The Pretenders or something.
What is it like working with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys?
It's really cool. They're always just fun on set. We were just doing a scene in the garage and I saw Keri jumping up-and-down in place and I was like, "what is she doing over there?” They're always so fun and Matthew's always playing jokes on people; he's the king of puns I think. He's always making pranks so that's always fun. Especially when you're on a drama set, I mean not that I would know; this is my first TV show, but I mean I'm sure that it's definitely helpful when you have so much comedic relief from such humble people that are so fun to be around. So yeah, I just really enjoy it. I'm really thankful.
Do they sometimes act like they are your real parents?
Sometimes, I mean my mom always says that. She's like, "oh, Keri you're lucky that you're a nice woman, or else you wouldn't be allowed to act like my daughter’s mother!” They're protective over me sometimes and they make sure that everyone is being taken care of. They're really good about all that; they look out for everyone on the set; they're just great people so it's really nice.
Keri also started in the entertainment industry quite young. Has she been able to give you any advice? Or help you deal with the kind of balance of being young and working?
Her situation was a little different than mine and the fact that she didn't go to public school. I did ask her about it a little. She always loved acting and being an entertainer and she thought it was so much fun and I feel the same way about it. Seeing her passion and how respectful she is towards everyone, and how humble she is. She's so talented and natural with everything that I think, just watching her I gain experience and knowledge just from being on the same set as her.
What do you think of Keri and Matthew’s disguises?
It's so weird. I think there was one episode in Season Two when me and my mom were like, "is that Keri? Is that really her? What the heck?" Because they do contacts and everything and there's so many different ways that they can make them look different that you can't even think of. But you can still tell that it’s them; it's so weird, and so I actually just looked today, they have a binder of all the disguises that I looked at, and it was just so bizarre she had like lavender contacts in one of the looks and I was like, "wow! I want to wear those. That looks so cool." But yes, it's definitely crazy to see them in those. Like Matthew's ponytail wig, that one's insane! That one gets me every time; I think it's funny.
How do you balance school when you have to be on set?
I have no idea! This week I'm missing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of school because whenever I'm here I have to miss the whole day of school because I go to school in New Jersey. I can't commute like that. But when I miss school I have to communicate with my teachers and email them and they'll give me all the work that I need to do. Then I work with a tutor here and I try and get all of it done and most of the time I do, but it's still hard. But I like to keep things up because I'm in the National Honor Society for French and for other subjects and I have my clubs and student council to keep up with. I'm a perfectionist!
What is it about your character, or others’, that surprised you most in Season Two?
Well I think with Paige what surprised me the most, was definitely the end of the season, when they mentioned bringing Paige, into the spying business. I really want that to happen and I was like, "yes, I get to wear a ninja suit and be cool." But I didn't think about it actually happening so for it to happen at the end of Season Two, which is like insane and - I just wanted to go to a Tae kwon do class and be like, "I'm ready! I can do this I swear!"
How did you get this job? Did you audition for it?
Yes, I went out to California in eighth grade. I was out there to get more training because there wasn't much in New York. But when I went out there, I trained and I did some auditions and then this one was an on-tape audition and so I went out to LA to get called back to the East Coast. So I came back here and I met the directors and the producers and did a chemistry read with Keri. And that was my only callback and from that I got the part! So it was crazy and it was unexpected because, they always tell you with auditions, once you audition just forget about it because if you just keep lingering on it, you'll just beat yourself up. So I forgot about it, and it was a while, like a few weeks or months even until they called me back. I was like, "what show? What? I don't even remember auditioning for that!" And then, once I read the breakdown I was like, "oh my God! This one!" And I just remember the tape felt good and I just remembered it was a good connection with the character and so to be called back for it was just really, really lucky. Good timing, good luck!
Do your friends and family keep asking you what's going to happen in the show?
My friends? Not so much, because the show was too much for them. There are some inappropriate things and there's so much history behind it, they would rather watch cartoons or something! So they don't really follow it but their parents will sometimes say "oh my God, I can't wait for the next season to come out; I just want to know what's going to happen!" And then they'll ask me what happens or something and be like, "I just want to know what happens but I can’t ask you. I'm so sorry but I just want to know so bad!" But I can't tell anyone and then I'm just like, "I'm sorry; you'll just have to watch; I don’t even know what is going to happen."
Has your life changed much since you’ve been on the show? Do people recognize you on the street now?
A few people have. I mean not that often. I think when Season One first came out I went to an audition and this girl wanted to take a picture with me because her boyfriend watched the show. She was so excited and that was my first time ever being recognized and I was like, "wow, that's really cool." It doesn't happen that often so I'm kind of happy where it is right now. Especially since I'm still in school. People at my school, they think it's cool and everything, but I don't really talk about it that much. If people bring it up I'll answer questions and stuff but if they don't then I'm just Holly. My friends and I, we just hang out and we see Hunger Games and do regular stuff. We just have fun and I want to think that my friends like me for me and not just for other reasons.
Who are the actresses you admire?
I admire Jennifer Lawrence because who doesn't admire Jennifer Lawrence? Let's be real! She's amazing! And Jennifer Aniston, I love her, I think she's so talented and so diverse; she can do drama, comedy, anything. Plus Friends is one of my favorite shows. It's like the only TV show I watch besides this. And I like Rachel McAdams, she is really good. I like Emma Stone, she’s so funny. I'd really like to do more comedy. That way I could just be diverse like them. Because I think it's so cool when you can be so well-rounded. I think that's just such an awesome trait to have and I like to apply that to everything in my life. I definitely look up to people who are more well-rounded.
Before you went to California were you based in New Jersey where you are now?
Yes, I was born in Canada and then I moved to New Jersey when I was two and a half so I don't remember Canada but I like telling people that because it makes me feel special.
So you came back to the same old school and the same old friends?
Yes. It was really nice. So I missed the last year of middle school but middle school wasn't really the best for me. I was on Broadway at the time, I was in Billy Elliot, and I was doing eight shows a week so that was an even crazier schedule than I have now and so that was just insane. I didn't really have time for anything and I didn't really have many friends - not to go down the whole I-was-bullied-path or whatever, but I didn't really have many friends. So middle school was just really hard. Missing eighth grade wasn't a big deal for me. It wasn't something I miss but I really, really, really wanted to go back to start my first year of high school in public school. I didn't want to be homeschooled for that, to be reintroduced back into it would've been so hard. I was really appreciative of the fact that I got The Americans and it was in New York and it just all worked out perfectly. It was really, really nice.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Right now I want to be an actress, but I also want to go to college for psychology. Maybe like forensic psychology. I'm really interested in criminal minds; the behavior analysis unit. I think learning about people's body language is so interesting. So if all this doesn't work out and this is a one hit wonder for me; if this is my only gig that I ever get, I'll probably keep pursuing psychology or some kind of other art, because I really love all kinds of art.
The Americans Season 2 is out on DVD on January 26 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment