Born and raised in Russia, Costa Ronin seems to be a natural when playing Oleg Burov, a young tech-savvy KGB officer, on FX’s drama, The Americans. The jack-of-all-trades artist is driven by his passion for storytelling, willing to immerse himself in all aspects of the creative process. “I think it’s about the story, first and foremost,” he explains. We chat with the charismatic 35-year-old about working with Keri Russell, world politics, and his acting process.
You are coming into a show that has already had a successful first season. How do you feel about that?
COSTA RONIN: Everybody knew the world of their own characters, the journey of their own characters and how they got to that point in time, whereas my character had lived as well, but his life wasn’t shown. So, when he came in, he had to have lived throughout the first season, and for the past 28-30 years, and then just come to [the] screen as a complete, whole character. Also, you go into a show and you don’t know what it’s going to be like [or] what the crew and cast are going to be like and whether or not you’re going to be accepted and have good relationships. Luckily, the crew and the cast on the show are just amazing.
Tell us about your character, Oleg Burov.
CR: His father is the minister of transport back in Russia, in Moscow, where he grew up. He has a very influential family, the upper class of the Soviet society. The rules kind of never really applied to him and his family. It was all about connections, and who you know, and about being at the right place at the right time. He wanted to make something with his life, he wanted to make a difference. He wanted to prove to the world and to his father, with whom he has a very difficult relationship, that he can stand on his own feet [and that] he can do things on his own, as a man and as a human being. So, he comes in and he’s trying to build relationships with Keri [Russell] and Nina [Annet Mahendru’s character] and inter-office politics come into play, as well as the actual setting of being in the game of espionage. It’s his journey [of] getting to learn about the business, getting to learn about the psychology of this game, the psychology of people he’s working with. He’s got a massive, massive journey throughout the season.
What can we expect from the rest of the season? Do you have any spoilers?
CR: No, no, no spoilers. I can tell you that my character has a great arch all through the season, from where he starts in the beginning to where he goes. It’s going to be interesting how the audience sees it [and how they] respond to the journey.
Any funny stories from the set?
CR: I took my grandma to set [and] that was a great experience because [she] is so removed from the entertainment industry. When [she] was there, she met Lev Gorn, who [plays] Arkady, and he was already in his costume, in his suit and tie and looking very important and influential. Later she goes to me, “Why can’t you come to work looking like Lev in a suit and tie? Why do you have to work wearing jeans and a T-shirt?” From when I was a kid, my grandma always [imagined] me going to work in a suit with a briefcase, and now that I go to work wearing jeans and a T-shirt, I don’t think it sits very well with her. After seeing Lev, she couldn’t stop talking about him and coming to work wearing a suit. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it was a costume.
Coming from Russia, how do you feel about Washington, D.C., and what it represents in American politics?
CR: In Russia, mostly people think about Moscow and St. Petersburg. The government and everything is very centralized. So, to me, growing up in Russia, I had the very same kind of understanding. To me, Washington, D.C., was it, [it] was the United States. Every time you hear on the news the President speak, it was, “Coming live from the White House.” [Now] I think there’s more to Washington, D.C., than just politics.
You are also on CBS’s new show Extant. What was it like finishing one show and jumping right into another?
CR: It [was] kind of difficult because you live this part for six, seven months, so this character is an integral part of you and then when the show ends there’s a void left in your heart. You know his every move, how he thinks, what he eats, what he tastes. You know everything about him and coming out of that and being able to play a completely different character is hard because he is so close to you. I really had to learn just how to let go of Oleg and embody this other character [Anton]. They didn’t have anything in common as far as how they operate. There was a lot of work, not just to make sure that they didn’t cross, but to make sure that [Anton's] a complete individual. I wanted to make sure that he has his own life and he doesn’t have anything that doesn’t belong to him, nothing that is not supposed to be in his world.
CatchThe Americanson Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Extant will premiere on July 9 at 9 p.m. on CBS.