Design and Labour: Performance as a collaboration in The Americans

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPresentation


In addressing the work of the performer within an analysis of style, this paper highlights the collaboration between the actor and key filmmaking personnel whose contributions are vital to shaping the material expression of performance; its surfaces, movement and environments. Costume, hair and make-up as well as production and sound design all play important roles in situating and supporting the performer, making material and tangible the emotional shades of the characterisation and narrative. This paper argues for this labour – which has so been often neglected in both academic and popular discourses of aesthetics and performance - to be recognised in approaches to performance. The Americans (FX, 2013-2018) will be discussed as a key case study for foregrounding the work of the designer and the performer as key collaborators whose work combined is essential to shaping the material texture of film and television. Special attention will be paid to the intersection of design with Keri Russell’s performance, as her embodiment of Elizabeth Jennings – a key surface in the show’s design – enables a focused opportunity to track the materially meaningful qualities of style. Russell’s performance engages carefully with the decisions of costume and make-up designers, to render her character through a meticulous layering of elements: ruthless violence, tender tactility, professional detachment, patriotic dedication, vulnerability and ferociousness.
Period19 Mar 2021
Event titleSociety for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • television studies
  • television performance
  • production design
  • costume design
  • make-up design