SUNDERLAND actress Alison Wright is working deep undercover in US TV’s latest hit The Americans.
Viewers could be forgiven for believing the woman behind Martha Hanson, the put-upon CIA secretary in the ITV Reagan-era spy drama, is as authentically American as Mom’s Apple Pie and being overly exuberant at sporting events.
But in fact, she is Wearside born-and-bred and has only been living in the States for the last 16 years.
“I grew up in Sunderland and was dancing from a young age at The Elsa Wilkins School of Dance, which then became The Kathleen Knox School of Dance, which is still going strong today,” she said.
“I performed at the Sunderland Empire, Tyne Theatre and Theatre Royal, then later in Catherine Cookson’s The Fifteen Streets, with Owen Teale.
“I went to St Anthony’s school, then Newcastle College for the Performing Arts to study musical theatre.
“I left in 1997 to study at The Lee Strasberg theatre institute in New York City.”
The Echo reported Alison’s bid for stardom 16 years ago, as she left Wearside for the US and “the chance of a lifetime.”
Alison has a supporting role in The Nanny Diaries, with Scarlett Johansson, to her credit – but Martha is her first big telly role.
“I have performed off Broadway,” she said. “Including as part of the original cast of Rafta, Rafta by Ayub Khan-Din, and Wallace Shawn’s Marie & Bruce with Marisa Tomei.
“I’m yet to get my Broadway break - I hope it comes soon.”
Until it does, Martha is likely to keep Alison busy.
The Americans creator Joe Weisberg said: “Alison Wright’s portrayal of Martha is heartbreakingly real at every turn.”
Now Martha has been promoted from a recurring character to a series regular in the hit show’s second run.
Alison’s mum and dad Maureen and John Wright still live at The Barnes, and the 35-year-old actress is hopeful her career will bring her back to Wearside before too long – temporarily at least.
“My entire family is in Sunderland – mum, dad, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews,” she said.
“I’ve just begun working with one of the oldest agents in London, Felix de Wolfe.
“With all the shows in and around the area now, I would love to have some work bring me home – I would love to be on Vera with Brenda Blethyn, she’s a hero of mine.
“I think my mom would be very happy if I were home in the North East.”
Soviet spies living ordinary lives in 1980s America
THE Americans creator Joe Weisberg – a former CIA officer – was inspired by real-life events to write a script about a family of Russian spies living as US citizens.
The revelation in 2010 of the Illegals Program, as it was dubbed by the America Justice Department, made it clear such covert activity had not ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall – around a dozen agents had been infiltrated into American society long after the end of Communism. Weisberg, however, chose to set his drama in the early 80s, telling Time magazine a modern day setting “didn’t seem like a good idea.”
The 2010 revelations had been simultaneously shocking yet seemed somehow irrelevant.
“People were both shocked and simultaneously shrugged because it didn’t seem like we were really enemies with Russia anymore,” he said.
“An obvious way to remedy that for television was to stick it back in the Cold War.
“At first, the ‘70s appealed to me just because I loved the hair and the music.
“But can you think of a better time than the ‘80s with Ronald Reagan yelling about the evil empire?”