Forget work/life balance when you're watching 'The Diplomat," a new Netflix political drama. Hal and Kate Wyler certainly have.
The married couple, played by Rufus Sewell and Keri Russell, have yolked their careers and their relationship together.
Speaking to TODAY.com, star Russell says that relationships that grow in this "tumultuous, transactional world" inevitably get "messy."
The show catches them at a personal and professional inflection point. After years in diplomacy, Kate has just been tapped to become an ambassador in London in the midst of a crisis. Her husband, wused to being the ambassador, is supposed to take a back seat — but can't help but pull strings. His efforts to help often complicate Kate's difficult job.
Meanwhile, Kate and Hal are in the process of separating, but have to keep up appearances as a unit.
You could call the Wylers a power couple, if you were looking at them at a surface level, or reading their (fictional) Wikipedia entries. But "The Diplomat" shows the messiness of their relationship and how their different approaches to work — she's measured and acts precisely, without need for visibility; he's charming, bombastic and never met a risk he didn't take — lead to moments of brilliance and complications.
"What's great about the relationship is there is this competition but they both really think the other one is brilliant. They come at life, in general, and a problem in completely different ways. They have such different skill sets," Russell says.
The actor played a character in a slightly similar situation in "The Americans." She played Elizabeth Jennings, a Russian spy, who, along her husband Philip, posed as travel agents, mixing marriage and work together. The familiarity is not lost on Russell.
"It's not that I'm interested in politics. I'm just interested in writing. it just so happens that "The Americans" had that as its backdrop. What Deborah Cahn wrote has the diplomatic world as a backdrop. I'm just chasing an interesting relationship," Russell says of the show's similarities.
The Wylers aren't the only characters on "The Diplomat" with an office romance. Stuart Heyford (Ato Essandoh) and Eidra Park (Ali Ahn) are covert about their romance, knowing their future would inevitably be complicated — he works for the state department, she's CIA.
"It's interesting to see someone navigate ambition with the desire to be close to somebody, especially in such intense fields," says Essandoh. "Our characters are not people who have had a lot of investment in relationships because they're so job-focused. It's cool to see a moment where they're like,'Do I make space for this person?'"
He sees a parallel between the show's micro relationships and its larger plot — a tangled web between the U.K., U.S., Iran and Russia is set off when a British Navy boat is bombed off the coast of Iran.
"It's interesting watching singular relationships between two people that amounts up to the relationships between different countries. It's the same thing. Except a spat between two countries is not the same as someone not putting the toilet seat down. The stakes get higher but it's the same thing — do I like this person? Do you want to live with this person?"
With the Wylers, they see a road map ... and a warning sign (see: their tussle in the gardens after Hal goes rogue).
"Eidra and Stewart can see glimpses of their future and are like, 'DO we want that, or not?" Essandoh says.
"Can two people with big ambitions stay on course?" Ato asks.
"The Diplomat" shows that being a couple around power, or being a couple, isn't easy — but it is good TV.