Keri Russell: Coming Back Strong
- Tuesday, March 08, 2005
When it comes to hair, she’s the female equivalent of Samson. As soon as Keri Russell, the star of the WB television drama, “Felicity,” snapped off her curly locks in August of 1999, she lost her strength. Ratings for the popular show plummeted and, the following year, “Felicity” was cancelled.
Russell was shocked by her fans’ reaction, but didn’t let it affect her for very long. In 2002, she starred opposite Mel Gibson in “We Were Soldiers,” then took a role Off Broadway in the Neil LaBute play, “Fat Pig,” alongside Andrew McCarthy and Jeremy Piven.
Now Russell, who turns 29 this month, has a starring role in “The Upside of Anger,” alongside Joan Allen and Kevin Costner. The film deals with some tough issues – adultery, anger and alcoholism – and explores their impact on families. It also explores the various ways that young adults respond to parental rejection, acting out their pain or stuffing it in desperate bids for attention.
Russell plays Emily Wolfmeyer, the second of four daughters struggling to accept her father’s abandonment, even as she searches for her place in the world. Terry (Allen), the girls’ mother, has trouble expressing love and has turned to the bottle for comfort. She discovers a drinking partner in her neighbor, Denny (Costner), an ex-pro baseball player who isn’t the brightest light on the planet, but who is kind to the girls. When Terry and Denny’s relationship turns romantic, it creates just one more thing for the girls to cope with.
I recently participated in a roundtable interview with Russell, where she talked about the ‘Felicity’ fiasco, her sabbatical and her return to film.
Q: What’s your take on the ‘Felicity’ hair drama, looking back on it?
A: It’s fascinating. People really cared about it, it must have been a slow year! What can I say? (laughs) There was one lady in a mall who came up to me when it was kind of growing out and said, ‘You were so pretty before you cut your hair!’ I was like, ‘Oh, thanks.’ It still fascinates me.
Q: Will you ever cut it again?
A: Yes, of course! I mean, the whole point of it was that there was this girl in college who broke up with her boyfriend.
Q: Is that why the show was cancelled?
A: No! No! First of all, we never had good ratings. We had some critical acclaim in the beginning, but we never had good ratings, and after the second year they kept moving our timeslot. It was like any show – it kind of floundered in the middle.
Q: That will be the never-ending story of your life – you will always have to talk about your hair!
A: It is! It is! Why? It’s so interesting.
Q: Maybe you should just shave your head?
A: Yeah, really. From now on.
Q: Is it good to be back? You’ve got a lot coming out.
A: It is good to be back. I took a well-needed break for a little over a year where I didn’t read movies, I didn’t audition, I didn’t do anything and I moved to New York and just hung out with my friends and read books.
Q: Were you frightened that the phone might not ring again?
A: At that point I was so tired. I felt like my life just needed to be reigned back in, so no, I just really wanted to hear my girlfriend’s stories about the guy who was a real jerk or finish whatever I was reading, some Salinger book. I just really needed that re-group period. In New York, it’s very easy to be social, and I have really, really good girlfriends there, so it kind of saved me.
Q: How was it being on stage? You have some rigorous demands doing that.
A: The whole experience was incredibly romantic. I live a few blocks from the theatre so I’d walk to the show at night in the snow and it was great. And it was sold out the first week of previews through the entire run. That never happens, so I had a really nice experience that I think was probably rare. Doing a play is such a different procedure, process, everything. When you do a movie, a lot of times you don’t want a lot of rehearsal for something on film because you want…it’s so up close that sometimes, you want to catch the surprise of whatever just happened. The first time that person says something to you, sometimes the surprise is the good stuff, versus a play, it’s much more of a dance you’re doing with each other, especially this Neil LaBute play, because it was so modern and quick (snaps fingers) and harsh. It’s music, so if one person is a slight syllable off, it completely throws the train off. The rehearsal process is also a process and you get to know your character so much more.
Q: Why do you like living in New York? Why not LA?
A: In New York, I have this group and we all have coffee at the same time in the morning. One hosts an NPR show, one is a writer, one is a lawyer, one is a jazz singer. That’s good for me. I like that and I like being at arm’s length from the business, because if something’s really great, I’ll find a way to act on it, but I don’t have to go on eight meetings a day. L.A. is crazy for this business. Everyone is talking about it and it’s so lucrative, and everyone is walking down the street with scripts in their hand. So I’m like, get me away from this! (laughs)
Q: You’re not worried about missing out on anything?
A: No. I’ve had such a great year and I’ve done things that have been so exciting and fulfilling and I’ve lived in New York the whole time, so it’s been fine.
Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born in California but I grew up in Arizona and Colorado – so lots of big spaces. Now they live in Texas, my family. I left home at an early age because I started working at about 15, in ‘The Mickey Mouse Club,’ so I started working at a really young age and I wasn’t with my family for a long time.
Q: Do you like being on your own?
A: Yeah, I like being on my own. I do. I tend to be a loner, so I’m okay. I’m not okay when I have to be around everyone all the time. [But] I have two cats.
Q: How did that work, being a loner, in such a big ensemble cast with ‘The Upside of Anger?’
A: Well, we all had our own flats in London [where the film was made], which was great, so I had plenty of alone time. But normally you have a trailer. However, we were shooting in Hampstead Heath, and we only had permits for a certain amount of trucks, because the rich neighbors were like, ‘We don’t want the trucks!’ – which is totally understandable. So we would all have to stay – which is very uncommon – in this attic/living space/game room, in between scenes. Sometimes you’d have a really important scene to do and you just had to sit there with this family of people. It was interesting.
Q: We’ve heard that you all got along really well, but there must have been tensions, too.
A: Women can be hard but I think it had to do with Joan [Allen]. She’s so graceful and has that great quality, and when someone of that integrity is at the helm it really sets the tone. But all the girls were really okay, it was strange. It was good.
"The Upside of Anger" opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 11 then throughout the U.S. on March 18. It is rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use.
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