By: Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith, April 18, 2001
Keri Russell must have felt like Atlas carrying the weight of the world when Felicity debuted on the WB in 1998. The hype surrounding her bow as the show’s title character would have been more in keeping with the second coming of Christ.
First, word came from on high at Madison Avenue that Russell was the new season’s It girl and Felicity was a surefire hit. Then critic after critic proclaimed the show’s virtues, one labeling it the next Ally McBeal. Of course, Russell was trotted out like the WB’s prize thoroughbred–to prance, dance and jump fences for interview after interview.
Beautiful 25-year-old Russell grew up in Mesa, Arizona, and Denver, one of three children born to a Nissan exec and a homemaker. It was in the Mile-High City that she was discovered at the age of 13 by a photographer. Modeling led to a two-year stint on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, and at 17, Russell moved to Los Angeles.
She landed a series of teen roles, including Aaron Spelling’s Malibu Shores , and shot some independent films, but nothing prepared her for the whirlwind of Felicity .
The show came out strong, but by the end of the first season, ratings were not living up to expectations, and the second season suffered immeasurably after producers decided to cut Russell’s impossibly curly mane, prompting an avalanche of irate email and calls. This season, as her hair grows out, ratings are up.
Here, Russell talks about the fate of Felicity , the new film she recently shot with Mel Gibson ( When We Were Soldiers Once…and Young ), her love life (or lack thereof) and where her career and life are headed.
Felicity is back–but with only six new episodes. That’s not much to go on.
No, it’s not. We didn’t get picked up for the full 22 episodes this year–which, in a way, was kind of nice, because 22 is really grueling. So, personally, I didn’t mind.
Well, the six are in the can now, so what’s next?
Well, I finished doing the movie with Mel Gibson, and now one of my oldest friends is going to school in Prague, so I am going to visit her. I’m so excited. I’m a free spirit. I feel like I’m 16. I’m seeing all my friends, taking walks, going to breakfast. I have a really nice life right now. I can’t complain.
Do you hope the series goes on?
I’m ready to roll with the punches. It was really good for me to be away and make the movie and get some perspective…because, like anything, when you’re in the thick of it, it can be so exhausting. And you can get so close to it you can’t even appreciate your experience. I had dinner the other night with one of the executive producers, and we were talking about how much of our lives we’ve given to this show. It’s not like a movie where you do three months and then you walk away. It’s a good three years of our lives already. It’s an odd thing to work so long on something and develop relationships and friendships and then see it photographed as a series. But when I think of what we sought to do in the beginning, I’m really proud. I wouldn’t be horrified if it didn’t come back, because I’d hate for it to go on and on and become something we resent. But whatever is going to be is going to be.
Why would it become something you resent?
Television is a very odd beast that way. You start with something creative, and then, unfortunately, you have to keep creating and creating at a grueling pace. It’s hard to maintain that kind of quality. When you do something for eight months out of the year this way, you’re going to miss sometimes. But the broad strokes are good…everyone is doing a good job, and for the most part, I enjoy the job.
Was the article true that in mid 1999 you asked for a raise of $100,000? That it would have tripled your pay and the studio said it would have taken legal action?
I don’t know. I am not going to talk about that.
Okay, on to another subject–do you think your short hair had anything to do with the ratings on Felicity going down?
No, I don’t. I think that was really funny. People assuming one thing that didn’t make sense.
I remember when Felicity lost her virginity it was a very big deal. A therapist told me that a girl becoming a woman–or whatever one wants to call it–is probably more traumatic than birth. The change is so dramatic, more than for guys. Do you see any truth in that, either for you or your character?
Well, I definitely have been fascinated by the subject. I read the book Reviving Ophelia about six months or a year before I read the Felicity script. Oh, that’s the book every teen girl who’s going through so may changes has to read before she drives her parents absolutely crazy. I had read that, and subconsciously or not, it gave me an idea about the type of girl I wanted to play and what I wanted to do, and then along came the Felicity script. And I ended up getting the part. I’m very attracted to that idea of the change girls go through and why it is so drastic for them versus boys. I don’t know. I have vague, messy thoughts on the whole thing. Joseph Campbell had this really great idea that girls have it better, because they innately have this rite of passage that physically happens to them. They menstruate, and something beyond them–much bigger that they have no control over–is affecting their lives, whereas men don’t have that. At least, they don’t have a rite of passage in America today. So, I think as crazy and complicated as it is for girls, it’s a good crazy. I think it’s a bigger sense of life, which is why people are so fascinated by it and read so many books about it.
During the first season, you told me you and musician Tony Lucca were living together, and you said it made things easier on you because you had someone to come home to.
Yeah, it was.
Do you and Scott Speedman date at all any more?
[Laughs.] We’re friends. I think he’s doing a movie right now, and the other Scott [Foley] is as well. Everyone’s staying kinda busy.
So, how is it for you now?
I live alone now. I have no one to come home to, but I do have my cats. And you know what? I’m really learning to appreciate girlfriends. It’s an interesting thing, being single in this business. It’s an unusual life when people know who you are. It makes getting to know someone and dating a little bit more of an adventure, I guess. But I’m okay. I’m going to visit girlfriends and enjoy them.
Well, there’s something sweet in that, too.
There is. There’s a time for everything. And all my girlfriends I’ve neglected through the years are getting my attention again, so that’s a good thing.
How was it working with Mel?
It was fun, just great. We were in Georgia, and it was great being in the South–a completely different universe. I was there about a month and a half, and my last day, I finished work and took my rental car and just drove around by myself. I went to Savannah for a few nights, which was beautiful, with all the old parks and smoky bars and great restaurants.
By yourself? That must have been quite an adventure.
It was–I had the best time! And then I drove up to Athens, Georgia, which was equally cool. Much more of a university town, with a great music scene. That really made my trip.
Any desire to go back to school?
Yeah, I think about it all the time. I love to read. I’ve been reading like crazy. I probably am feeling like I missed out on some formal education.
Do you feel like you’re getting ready for marriage and motherhood?
God, no! Hey, if I’m having trouble meeting a boyfriend, I’m really going to have trouble meeting a husband. I feel like the older I get, the farther away I am from that. I have so much growing up to do. I’m still so selfish and still so nervous around people.
Do you own your own home?
No, I still live in an apartment. I just can’t commit to buying a home. I still feel like such a little kid. I don’t want to give up feeling like I can just take my backpack and go wherever I want.
Where would you like to be 10 years from now? Would you want to be a movie star?
I don’t know if I’ll be an actor for the rest of my life. I love specific stories, but I think I love the stories more than the actual acting. And that’s odd to me. I don’t wake up in the morning and think, I’m dying to act today! I guess that makes me kind of finicky in terms of my job. In 10 years, if there are still good stories I’m attracted to, who knows…