Former ‘Felicity’ Sees ‘Magic’

From: Zap2it, January 29, 2005
by: Jay Bobbin

Don’t call her “Felicity”: Keri Russell has moved on.

Although the young actress remains fond of the TV series that brought her fame and a Golden Globe Award, she followed it by taking some time off from acting. She has returned by doing a variety of projects, one being “The Magic of Ordinary Days,” a new Hallmark Hall of Fame movie CBS airs Sunday, Jan. 30.

Based on an Ann Howard Creel book, the gentle, devoutly old-fashioned World War II-era drama casts Russell as pregnant and unwed Livy. Left by her forthcoming child’s father, a soldier who may or may not return to her, she is sent to a small Colorado town and into an arranged marriage to a total stranger, physically and emotionally isolated farmer Ray (Skeet Ulrich, “As Good as It Gets”).

Wed as soon as she arrives, the couple struggle to fashion a livable relationship, but they don’t have much in common. While Ray’s sister (Emmy winner Mare Winningham) does what she can to bring them closer, Livy’s thirst for knowledge often clashes with Ray’s contentment with his immediate environs. Livy’s friendship with two Japanese-American women (Tania Gunadi, Gwendoline Yeo) from a nearby internment camp adds more complications.

“It’s so sweet and simple,” Russell says of the film. “I loved the idea that it was a 1940s story, and I thought the character was pretty good. It came at a time when I was ready to work.” It also offered the bonus of Ulrich as a leading man, since Russell explains, “For me, it’s not necessarily just about what it is, but also who else is involved. That’s sometimes why you do things. You learn from others or make lasting relationships, and if he was going to be a drag, I wouldn’t have wanted to do it.

“The whole film is about these two people falling in love, and as I worked with Skeet, I kept thinking, ‘You remind me of me.’ We come from similar backgrounds. He had taken a few years off from work, too, to raise his kids. This was also one of the first things he did coming back into the business, so I think it was a good thing for both of us.” Russell also was pleased with another co-star: “I love Mare Winningham. I mean, who doesn’t? She is just the coolest person ever. The people on this couldn’t have been better.”

The wardrobe had its rewards, too. “We had many different stages of ‘pregnancy bellies,'” Russell muses. “We shot this in the spring and early summer last year in Calgary, where the weather is crazy. It’ll be 70 degrees, then within an hour, it’ll start snowing. It just changes on a dime. It was cold most of the time, so the pregnancy pads actually kept me warm. It was like having a big pillow on your stomach.”

Russell has done audio commentaries for the final-season DVD set of “Felicity,” due in stores March 8. “I loved my experience on that show very much,” she says. “Some of those people are still among my best friends, but I was really burnt out. I needed to just check out for a little bit. It’s a lot of responsibility, being the lead character in a series. There wasn’t a lot of sharing, especially in terms of the schedule, which was 18 hours a day, five days a week. I wanted to live my 20s a bit.”

To do so, Russell relocated from the West Coast to New York, where several of her girlfriends already resided. “I wasn’t even sure I wanted to act anymore,” she says. “I just picked up and took a few boxes of books, my mattresses and my cats with me. It was the best thing I could have done. I had no idea what I was going to do once I got there, but it so paid off. It was also a good thing for me to do socially, to be around people other than actors all day.”

Still, Russell has spent time with other performers, having recently finished an off-Broadway run in the Neil LaBute play “Fat Pig.” As one might suspect, she didn’t have the title role; she played a self-absorbed nemesis of the plus-sized central character. Jessica Capshaw, formerly of “The Practice,” has replaced her in the show.

“I never knew that I would necessarily do the play,” Russell maintains. “I read it really last-minute and finished it on a plane, and for whatever reason, something in it clicked with me. It was modern and current and wickedly funny. The writing is really beautiful, even when it’s also harsh and scathing. I’m usually pretty nervous in front of people, so having to get out there was a good experience for me. It gives you courage for other things in your life.”

Russell will be back on television in June in “Into the West,” a Steven Spielberg-produced TNT miniseries. Like “The Magic of Ordinary Days,” it was filmed in Alberta and also stars Ulrich, and Russell says it “couldn’t have been more fun. Riding horses changed my life. I spent more time in Canada the past year than I did in New York, which is fine by me. I loved it so much that when I finished ‘The Magic of Ordinary Days,’ I took a road trip by myself through the mountains. I grew up in Colorado, so I was in heaven. It’s so beautiful, still remote and removed from everything.”

For now, Russell is glad to be back in New York, but she’s ready to go wherever the next intriguing role takes her. “I’m sorry if I sound obnoxious, but I’m just so happy,” she says. “When you’re interested in things, everything is fun.”