Keri-over effect

From: The Toronto Sun
by: Bruce Kirkland

At the end of a four-year run on Felicity, the TV series that propelled her to stardom, Keri Russell was burned-out, tormented by her workload and disillusioned with celebrity.

Her mentor at Felicity, producer-creator J.J. Abrams, knew about his star’s flame-out, but still told her of the spark of an idea he had for a new show — starring Russell.

She now remembers saying: “Are you out of your f—ing mind?”

Abrams answered: “I know, I know, but it’s such a good idea and you’d be great.” To which Russell replied: “J.J., write it down and keep it for later.”

Later may be never. “We talk about it all the time,” Russell says in a Los Angeles interview recently, trying not to look disgusted with the notion of series television, “and I love working with him. But he knows I don’t want to do TV right now.”

After Felicity, Russell was not sure she wanted to do anything, at least not in showbiz. Single and restless, she left L.A. with her cats, moved to New York with a suitcase of clothes, took the first apartment she scouted, plunked a mattress down on the bare floor, broke open one of the boxes of books she brought and started to read and rejuvenate.

After the year hanging out with her New York girlfriends (“they really saved me”), casually dating guys (“kind of acted like a kid for a while”) and reading Joan Didion and J.D. Salinger, she filmed The Upside Of Anger in the fall of 2003.

Typical of many off-beat indie dramas, although it has Kevin Costner and Joan Allen on the marquee, Mike Binder’s film is only now getting a commercial release (it opens tomorrow). Russell credits the experience, especially working with Allen, with helping her get back on track and propelling her to get active again, including in a co-starring role on Broadway in Neil LaBute’s scathing play Fat Pig. Other new projects include Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming TV mini-series, Into The West, and Butterfly: A Grimm Love Story, a feature film now in production.

“I was very fried,” Russell says of her post-Felicity period. “That’s why I took a break, because I wasn’t surviving. I just lost so much of my life. I didn’t have time to see friends. I’m not saying I was a bitch to anyone but I was really shutting down on some level. I became really self-protective. I needed to be able to show up for dinner or be able to sleep in past seven o’clock or not worry about how long my hair was or not worry about going to a photo shoot or not worry about saying the right thing in an interview.

“I didn’t do anything. I just hid from this whole side of the coast (Hollywood) and it just saved me, it really did.”

In The Upside Of Anger, the California-born Russell plays one of Allen’s four daughters. The suburban family implodes after the man of the house suddenly disappears.

Watching Allen in action was crucial for Russell, a former teenaged jazz and ballet dancer whose first job in showbiz was as a member of the new Mickey Mouse Club, with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling. Allen is an actor’s actor, a life lesson for a young woman who was struggling as badly as Russell was.

“For me, it was really important to see the quality of person she was,” Russell says of Allen, whom Russell considers to be a wonderful “survivor” in the Hollywood acting game.

“It was great for me to see Joan because she is so talented, but the integrity of her person is very much intact. And I’m so glad she was my first experience back, because — boom! — there is someone who is doing fine, she’s doing great.”

In different circumstances with a different leading lady, the experience might have soured, says Russell.

“You know, actresses are crazy. They’re crazy, man! I don’t care what anyone says. You know, the ones who are great are great, like Mare Winningham (and Joan Allen). But there are others who are nutsoes.”

To keep from going nutso herself, Russell has a plan. No matter how tempting the money, keep away from series TV and don’t work all the time.

“Never say never but, in an ideal world, I love the idea of working on something and then taking a breather and regrouping. So I would love to just keep doing it at the pace I’m doing it. We’ll see if it works.”