Out of the Ordinary

From: The Calgary Sun 5/19/2004
by: Kevin Willimason

Keri Russell almost called cut on more than just her hair. The former Felicity star, who once generated headlines when she lopped off her signature curly locks, admits she nearly quit acting altogether after the series ended.

magic_days_keri_russell01“I needed a break,” says the 28-year-old actress on the set of The Magic of Ordinary Days, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production currently filming outside of Drumheller. “I moved to New York and just spent time reading books, laying around in Central Park with my headphones on, listening to music, acting like a kid … The break was much-needed, for sure.”

At the very least, the time off seems to have been enough to make Russell reconsider retirement. She just wrapped a film, The Upside of Anger opposite Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, and is three weeks into shooting Ordinary Days, which also stars Skeet Ulrich.

“We were very fortunate to get them,” says Hallmark vice-president Jan Parkinson about his actors. “They’re such personable people in their own right, that that really carries through into their performances.”

Set in Colorado in 1944, the movie about Livy Dunne (Russell), a young woman sent away by her strict father because she’s pregnant and unmarried. She’s banished to a tiny town and an arranged marriage to a lonely local father (Ulrich). It will air on CBS in late 2004 or early 2005.

Like Russell, Ulrich landed on Hollywood’s It list in the ’90s thanks to roles in films such as Scream. “I was 25 in The Craft. I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” says the 34-year-old father of three-year-old twins. “I don’t know if I had a plan. I was content to let things happen … I don’t sit around thinking I should be on top of the world.”

Instead, he’s enjoying the era that’s been re-created for Days, using locations throughout Alberta. “We were filming in Lacombe before we got here and when I saw the period sets and the costumes, I just get giddy. It’s so much fun. It’s not stepping back in time, but you definitely feel like you’ve been transported.

“In the U.S. if a building gets older than 30 years, they tear it down for something new. And I’m sure it’s that way here in the urban areas, but out here, in some of these towns, it’s really been untouched.

“When I was filming The Newton Boys in Texas, with the exception of a couple buildings, we had to build everything.

“It’s interesting, the men coming up from the Depression era, the bottled-up emotion they had,” he says.

“(His character Ray) is so withdrawn yet outwardly physical, it’s an oxymoron really. It’s a fascinating (historical) period.”

And exploring such subject matter is increasingly rare in an industry that is obsessed with franchises and cookie-cutter blockbusters, he laments. “The only movies being made are romantic comedies and event pictures and the acting is more about who’s the coolest” than exploring character. “But that’s also what we as consumers go to.”

Production will continue until July with Calgary later standing in for Denver. At that time, actress Mare Winningham will join the cast.

For now, the cast and crew — averaging about 80 people daily, most of them Canadian — remain settled into the Drumheller area and coping with the temperamental weather.

“We’ve seen four seasons twice in one day,” says producer Andy Gottlieb.

Russell, it turns out, had already received advance word about Alberta from one famous ex-Felicity cast member, Alias star Jennifer Garner.

“I was having a glass of wine with Jennifer in New York where she was doing press for 13 Going on 30. I said I was going to Calgary to this tiny town called Drumheller and Jen goes, ‘I’ve been to Drumheller!’ ”

Garner shot the Hallmark TV movie Rose Hill in 1996 here. “She said, ‘You’ll love it. It’s gorgeous there.’ “