Q&A with Keri Russell of ‘Dark Skies’

From: Parallel Universe 2/19/2013

Actress Keri Russell (TV’s “Felicity,” the films “Waitress,” “Mission: Impossible III”) returns to the big screen this week in “Dark Skies,” playing a suburban mom whose world is rocked by a passel of spooky extraterrestrials who take up residence in her house and take a particular interest in her two young boys. MSN Movies talked to the actress about the movie.

MSN Movies: Depending on whether one counts “Mission: Impossible III” as a genre film, “Dark Skies” is the first genre movie you’ve made. What attracted you to it?

Keri Russell: I’d say, definitely it is my first genre movie. As is often the case, it was the script that got me. You read so many scripts in a week, and I read this one and I thought, “That’s gonna work. I know it’s gonna work.” Even though I’d never done, as you say, a genre film before. The thing that stood out, what [writer-director] Scott Stewart did, was create the story of a family. Which is what was prominent in a movie like “Poltergeist,” too. And it was a family you believed in; the script gave them a credibility that meant you were invested in the characters, in this family, before the unexplainable things started happening to them. All the outside forces that are pressuring them before the alien element sets in: the dad losing his job, missing the payments on the mortgage, the parents starting to fight, the kids starting to explore sexuality, the outside forces of friends the parents don’t like, all of those aspects felt so real. And totally relatable. And then … the scary stuff starts happening!

There are quite a few scenes, after the family sets up security cameras all over the house, where the audience sees speeded-up real-time footage of the characters sleeping, making up beds, all sorts of everyday things. Did you have to enact them that way?

We did do a lot of the video camera-type stuff. But we shot almost the entire movie over the course of a month, and most of it in the house in which it’s set. It was a very bare-bones, go-for-it kind of production. I do find, that when you’re acting scared, in a state of panic, you’re in a complete state of alert, and it’s really exhausting. During the scenes when the various catastrophes are happening to the family, I kept thinking of Hurricane Katrina, in a way, and of what, as a parent — knowing something so beyond your control is headed your way, and knowing maybe you’re not going to be able to protect your kids, you’re going to do everything that you can for the people you’re supposed to take care of. But there’s a hopelessness, and a heartbreak, that comes from knowing you might not be able to, despite your best efforts. So that’s something I thought about a lot.

Is that something you think about a lot outside of the world of the movie, or the movies?

Sure. There’s this scene in the movie where the doctor says, “We found these weird marks on your kid,” and it’s such a powerful scene that, as a parent, it’s your worst fear, because, among other things, you’re thinking, “Where was I?” The idea that this has happened on your watch and this has happened in some way? Yeah, as a mother, that really resonated.

This movie depicts the suburbs as a pretty brittle place, where any deviations from a certain norm are answered with disapprobation and a kind of shutting out. What was it like depicting someone at the receiving end of that?

It’s scary. I think it works; I like the idea of the isolation. Going through something and feeling isolated only amplifies it, as does feeling you can’t be honest about things. And the feeling that no one is going to believe you, it’s a terrifying place to be. That’s what made the character of the alien expert my character seeks out, who’s played by J.K. Simmons, so interesting. All of the choices he made, right down to the clothes he wore. He plays a person who’s been confronting the alien presence for years, and I loved that he played him so real. He didn’t play him like some creepy weird dude, he played him as someone who was so beaten down by the truth. The reality. Which I loved, and made it so much scarier: He’s so resigned to it. So “this is how it is.” You could see that kind of character a million different ways, more manic, but he was so … still.

There are parts of this film that are going to be seen as derivative, but it also takes risks in terms of ambiguity and leaving the audience with questions.

I like that. It is kind of daring, but I think it really works. It leaves things sort of untied, but I guess that’s the point.