Seventeen (interview)

From: Seventeen , April, 2002
by: Dina Sansing

After four years of playing a confused coed with nonstop guy troubles on the WB’s hit Felicity , is Keri Russell ready for the real world?

Keri Russell insists she’s not a replica of the angsty college senior she plays on television. Need proof? “I got kicked out of the Playboy Mansion;” she says, laughing. Well that certainly qualifies as very un-Felicity- like behavior. We definitely didn’t peg this self-described homebody-who claims she’s always the first of her friends to go to bed- as the type to party at Hugh Hefner’s infamous pad. Last New Year’s Eve, Keri and a friend decided to stop by a Playmate-and- rock-star-infested party there. Hey, why not? When they didn’t show up in dress code- either fancy gowns or skimpy lingerie- they were chewed out by one of Hef’s assistants. “She told us we looked like we came right from the beach!” says Keri. “I don’t think they’ll be asking me back.” Seventeen loves a girl who gets booted from the Playboy Mansion for not being slutty.

Keri Russell on the cover of the April, 2002 issue of Seventeen magazine.
Keri Russell on the cover of the April, 2002 issue of Seventeen magazine.

Her TV alter ego is no longer the naive University of New York student she once was, either. Over four seasons, we’ve watched Felicity evolve from an avowed virgin and shy freshman-who expressed her deepest thoughts into a tape recorder- into a talented painter and self-assured senior. It’s not that she’s become totally immune to a few slipups now and then: Remember those steamy moments with Noel on the rooftop last season, or the time she got into a game of strip-Ping-Pong at a frat house? Even Keri admits that the fickle Felicity has learned some much- needed life lessons. “In the beginning Felicity was socially inept,” she says. “She’s getting things more now.”

But is Felicity the only one who’s grown up? After hearing about Keri’s New Year’s Eve antics, we’re ready to bet that the 25- year-old actress is a whole lot maturer than the girl who first appeared on the cover of Seventeen in 1998. Of course, back then she hadn’t yet earned a Golden Globe for Best Actress or experienced pushy paparazzi hiding in the bushes. She also hadn’t dated-and broken up with-her Felicity costar Scott Speedman or dealt with nasty public criticism after chopping off her curly locks. As the show winds down its fourth-and possibly last-season, Keri appears to have metamorphosed into a risk-taking actress.

When we meet Keri at our cover shoot, she’s not the reserved starlet we expected. She fearlessly rides a mechanical bull and isn’t afraid to get dirty and roll around in the grass. The next day at her local Starbucks, Keri doesn’t even notice the curious glances she gets from other caffeine addicts as she walks through the door. Wearing worn-in jeans, a white cardigan, flip-flops and yellow-tinted shades that look like they belong on a member of Weezer, Keri seems more like the college kid she plays on TV than a Hollywood star. She greets us with a warm smile and heads straight for the counter to order her standby-a tall latte with no foam. It’s not even noon, but this is actually Keri’s second trip to the coffee chain this morning. “A 5:30 A.M. pit stop here has become part of my morning ritual,” she says.

Then she usually drives off to the Felicity set-for 14 hours of work-in her steel- blue BMW SUV. Her fancy wheels are a clear sign that Keri’s a bit better-off than Felicity, who entered a beauty pageant this season hoping to earn enough money for her college tuition. But Keri doesn’t strike us as the high-maintenance, materialistic type. “This is the first nice thing I’ve bought and I just got it this year!” Keri says as we check out her car. “I used to drive a black pickup truck, which I loved but my brother needed it so I gave it to him. My first two weeks of driving this car, I was too embarrassed to show my friends. I would park really far away and walk so they wouldn’t see it. It’s much cooler not to have money.” Easy for her to say! Before we gag, she tells us she hasn’t ditched her small pad for a huge place in Beverly Hills. In fact, Keri still lives in the same apartment she rented nearly nine years ago when she first arrived in Los Angeles. That may change soon, though. “I’ve been getting pressure to move from my friends,” she adds. “I ‘ think they want to have a nice house to hang out in.” She probably does, too.

HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL

If Keri seems ill at ease with her newfound wealth and fame, it’s because the slender 5’4″ star insists she was never the popular kid in school and never expected to be so successful. We’re skeptical. It’s hard to imagine her as anything but the homecoming queen, what with her piercing green eyes, long, flowing hair and gorgeous face-even without a trace of makeup. But Keri never spent enough time in any one school to really click with a group of friends. Her dad was an automotive executive who was transferred a lot, taking the family from Arizona to Colorado, and briefly to Texas. “One girl spit on me because I was the new kid in school,” she recalls. “But mostly, I was pretty normal-not excessively popular. I definitely wasn’t a hottie, big-boobed cheerleader. It didn’t help that I looked 12 years old the entire four years.” So did her high school years, when she could only dream of dating the cutest guy in class, prepare her for the role of Felicity? Perhaps, she says, but Keri was never as impulsive as Felicity was when she followed her crush across the country to New York. “A guy would have to be really good for me to do something like that,” she says. Instead of spending her days chasing school studs, Keri focused on dancing- she’s an expert in jazz, modern and ballet- a hobby she began at age 12 and continued until her TV career kicked into high gear. “When things weren’t always perfect at school, it was a big help for me to have something I was really good at,” she says.

Dancing also led to her start in showbiz. At 15, Keri was spotted practicing in a dance studio by a modeling scout. Her modeling career lasted about a day, but she showed more enthusiasm for acting. Two years and countless auditions later, she became a regular dancer on the All New Mickey Mouse Club, the famous early stomping ground for Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez, who was her best friend when she was 17 (Keri still keeps in touch with him). “I used to be really embarrassed about being a Mouseketeer,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Now it’s so much fan to watch everyone doing these really great things. But we were so geeky back then.”

After three years as a Mouseketeer, Keri decided to leave Orlando-where the program was filmed-and head for Hollywood where she had lined up auditions for a few films. She soon scored a string of parts in B-list movies like Honey, I Blew Up the Kid , The Curve and the failed nighttime soap Malibu Shores . “I was lucky enough to continue working,” she says. “I wasn’t as selective of the parts I went for as I am today. Now I get much more disappointed when I’m rejected but back then it was like, ‘This movie shoots in Ireland? OK, I’ll try for it.'” Then in 1998, Felicity came along and Keri snagged the role of the introspective and boy-crazed undergrad.

“In the beginning, it was about a boy not paying attention to her,” says Keri about her character. “And at that age-well, it’s still like that for me sometimes-being ignored by a boy is the end of the world.” Keri also credits the show for its true- to-life handling of Felicity’s first time. “I thought the way she lost her virginity was incredibly realistic,” she says. “Noel wasn’t really her boyfriend, but her deepest emotional relationship was with him. She was nervous and had hang-ups, but she got over them and tried it.”

Once Felicity became the center of a love triangle, Keri stopped relating to her as much: “Now she has everything-two great guys consistently vying for her attention, plus she’s smart and talented.” So does Keri ever feel like smacking her constantly-in-turmoil character and telling her to stop complaining about that perfect existence? “Yes, all the time!” she exclaims.

LOVE UNDER LOCK AND KEY

Maybe that’s because Keri’s love life hasn’t been quite as exciting as Felicity’s. Unless you’ve completely avoided tabloids and magazines, you know that Keri fell for her costar Scott Speedman (aka Felicity’s current beau, Ben Covington) in real life. Though the pair never even went public with their yearlong relationship, they have admitted to breaking up sometime in 2001. Most of the juicy details have remained under wraps, largely because Keri hates discussing her romances with anyone holding a tape recorder or reporter’s notebook. “I don’t think it’s healthy to talk about your relationships,” she says as we begin prying. “Dating is hard enough as it is, let alone with thousands of people judging you.” That’s probably true, but we’re not about to let her off that easy.

How is it working with her ex? “He’s great,” she says, smiling. “We’re still good friends. We laugh so hard together, and we talk all the time.” C’mon, but doesn’t it totally suck still having to kiss him? “It can be complicated and tricky, but we really are friends,” she says. Hmmm … it looks as if we won’t be getting any real dirt from Keri. Still, we take one last stab. Has the experience taught her not to date other cast members, at least while the show is still on the air? The second those words leave our lips, Keri lets out a big laugh. “Possibly… possibly … possibly,” she says. It looks as if we finally hit on something.

Since breaking up with Scott, Keri hasn’t hooked up with any major Hollywood names. In fact, it’s the first time in years she’s been without a guy for an extended period of time. Like Felicity, whose struggle to choose between Ben and Noel ironically kept her mostly off the market, Keri hasn’t been that available, either. Before Scott, she lived with musician and fellow Mouseketeer Tony Lucca.

How is it being guy-free? She insists she’s happy, and we actually believe her. When she’s not eating solo at a sushi restaurant-something she does often and finds relaxing-she’s probably at home reading. (She’s currently halfway through Kurt Vonnegut’s short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House.) Keri also loves to cruise in her Beemer on Saturday mornings, drinking a latte and listening to her favorite public radio show, NPR’s This American Life. Last summer she left friends and family behind for a one-woman road trip through Georgia. Though Keri relishes her independence, she’s still leaving room for a new guy-even if she needs to brush up on her flirting techniques. “It’s becoming apparent now that I have no dating skills,” she says.

“I didn’t go to college, and I think a lot of that stuff is learned there,” she says. “I was thrown into this adult working world very early. I haven’t really dated. I don’t even know where to meet guys. When I’m meant to be with someone, he’ll find me.” It’s hard to believe that someone bold enough to be on TV is really shy, but Keri swears it’s true. “I’m self-conscious unless I know people well,” she says. So what kind of guy brings her out of her shell? “I like funny, smart and cool,” says Keri. “My friends make fun of my taste all the time. I think Viggo Mortensen [of The Lord of the Rings ] is really hot.”

A FAREWELL TO FELICITY

Keri’s real passion at the moment isn’t men, it’s acting. And with all the rumors circulating that Felicity is about to end (one unidentified cast member even told reporters they’d been informed the show will not be returning next fall), what will that mean for Keri? Clearly, not the end of the world. You can already catch a glimpse of her in Mel Gibson’s new movie, We Were Soldiers . (We just wish she’d had a bigger part.) Though she’ll neither deny nor confirm the gossip about the show, she’s excited at the prospect of new roles. “I’ve been doing Felicity for four years,” she says. “It’s easy to get lazy. If you had to interview me straight for that long, you’d say, ‘Enough Keri, already!'” We beg to differ. Last time the show was rumored to be ending, distressed fans sent in locks of their hair in protest. Keri seems cool with whatever the outcome will be. She may not know exactly what’s ahead, but one thing’s clear: She’s ready for her next adventure, though we doubt it’ll involve playing strip- Ping-Pong or heading back to Hef’s in nothing but a feathered boa.

 

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