A panoply of eccentric biographical data RE: TV’s most apple-cheeked K.G.B. spy.
From: Vanity Fair February, 2014
by: Sarah Ball
Keri Russell is as preposterously all-American as she looks. Raised out West, the ex-Mouseketeer and Golden Globe-winning sweetheart of J. J. Abrams’s early-aughts, cult-favorite soap, Felicity, is today a mom who reads food blogs and makes sea-salt caramels for her kids. It’s precisely that freshness that gives edge to her Nadezhda, cover name Elizabeth Jennings—a ruthless and hard-boiled K.G.B. double agent on FX’s The Americans, set in Reagan-era D.C. (It is the brainchild of former C.I.A. officer Joe Weisberg, brother of Slate’s Jacob.) Earning two Emmy nominations after its first season—the second debuts next month—the drama drew raves for its complex portrait of a sham marriage, posing the eternal question: When two agents are “spouses,” can they remain emotionally unentangled? Offscreen, Russell is a sunny, self-effacing goof who finds the role thrilling, even as her six-year-old remains dubious about Mom’s foe-vanquishing abilities. Herewith, the details of her day, in her own words.
LOVE FOR her two children is nearly surpassed by an adoration for her bicycle. It’s an original black Gazelle, one shipped by tanker from the Netherlands after she fell in love with a Dutch neighbor’s model “four or five years ago.” She loves its pert upright seat, putty-colored tires, and snaking chrome handlebars with both bell and headlight, but she’s in thrall mostly to its heft. She can often be seen peddling around Brooklyn, carrying her six-year-old son, River, or several canvas bags of produce.
“THE WORST, ” in her view, is that she now has to quash her famous waves beneath a bike helmet, a precaution ignored until “I did, uh, sort of get hit by a car the other day.” It robs her of one of her most favorite feelings: “the wind in your hair!”
SHE MAKES a mean roast chicken.
SHE LOVES second-day eyeliner, slept on and smudged, for the implied rebellion, “showing up to school like the mom who’s been out too late.”
SHE IS a Brooklynite “for now,” but—raised in Texas, Arizona, and Colorado—she thinks wistfully about “big sky.” She misses the feeling of “driving toward open horizon.”
SHE ALWAYS, always takes the stairs.
SHE IS a coffee snob (cappuccinos from Van Leeuwen on Bergen Street) and a beer snob: if you can’t get her the California-brewed I.P.A. Racer 5, she’ll settle for Sierra Nevada.
HER UNGODLY shooting hours—she’s picked up at 4:30 A.M.—mean no mornings with the kids, so she scribbles them notes for their breakfast places: for kindergartner River, a mind-teasing quiz or puzzle; for Willa, aged two, whose sweetly unformed baby shape has earned her the nickname “Squishy,” it’s “just, like, heart stickers.”
SHE RESIDES in a Boerum Hill brownstone—with old, wide-planked floors—an erstwhile site of her own Winter Games. The family transformed the backyard into a tiny skating pond one year, edging it in lumber and flooding it with a hose on a freezing winter night. They scraped and smoothed it out before nailing a homemade sign at its entrance: RIVER’S ICE RINK. The thrilled neighborhood kids swarmed with uncanny speed, toting their hockey masks.
SHE LIVES in denim and chambray, boyfriend sweaters and scuffed boots, arranged in a combination she changes “once a month.”
IT’S THE “feet smell” of Parmesan cheese that gives her the willies.
SHE’S “SO into” the concept of a “fierce” forearm tattoo: specifically, a raven carrying a skull. River applied a temporary one (“He’s very steady”), and she wore it for as long as it would stay on, balking whenever the show’s makeup artists tried to remove it. (It’s under her sleeves for some scenes in this season of The Americans.)
SHE’LL COP to falling asleep without brushing her teeth from time to time—but cannot commence cooking unless the counters are spotless. (She cleans before she cooks.)
THE SEX scenes for The Americans—among television’s steamier—are often uncomfortable, thematically flirting with violence and prostitution as Elizabeth (a rape victim) calculatedly ferrets out secrets; they’re typically filmed at “some cheap-y hotel in Staten Island at nine A.M.” Russell gets through them in one way: “There is no way this is going to happen unless there is a beer had. Are you serious?! Hello, stranger!”
A SUMMER in an English farmhouse, rented in Buckinghamshire while she filmed the satire Austenland—pregnant in a corset, we’ll add—has impressed its stamp upon the family: “River still calls a grilled cheese a ‘cheese toastie.’ ”
SPY LIFE would ultimately do her in, though not for its violence, nor the outré exchange of sex for dossiers. “It’s all the wig changes,” she says. “It’s too much work.” And you can’t feel the wind in your hair.