Bittersweet role: Keri Russell won’t let tragedy overtake love of ‘Waitress’

From: The Boston Herald, 5/8/2007
by: Stephen Schaefer

A very pregnant Keri Russell struggled a bit as she sat down to talk about “Waitress” – the comedy-drama opening Friday in which she plays . . . wait for it . . . a pregnant waitress.

“I just came back from lunch and I need to snap to it,” she said with a laugh. “I have pregnancy brain.”

Finally settled in her seat, Russell reflected on actress and director Adrienne Shelly’s script for the story of Jenna, an unhappily married but brilliant pie-maker with an unwanted pregnancy.

“The thing about this script is that it’s the kind of movie that I love to go see. It feels like the movies that I love like ‘You Can Count on Me,’ where it’s not just funny. It’s serious just when you need it to be.

And true, sort of,” she said.

Shelly and Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) play Jenna’s fellow waitresses in a small-town diner owned by Andy Griffith.

The film is sweet and funny, but it has a tragic back story. Shelly, 40, was murdered in November after a bizarre altercation with an illegal immigrant working in the Greenwich Village building where she was editing the film.

Russell credits Shelly, who is survived by a husband and a 3-year-old daughter, with every frame of “Waitress.”

“More than any movie I’ve ever done,” said Russell (“Mission: Impossible 3,” “The Upside of Anger”), “Adrienne had a 100 percent control. . . . I mean, the jokes were exactly at the level she wanted, down to like, ‘How are you going to do that face? No, no, no. I don’t want you to do it like that.’

“This was her movie and she wrote the songs that I sing in it. She wrote everything. She chose the color of our outfits, the colors in the diner set – all of it. She was very, very involved.”

Shelly died just three weeks before “Waitress” was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, where it launched a bidding war before ultimately selling to Fox Searchlight for $5 million.

In light of Shelly’s death, how difficult is it for Russell to watch the film now?

“I get questioned all the time about what Adrienne would say about something and it’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ So it’s hard,” she said.

The tragedy was still very fresh when Russell and Hines sat through two screenings of the film at Sundance. Russell recalled, “During the second one, we said, ‘You know, we don’t have to get sad about this. Let’s try to enjoy this. It’s a happy movie.’ But as soon as that kid comes on at the end (Shelly’s daughter makes a cameo), it’s just like, ‘Jeez.’ It’s right there.”

She credits Shelly’s husband, Andy Ostroy, who has a small role in “Waitress,” with being “a great dad and a great husband. I’ve seen them and they’re doing the best that they can.”

Russell and husband Shane Deary are expecting their baby later this month.

“I’m very close to the end,” she said. “I’m having a great and really easy pregnancy, compared to my girlfriends. This is my first one.”