From: Seventeen October, 1998
by: Sarah Goldsmith
While talking to actress Keri Russell over cafe latte (she drinks it with whole milk) in her New York City hotel room, there’s no indication of the buzz she has created. Russell, 22, who plays the title role in Felicity, the new coming-of-age drama on the WB, has Hollywood insiders calling her the breakout star of this year’s television season. Unlike most actresses, who would bask in the spotlight, Russell is unfazed. “It’s really sweet,” she says calmly, her voice betraying no sign of sarcasm. She actually thought she bombed at her audition. “You go into this tiny room and there are literally twenty-five people in there, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, right, I can do this,'” she says, breaking into laughter.
Although Russell says she was “so bad,” J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, the show’s creators, disagree. “She came in the room, and we just knew,” says Reeves. “She was the first one who read the part as funny,” adds Abrams.
But something did almost stand between Russell and Felicity Porter. “The script called for a wallflower type,” Russell explains, almost apologetically. “Our only concern was that she was too beautiful,” Abrams admits.
She is a stunner, even with a major case of jet lag (Russell flew in for the Seventeen shoot from Ireland, where she was playing an Irish dancer in the film Mad About Mambo). Russell has a full head of curly brownish-gold hair, petite features and warm gray eyes that jump out at you. She’s dressed down in faded, tight-fitting Levi’s and a plain tank. She wears no makeup and says she’s not the type to diva herself up. I don’t own any Versace, and my beauty regimen con- sists of soap,” she says.
Her character has a similar lack of vanity. Felicity dons a traditional nonglam college wardrobe (“She wears these great big sweaters,” Russell says), but inside her burns an impulsive heart that, in the series pilot, drives her to make a bold, life-changing decision: She ditches a premed program at Stanford University to follow her crush, Ben Covington (Scott Speedman), a fellow high school student she barely knows, to New York City, infuriating her parents and complicating her own life. Russell defends Felicity’s romantic whim. “I think everyone has done something like that to a degree,” she says. But would she do the same thing? “Yes, I think I would,” she admits, without elaborating.
Her trajectory from a childhood in Mesa, Arizona, and Denver to a thriving Hollywood career was a slow, trying process. At 15, Russell caught the eye of a photographer who persuaded her to model—it wasn’t her thing. Then a talent scout spotted her, and she was cast as a regular on the Disney Channel’s All New Mickey Mouse Club, followed by her first feature film, Honey, I Blew up the Kid. She then starred as Chloe, a wealthy high school student, on the defunct show Malibu Shores. She also worked on made-for-television movies, most notably as the babysitter in NBC’s twisted thriller The Babysitter’s Seduction with Stephen Collins, who recognized her as a rising talent back then: “It was so clear to me that she was someone who was going to be a star,” he says. “At nineteen she was already one of the most seasoned pros in the business.”
Now it seems as if she’s intent upon taking her career to an even higher level. “I’m truly proud of the work I’ve done on Felicity,” she says. “My entire set of professional standards has changed dramatically. I have experienced this great thing, and I can’t go back to [acting] the old way.” With three costarring roles in upcoming films under her belt (in addition to Mad About Mambo, there’s The Curve with Matthew Lillard and Eight Days a Week), she may not have to.
Russell remains discreet about her private life but will admit to a special someone whom she refers to as her best friend. Although she has lived in Los Angeles for the past six years (with her cat, Nala), her life is fairly low-key. “My life is so boring; I’m in bed by ten-thirty every night,” she says. If she doesn’t play any Hollywood nightclub schmoozing games, perhaps it’s because she’s not looking to manipulate the system. “I never dreamed of being an actress,” she says. “My parents are just normal, and my brother and sister have nothing to do with film or television.” When asked how she’ll feel if she’s not in the business 10 years from now, Russell quickly replies, “Oh, God, no, I won’t be devastated if I’m not in the business in two years. I really want to travel around the world and take interesting pictures.” Russell has always been interested in photography and began to do it seriously about three years ago, when she bought her current camera, “I mean, that’s really what I do anyway,” she adds. “I take jobs depending on where they shoot and bring my camera along.”
Lucky for us, Felicity shoots in Los Angeles—a city with no shortage of photo ops.
See the pictures