From: Instyle Magazine Makeover Summer, 2000
Recently, when Keri Russell,the star of the WB network’s show Felicity, and Hilary Swank, the best actress Oscar winner for Boys Don’t Cry, got together for breakfast, they had plenty to talk about. It wasn’t just that the two of them are hot young Hollywood actresses, or that they happen to be neighbors in Los Angeles. There was another major life-defining experience they shared. “We were sitting there,” says Russell, 24, “and we were both laughing so hard— about our hair. Because Hilary’s hair is really short too. We are both growing out. We were laughing and asking, ‘Is yours growing? Oh, it looks good, it looks good. I just like it better when it’s, ahhh, a little longer.’ ”
“Growing out.” It’s an interesting phrase for that period of transformation and recalibration of self that inevitably accompanies any drastic change. Anyone who has been bold enough to undertake such a change knows that the experience is one of give and take, a process of sorting through one’s internal reactions along with all the reviews that come sailing forth from the world at large. In Russell’s case, the Big Cut took place on national TV—during a scene last fall in which Felicity, the earnest and sensitive University of New York student Russell portrays, decides to lop off her trademark long curls. Public response amounted to hair-steria. Fans e-mailed their thumbs- down to Felicity web sites; people who otherwise wouldn’t know hair mousse from chocolate mousse were suddenly debating whether or not the cut was a mistake. When ratings for the show dropped shortly thereafter, a WB executive was quoted as saying, “Nobody is cutting their hair again on our network.”
Arguably more dramatic than all the hoopla, however, is the vision of Russell herself today as she sits in an L.A. cafe, laughing and talking about life after the radical trim. More poised and luminescent than ever, it seems clear that for Russell the process of growing out has coincided with one of growing up.
“It has been so good for me,” says Russell as she runs her fingers through her gentle halo of cropped curls—the shortest haircut she’s ever had. “It’s such a freeing thing, because I’ve had hair down to my bum since I was 15. I thought people might be a little weird about it at first, since my hair was such a big part of my persona. I did feel exposed, after all those years of having huge hair to hide in. But I also felt like suddenly I had good posture, and I wanted to wear different clothes. I felt much more aware of everything. It has definitely been interesting. I’m so glad I did it. So glad. No matter what anybody says.”
Although Felicity’s hair was supposedly cut onscreen at Astor Place salon in New York (in a fit of self-definition after a breakup), Russell’s real shearing took place in L.A. “We shot until 3:30 A.M. on a Friday,” says Russell, “and I had to be in the salon at 9 A.M. Saturday. I was so tired I just sat in the chair. The guy who cut it [Philip Carreon of Estilo salon] made no bones about it. They put it in a big long braid and—” she makes a chopping motion. “It was not at all traumatic as it was happening. But I have a horrible habit of not reacting when people want me to. If I know people are watching I’m just like, ‘Oh no, everything’s fine.’ I was calm. No big deal. I was so exhausted I went home and slept the whole day.” For Russell, adjusting to her new cut has taken place on two levels, both for her and her character. “I didn’t think it was a mistake for me, but when people ask me if I think it was a mistake for Felicity, I say, ‘Well, but that’s part of it.’ That’s what college girls do. They cut their hair and then they go, ‘Oh my God! Why did I cut my hair? I’m so stupid! I hate it!’ I wanted my hair to look ugly at times. This show is not about a girl who is perfect and pretty. It’s about someone who is figuring things out, a girl who is vulnerable and making mistakes.”
Although she’s older than the sophomore she plays, Russell is also still busy figuring things out, both personally and professionally. After sharing a home with longtime beau Tony Lucca, an actor and musician, Russell is living solo. “It’s time to grow as an individual. I don’t want to be married right now. I’m young. I’m really happy in the not-knowing. It’s a very alive, awake feeling. I love my life. I’m so thankful for it.” Though rumor has it she is romantically linked to co-star Scott Speedman, Russell says, “There’s no one particularly special now—or no one I’m willing to show up at events with yet. Let’s put it that way.”
Success has created new opportunities for Russell professionally, but she remains refreshingly grounded. “I see so many actors my age who are not enjoying their lives,” she says. “I want to enjoy mine.” Mad About Mambo, a film the actress shot in Ireland two years ago, comes out this summer. “I want to find the next film project that challenges me and is still acceptable to my idealism,” she says. “I really hope I find it.”
Russell resists with charming self-deprecation the notion that her willingness to cut off her hair is proof that she is perhaps brave, or a risk taker. “It was brave of the executive producers,” she insists, referring to Felicity creators J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves. (They actually got the idea from a joke Russell played on them the summer after the first season, in which she sent Polaroids of herself in a “little boy’s bundt wig” and pretended she’d cut her hair.) But Russell’s history suggests that the cut was not the first chance she’s ever taken.
When Russell was 15, she was cast on The All New Mickey Mouse Club (along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and ‘N Sync’s Justin Timberlake and J.C. Chasez) and began spending half the year away from her family back home in Highlands Ranch, Colo. At 17 she moved alone to L.A. to pursue an acting career. “I guess I don’t think of those choices as risks,” she says, casting her gray-green eyes downward in one of those slow, thoughtful glances she executes so devastatingly as Felicity. “I think of them as survival. I do what I have to do to stay happy and interested, to stay real to me. Although I guess I have been pretty independent,” she concedes, “I’m definitely a loner at times.”
On breaks in her grueling shoot schedule, Russell likes to read, hike or walk—often by herself. Also, “music is one of my favorite things,” says Russell, who trained in her teens to be a dancer. “I dance in my trailer—just put on some groovy music and rock out.” Massage is another favorite relaxation activity, as is travel. “Sounds like a very nice, expensive life, right?” says Russell, making fun of herself. “Learning. That’s all I really care about. I never went to college, and I think that’s part of where that [urge] comes from.”
Of course, there’s the inevitable question people want to ask Russell: Will she grow her hair back to its original length? “I don’t know if my hair will be way down to here again,” she says, motioning to her waist. “But I’d like it to be wild and crazy again. Every so often it gets windy and I miss that like, oooh.”
Although she has downplayed her appetite for risk, Russell pauses and considers the idea again. “I just hope I continue taking them, and don’t live out of fear,” she says. “That would be a horrible thing, making choices because they are safe. I just want to be sure I’m still living my life and enjoying my life—and still learning. I admire people who hold on to a sense of wonder about life. They stand out. We need them.”
Keri Russell, long hair or short, seems on her way to becoming such a treasure.
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