Interview: Keri Russell

From:, 5/2/2007
by: Jenny Karakaya

Better known as Felicity, the perky and pretty Mickey Mouse Club alum has validated herself as a credible actress by immersing into diverse roles highlighting her talents. Adding to a long list of TV and film credits, Kerri Russell most recently challenged her physical limits by choosing to accept the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III ‘assignment’. In the forthcoming film WAITRESS, Russell embodies a young, sweet, and unhappily, pregnant pie creator helplessly stuck in a miserable marriage.

Conceived, written, and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, WAITRESS is an uplifting and inspirational romantic comedy, which demonstrates the beauty of friendship and a strong bond shared between three women who help one another weather individual storms. Tragically, Shelley didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of her labor, which was received with great love at the Sundance Film Festival. As an homage to Shelley, a very pregnant Russell sat down with us last week to share her thoughts on making this unique film, on entering motherhood, working with a wonderful cast, baking pies and the life of WAITRESS after Shelley’s death.

That was my first time on Scrubs, yes. I had never done that.

What appealed to you about the character in Waitress?

Sorry, I just came back from lunch. I have to snap to it. I have pregnancy brain. OK, Jenna. Where am I? What planet am I on? The thing about this movie, when I was read the script, it’s the kind of movie that I love to go see. It feels like the movie…I loved 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. I just thought that Adrienne [Shelley] wrote a great character.

And it really was all on the page, very much. This movie, more than any movie I have ever done, Adrienne had 100 percent control over. She wrote it, directed it, and acted in it. I mean, the jokes were EXACTLY the level she wanted, down to ‘How are you going to do that face? Nnnn-nnah, I don’t want you to do it like that.’ And I’d be like, ‘Jesus Christ.’ This was her movie. She wrote the songs that I sing in it. She wrote everything. She chose the color of our outfits, the diner set, all of it. She was very, very involved.

Did you learn how to bake a pie?

We shot the movie in 20 days. Come on, there wasn’t a lot of pie-baking going on. But we always had pies around. We ate two different pies every day for lunch.

How much weight did you gain doing the movie?

I don’t know. Working those hours, not much. We literally shot the movie in 20 days.

But you baked a little?

A little bit, a little bit. You know, cookies, easy stuff. Pies are a specific thing. The crust is a whole delicacy. It’s got to be cold. There’s a whole art to it and spending so much time on the road, as you do on location, in different cities and hotel rooms, there’s not a lot of time for cooking, especially when you’re shooting nights or until 11 o’clock at night and you come home and you eat a bowl of cereal. You’re not going to be cooking a pie. So now, maybe that I’m home a little bit more maybe I will.

This character is a smart woman who gives us her real thoughts in the voiceover narration, but she’s in marriage that makes you wonder why she’s there. Why doesn’t she just walk out?

I don’t think it’s that uncommon of a story. Yeah, it looks really horrible up on screen, but I don’t think it’s that uncommon. There are a lot of people in relationships who, you wake up and you’re like, ‘Wow, how did I end up here? Why am I still here and not satisfied?’ And I think she doesn’t have much self-esteem. Being poor is an issue. And it’s an issue for women. She’s a waitress. It’s not like she has a ton of money and a lot of options.

She doesn’t really have anywhere to go and she has no family. I think when you don’t have self-esteem it’s hard to see your way out of something bad like that. And I think what Adrienne also did really well in this movie is the bad guy, the bad husband is awful, but he’s not this monster. I think in that scene towards the end you see how weak he is, how pathetic he is. Clearly there’s something in that pathetic quality that Jenna danced with. She was part of that, as a lot of women are.

How realistic do you think Jenna’s relationship with the gorgeous doctor is?

How realistic? It is a fantasy, but I think it’s totally realistic. It’s this catalyst to change her life, which I think is realistic. And I love how not sexy it is, how they’re both so awkward and carnal and just like… embarrassing.

How was it to work with Andy Griffith?

He’s so great. He’s just a dream. He’s just a beautiful man and so professional. I think he had more to say, script-wise, than anyone else, and when you’re older it’s not easy to memorize. He talked about that. He said, ‘It’s really hard to memorize lines and everything now. I have to really work on it.’ And he was a dream. He knew his lines better than anyone else. And dancing with him… And the part, it’s such a great part because at that point in the movie you SO want to hear someone say that to her, like, ‘You’re great.’

What was it like working with Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelley?

I loved Cheryl so much and had so much fun with her. We would be having so much fun off set, like telling stories, and they’d say, ‘Well, we’ve got to shoot,’ and we’d say, ‘But Cheryl’s not done with her story! (She then whispers): Just keep talking. Just keep talking.’ A lot of times we’d sit around, Adrienne, Cheryl, and I, and talk about motherhood, babies, and things like that. So I love them both, and I think that’s part of the film that is very real, the relationship with the women. It’s something that I have in my life and, specifically, what I think southern women do real well is, even if their life at home isn’t so great, they really have in-depth, romantic almost relationships with these women in their lives who are kind of more of an emotional connection for them than what’s at home.

What has it been like for you to promote the film without Adrienne Shelly?

It’s definitely a unique situation that we’re in. And, yeah, it is difficult not having our ringleader, not having our main person here. I get questions all the time, ‘What would Adrienne say about…’ And it’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t know what she would say. So it’s hard.

Your experience of impending motherhood is obviously so different from your character’s in terms of being happy…

Yeah, it is very different, although I find her experience totally refreshing and fun, too. But, no, my experience is very different.

How are you enjoying being pregnant?

I’m having a great, really easy one compared to my girlfriends’. This is my first.

Have you spent much time with Adrienne’s child since the tragedy?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I have seen her. And she’s in the movie. I’ve seen her and Andy, thank God, is a great dad and a great husband. They’re doing the best they can.

Were you inspired by this movie (to get pregnant)?

Well, I think it’s just my age. I’m at that age. I’m in my ‘30s and that’s when people are having their kids.

How do you think you’ll carry on your career after your child is born?

Who knows? I don’t know. I find it fascinating how people can do it, do both. It seems impossible to me right now, but I watch my girlfriends do it. They do it. We’ll see how it all goes.

What can you tell us about August Rush, which is you with Freddie Highmore.

Freddie, who’s so great in it. That comes out this fall. I play a young cellist, like a prodigy, who is touring and doing concerts. Basically, the story is that she’s very young and she has a one-night fling with this Irish rocker, who is Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who is also a really talented musician. So two musicians have this one-night stand, never see each other again, and she gets pregnant. Believe me, I’m typecast as the young, pregnant mother. I don’t know what it is in my face that screams that. My last four jobs, I think, I’ve been pregnant.

In Into the West?

Into the West, I was pregnant, but then there was some other TV thing with Skeet Ulrich… God, why can’t I remember? Anyway, that whole thing was being pregnant. And the last movie I just finished with Sigourney Weaver, I was pregnant. That’s called The Girl in the Park.

And August Rush?

The dad, my dad, who is kind of in control of my career and everything, lies to me, basically. I get in this accident and he tells me that the baby has died, and he gives the baby up for adoption. So I live the next continuing years obviously not very fulfilled and depressed. Basically it’s the story of this little orphan boy who runs away from this orphanage. It’s kind of like a fairy tale Oliver with music, and he goes in search of his parents. It’s really beautiful and sweet and Terrence Howard plays a really great part in it. They got great people. It’s shot in New York and it uses New York really well. It’s like a big, sweeping, beautiful movie.

Having started your career at such a young age are you still as passionate and wholehearted about performing and would you condone your kids to act?

I think I’m probably more passionate about it now than I was a kid. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing. I think the first time I realized I was acting was during Felicity. I think I was just going along for the ride. They were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and I was like, ‘Sure.’ I don’t think, as a 15-year-old, that you… maybe you do, I don’t know… think, ‘I’m a serious actor.’ I never studied acting or anything when I was that age. So I think I’m more serious about it now, or more conscious of it, I’d say. And, no, I wouldn’t let my kid do it.

Do you think motherhood will affect your choices in movie roles in the future? Some actors take into account what their own kids will be watch of their work later on.

I have no idea. I have no idea. It would easy for me to say, ‘No, I’m not going to change.’ But I’m sure you change to some degree.

What do you think WAITRESS says about and to women?

That’s interesting that you say that because watching it for the first time at Sundance… you make a movie and you have a whole experience making it. I wouldn’t say that my experience making it was necessarily uplifting, but watching it with an audience, I was surprised at how hopeful it was at the end. And really, it was sort of a story about believing in yourself ultimately, and caring enough about yourself that you say, ‘I deserve to have a great life and I deserve better than this,’ which I think is a really common story. So, yeah, I do think it speaks to that for women, and it was surprising to see it for the first time as a movie all put together with music. I really saw that and I liked that.

Given the circumstances with Adrienne Shelley, is it hard to watch the movie without getting emotional for reasons other than what’s on screen?

Yeah, it is weird. Cheryl and I sat through two screenings at Sundance and the second one we kind of said, ‘You know, we don’t have to get sad about this. Let’s try to enjoy this one. Let’s see it. It’s just a happy movie.’ But as soon as that kid comes on at the end, it’s just like, ‘Jeez.’ It’s right there. So it’s pretty weird. It’s a weird situation.