Just a regular gal; Keri Russell doesn’t do Hollywood trappings

From: The Chicago Sun-Times, 11/24/2007
by: Donna Freydkin

Those close to Keri Russell joke that the actress needs a crash course in actress attitude.

Russell finds cleaning her house “therapeutic,” does her own wash and buys her own clothes. Her bag isn’t a Balenciaga but an off- white cotton satchel emblazoned with “Certified Organic Mom.”

And because she doesn’t have a nanny, when she needs to leave 5- month-old son River at home to fulfill her press duties, her mother flies in from Texas to baby-sit. That’s the case as she does interviews to promote “August Rush,” now in theaters.

“I want to raise my kid. I was totally being a martyr at first, thinking I could totally do it on my own. And I did, for a while,” says Russell, 31, who finally hired a sitter a few weeks ago so she and her husband could go out for a night.

As far as a full-time caretaker goes, “for a control freak like me, it ain’t going to happen.”

She and her carpenter husband, Shane Deary, live in Brooklyn, where they’re renovating a brownstone themselves, and like most appliance-deprived New Yorkers, she dreams of having her own laundry room. The two were married on Valentine’s Day, and son River Russell was born June 9 in New York. While she does interviews, Deary “is making our house,” Russell says, literally rebuilding the roof. “It is soooo hot. He can fix anything. He has great ideas.”

She’s a bit out of her element, sporting a full face of makeup and walking around in teetering stilettos, not the cozy moccasins she wears most of the time. Russell points to the sleek, black, wide- leg slacks she has on.

“They’re beautiful, but I could never buy these pants. It’s just not worth it. I would splurge on a great pair of high heels, because you can wear them to something fancy, but regular clothes? I’d rather go on a trip than spend $10,000 on clothes, and fly first class as a treat.”

Over a breakfast of eggs, bacon and wheat toast, Russell apologetically concedes that for her press duties, she did enlist help to pick out ensembles for her television appearances.

In her case, the clothes don’t make the woman. The key to her cheerful demeanor? “I’m just happy,” she says.

But on screen, she happily plays sad. In the urban fable “August Rush,” Russell is cellist Lyla, a music whiz who has one romantic night with a fellow musician (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), becomes pregnant and thinks her baby dies in a car crash. But in fact, her ambitious father has secretly given the infant up for adoption.

Years later, her musical prodigy son (Freddie Highmore) is back in Manhattan, and their worlds collide.

It’s Russell’s second consecutive time playing a mother, after this year’s critical darling “Waitress.” Now that Russell is a mother herself, watching “Rush” “is so much more emotional. No one tells you that when you have a baby, you literally take a crazy pill and anything to do with kids — it’s not even remotely your kid — and you burst into tears,” she says.

“I can’t imagine having a kid and knowing that they’re out there. I’m sort of glad I wasn’t a mom when I was shooting it.”

But she’s glad she had the perspective of being a child performer, like her “Rush” character. Russell started out on the “Mickey Mouse Club” with Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and could understand Lyla’s need to escape from her regimented life.

Working full time, Russell says, is “so weird and confusing to a kid, when you’re supposed to be messing up and making mistakes. When you’re in a professional setting, there’s no messing up. Only later does it trip you up. When you’re so controlled and everything is so regimented, you do break out.”

She did her own breaking out after finishing her WB series “Felicity” in 2002.

“I made a little bit of money on ‘Felicity,’ and I was really the only one of my friends on the show who didn’t buy a house, who didn’t have a really fancy car. So I could move to New York and live in an apartment and not have to work for a year,” she says. “I was a kid that year. I went dancing. I didn’t get to do any of that when I had to be at work at 5 a.m.”

Now, though, Russell has a much more relaxed life in Brooklyn, hitting coffee shops in the morning, reading a book with River along in a sling. “As much as I don’t regret my life,” she says, “I value so much being at home for dinner with my family.”