From: Corduroy Magazine, 2010
by: Carla Zanoni
“My good friends will tell you I’m not as nice as everyone thinks,” she says, laughing. “They’ll hear me say something about someone and tell me it’s an awful thing to say. They know better.”
It seems the girl may not be so next-door after all. Snarky, funny and free with the use of the F-word, Russell has adopted a down-to-earth, yet sophisticated and charming way of being that can only be explained by having lived in Brooklyn, New York, for the past several years. Settling in for lunch at a small café, she unselfconsciously sets about eating a plate of food built around the kind of faux-bacon that is de rigueur in this hipster part of town (For the record, Russell says she is an equal opportunity omnivore; whether it’s meat or soy, she’s eating it).
One decade after earning a Golden Globe for her performance in the television series Felicity – a show so popular it set the mold for the never-ending spate of teen dramas that came in its wake, and inspired tomes dedicated to Russell’s haircut during the middle of the series – the actress has maintained a relatively low profile in New York. Though she’s no longer leading Hollywood headlines, she remains busy as ever, juggling the new roles of wife and mother in addition to her still burgeoning movie career. lt’s a steady pace, and one that Russell says she’s glad to finally be walking.
Born in California, Russell was raised in a handful of other states throughout the U.S., moving for her father’s job. Though she resented it at first, she soon realized the moves played a part in priming her ability to try on different roles, an understanding that would soon translate into a capacity for acting. But Russell grew up dancing, dedicating years of her childhood to dance lessons that her family paid for through “scholarships” that demanded she clean the studio and bathroom to pay her way. When an opportunity to be part of the new Mickey Mouse Club came up, she auditioned, successfully, and was soon tapped to join the ranks of other actors and actresses who got their start through Disney.
After a few years of several low-profile roles, in films like Honey I Blew Up the Kids, Russell auditioned for Felicity. When the series came to an end after four years, she moved to New York, exhausted, and decided to take a break from acting.
“I began to really resent that work environment,” she says. “It was so grueling and I had been a responsible kid for so long that I just wanted to be a fuck up, even if being a fuck up to me meant sleeping in until 8 a.m.,” she finishes with a laugh.
Russell says she would like to focus on only one or two projects per year, citing her role in Waitress as a particular favorite. The movie was a hit with critics and propelled the actress back into the limelight, perhaps also effectively helping her shake the Felicity label for good. But rather than use the film’s success to springboard her own career, Russell is choosing to be patient and move at her own timing. Self-admittedly, she may also be lacking the gene that makes so many Hollywood stars grovel and fight for that next high-profile role.
“I think there is power in knowing what you have to offer,” she says. “I am not one of those actors who sit there plotting their next steps, thinking, ‘I know, next I’m going to play a drug addict with a Czech accent!’ That’s not me. If I read the script and want to live in that story [and] want to be that person in that world for a while, then I take the role if it’s offered. But the truth is, everything is slower these days. No one is spending money and everyone wants the same job. I’m just not ambitious enough for this to be a problem.”
Russell is also practical about her skill level and squirms when asked if she considers herself an artist. She’s more comfortable calling the work her carpenter-husband does true artistry. The couple – Russell is married to Hollywood outsider Shane Deary – lives with River, their 2-year-0ld son, in the Brooklyn townhouse Deary restored.
“I’d call myself an artist-light,” Russell says, with awry smile. “I’m not doing this amazing, earth-changing thing. My husband built this amazing house. And although I love movies, the sounds [and] the sights, this is something tangible. We are living in something tangible.”
For now, life for Russell is built around that house, the occasional part in a film and caring for her son, which lately, includes spontaneous dance parties with the family – a chance perhaps, for Russell to polish off her own childhood moves. She has created a life that few people can manage to craft on their own, one where she is focused on the things that are truly meaningful to her, without forsaking one for another. The former teen idol has managed to avoid every cliché in the book, and she’s done it with the utmost grace.
“I feel my life has been pretty easy and I feel lucky,” she says. “This was never the path I chose for myself and yet I have everything I could ever ask for.”
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