by: Scott Tobias 5/30/2017
Far from the twilight of her career, Russell has been getting the best reviews of her career as Elizabeth Jennings, a ruthless Soviet spy, on the FX series “The Americans.” After four seasons as a critical darling, the show finally broke through in the major Emmy categories last year, earning Russell her first nomination. And now, on the morning after its fifth season ends, Russell will have her name further etched on the Hollywood firmament during her Walk of Fame induction ceremony on May 30.
In Russell’s modest telling, however, it’s all been one happy accident.
“I haven’t had some great plan,” she says. “It’s definitely not something I started out wanting to do. I didn’t grow up wanting to be an actress. I was a dancer who sort of fell into it. And I’ve been incredibly lucky and had some really good opportunities and experiences. There’s no rhyme or reason. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.”
Once a hatchling from the “Mickey Mouse Club” incubator, Russell made the leap from teenage prodigy to household name when she got the title role on the hit WB series “Felicity,” which ran four seasons from 1998 to 2002. The show’s creators, J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, seized on Russell’s quick wit and emotional dexterity, which won her a Golden Globe for lead actress.
Russell continued to work steadily in film and television during the decade following the cancellation of “Felicity,” with notable roles in the indie comedy “Waitress” and the Abrams-directed “Mission: Impossible III.” But “The Americans” has served as the most significant bookend to the journey “Felicity” started, giving Russell a hard-edged role that could not be further from the woefully uncertain college student that made her a star.
“Doing ‘Felicity’ with J.J. and Matt was such a good experience for me,” says Russell. “I was so young, and I believed in that story so much. It was such a sweet, funny, emotional show. ‘The Americans’ is difficult. It was such a gamble. I thought it was a very interesting idea, but from the pilot, I had no idea where my character was going.”
With the sixth and final season of “The Americans” shooting in October, Russell doesn’t have any immediate plans for a next step, though she confesses that after portraying Elizabeth Jennings, “it will be hard to go back to playing the nice, encouraging girlfriend.” She wants to spend those last 10 episodes enjoying and savoring her final season, rather than fret about what’s ahead. “I can’t see the future,” she says. “If you would have told me, after having my second kid, that a week later I’d be meeting with [“Americans” creator] Joe Weisberg in a coffee shop and he’d be taking to me about playing a cold, ruthless Russian spy? That’s not exactly what I was seeking out.”
There’s no formula for success in Hollywood, and Russell seems to like it that way.
“One of the thrills of being part of this world is that it’s always changing,” says Russell, who shares a young child with “Americans” co-star Matthew Rhys. “You’re usually learning something new you’ve never learned before — some instrument or some skill or some language. You’re meeting new people and living in new places for three months. It’s a great adventure getting to work in this industry.”