Keri’s comeback

Five years after leaving Hollywood behind, Keri Russell has a new marriage, a 6-month-old baby and a revitalized career.

From: Self Magazine December, 2007
by: Erin Bried

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Keri Russell on the cover of Self Magazine December, 2007
In the fall of 1998, Keri Russell, then 22, became America’s darling, starring in a WB series about a sweet, smart, shy girl who followed her high school crush to New York City. For the next four years, millions of Felicity faithful tuned in each week to watch Russell, as Felicity Porter, break hearts (poor Noel!) and get her own heart broken (oh, that Ben!). We watched her bravely shear her long ringlets after a bad breakup and then held endless water-cooler discussions about whether she looked stronger and more sophisticated or merely.. .sad. We watched her struggle to juggle her job and schoolwork as much as her friendships and family. We loved her. We were rooting for her. And then in 2002, when the show ended, our dear Keri Russell just-poof!-disappeared.

Her story could easily have been that of yet another tragic young Hollywood starlet, cast in a big show and then cast aside. But as you’ve probably already figured out, that’s not what happened. At 31, Russell is back, and she’s everywhere: in movies, including the indie hit Waitress and, most recently, the star- studded August Rush; on television, guest starring on Scrubs; and in magazine ads as the new CoverGirl spokeswoman. And yet when Russell says, “I couldn’t have asked for a better year,” she’s not talking about her big career comeback. She’s referring to the other, more important, roles she’s taken on in the past 10 months: wife and mother. In February, Russell married her boyfriend, carpenter Shane Deary. In April, they bought a home in Brooklyn, New York, which Deary is renovating. In June, Russell gave birth to a son named River. And in September, she sat down with SELF to talk about it all.

On leaving Hollywood and finding herself

When a young star vanishes off the Hollywood radar, it usually means she’s either in rehab or in jail. But when Felicity ended, instead of becoming a member of the Former Child Actors Gone Wild Club, Russell moved to New York City to reassess her career and her life. You see, Russell became an actor by accident, when “somebody’s mom” dragged all the girls in her dance class to an open call for The All New Mickey Mouse Club. The 15-year-old Russell won a spot and wore her Mouse ears from 1991 to 1993. When many of her Mouse pals moved to Los Angeles, so did she. And then she landed Felicity. Suddenly, she was working 17-hour days in a career she had sort of fallen into. Though Russell forged deep friendships with her costars (Scott Speedman, Amanda Foreman and Rob Patrick Benedict all attended her baby shower), she sometimes fantasized about quitting.

Would you describe your Felicity years as happy?

“I would. I loved the people I worked with. But I started resenting the job. Your days are so structured. You literally have two people [with walkie-talkies] following you like shadows: ‘Keri’s going to the bathroom now.’ It created this anger in me. I think it was the lack of control over my own life. J.J. Abrams [the show’s creator] wanted me to have a driver to and from set, but I couldn’t give up the idea of my car waiting in the parking lot just in case I did decide to run away. I wasn’t going to, but I needed the peace of mind that I could if I needed to.”

When the show ended, you moved to New York. Why there?

“I was deciding between New York and San Francisco. My girlfriend Ilana, from the Mickey Mouse Club, lived there, and she sent me a package of these great New York books with a message: ‘This is definitely meant to be propaganda.’ So when I chose New York, I really chose friendship. My girlfriends are everything to me. I adore them. They enrich my life and make me laugh, and sometimes they’re the only ones who can make me feel better. No matter what stage life, they will be important, and I lacked that when I was on Felicity. I wasn’t as much of a girlfriend, and I’m glad to have that back in my life.”

You’ve said that the move was an act of survival. How so?

“I was in a rut. I was depressed. I was tired. Moving and not working for a year were the best things I could have done. I got to make up for everything I’d missed [while doing the show]. I got to sleep in. I got to lie in the park and read. I danced with my girlfriends and walked home drunk in the snow. It let me gather myself and reassess things. I wouldn’t have started acting again had I not made those choices; I wouldn’t have found my way back.”

On love and a happy marriage

Less than two years after her eastward migration, Russell met Shane Deary, a regular guy from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Last Valentine’s Day, they tied the knot and celebrated with loved ones in a New York City restaurant. The choice of dates was one of practicality, not sentimentality-Russell was five months pregnant.

You got married on Valentine’s Day.

“It was the only time that restaurant had availability! They said, ‘We have Valentine’s Day open,’ and we thought. That’s so dumb! But we had to book it because we really wanted to get married before we had the baby.”

What did you and Shane do on your first date?

“He asked me out for coffee, but we ended up going to a little Italian place in the Village. I tell him now, ‘You didn’t seem interested at all!’ I was thinking. You’re really cute. You seem cool. We’re having dinner. This is so awkward! I had spent the whole day asking my girlfriends, ‘Heels or flip-flops? What do you do on a first date? Do you do fancy? I don’t know!’ And they all had different opinions: ‘Definitely heels!’ ‘Definitely flip-flops!’ And he showed up in workout clothes! He’d just come from a kickboxing class. Now he says, ‘I was trying to act like I didn’t care!’ So it was a slow start.”

What happened next?

“I went away to do a movie. He sent me one e-mail in three months. Then I came back to New York for two days, and we ran into each other randomly while I was out with my girl- friends. He asked if he could walk me home, and I said, ‘Yes.’ My girlfriends were laughing so hard I could hear them from a block away. After I finished that movie, I came back to New York to do a play. That’s when we really started dating.”

Any advice on having a happy marriage?

“I’m not just attracted to Shane; I genuinely like him. I’m interested in him. And I don’t know everything about him yet.”

Does he help you keep showbiz in perspective?

“He makes it much more fun. We went on this private jet for Mission: Impossible III, and to have him there was so fun. All Shane cared about was the free food. He’s like, ‘There’s free food here, Keri!’ And I say, ‘Dude, of course there’s going to be free food.’ And he says, ‘No, it’s really good food, though.'”

On the birth of a baby and rebirth of a career

Having a baby so soon was never part of the Russell-Deary grand plan, but in September 2006, after two years of dating and three home-pregnancy tests, the duo learned they would become a trio-a joyful surprise, but a little on the inconvenient side. Russell had already begun her career comeback, kick-started by her role in the blockbuster Mission: Impossible III, and work kept coming. A month after she discovered she was pregnant, she was set to film The Girl in the Park in Brooklyn. Eight months later (do the math: terrible timing), she was scheduled to do a full-blown publicity tour for Waitress, which, thankfully, she had already shot.

What went through your mind when you got the pregnancy test results?

“We were in shock, but we were ultimately excited. Somewhere in us, we were ready for it.”

You’ve said before that pregnant women can be moody. Any tantrum that will go down in family history?

“There is one involving a pregnant woman looking for Taco Bell and not finding it quick enough. Shane knows what I mean, and it frightens him to this day.”

Are there pregnancy myths you’d like to bust?

“They say you get crazy horny at the end. Um, no. Poor Shane. He kept reading the books. They said, ‘By this point, you may be surprised how your pregnant partner is craaazy.’ Shane was, like, ‘But it says…!’ I was, like, ‘Really? Not feeling it.'”

On dropping the baby weight

SELF photographed Russell for these pages in September, when River was only 3 months old. And yet, had it not been for the breast-feeding breaks she took at three-hour intervals, you would never have believed she had recently given birth.

What was the secret to getting your body back so quickly?

“I stayed really physical during my pregnancy. I stuck to my normal prepregnancy workout, minus the stomach exercises and twisting. I really felt it helped my whole well-being. Ideally, I’d do pilates, usually on the reformer, for an hour every other day. And I walked almost every morning in this hilly park near our apartment. I did two laps, or 20 minutes, at a pretty good clip, arms pumping, the whole deal. The nerdy mom walk! I really felt pretty strong and energized until maybe that last month, and I felt great about my growing body. C’mon, I had boobs for the first time! Awesome!”

Have you lost all the baby weight already?

“I think I gained around 25 pounds. I haven’t lost it all, but I feel good about the way I look. Things are definitely less toned now. Hello, flabby butt! However, I do feel good about my shoulders and arms. All that baby lifting and carrying leaves you with some pretty toned upper arms.”

Have you started working out again?

“I don’t really have time for the workouts I did pre-baby, but I do walk everywhere. Not my focused power walk but a general, all-day, park-coffee shop-laundromat-grocery store-subway stairs walk, all while carrying a baby. Babies seem small, but I gotta tell ya, they get heavy after an hour! And I still try to take a private pilates class once a week. I do see some general toning, I’d see more results if I could make it more than once a week, but you know…”

Have you changed your diet at all?

“It’s hard to sit down and make a perfectly healthy meal with a baby who needs constant attention, so for breakfast, I put him in the sling and walk to the coffee shop, where I get eggs, toast and salad. At home, I just wolf down whatever I can find while he’s sleeping. So it’s like ‘What do we have here? Cereal! And tuna fish! Great! Or I’ll eat last night’s leftover Middle Eastern takeout, cold. I’m breast-feeding, so I try to eat something other than brownies all day. I attempt to incorporate healthy stuff. I take vitamins, and, thankfully, I actually started liking vegetables a couple of years ago.”

How do you keep a positive body image?

“Look, I’m naturally thin, so I don’t have to work too hard at it. I love food, but I also love to work out. I think it makes everything work better. But I also think surrounding yourself with people who are cool helps. I have really great girlfriends, and no one’s too hung up about that stuff.”

What’s the best change in your life since becoming a mom?

“Being less worried about the way I look. You’re just instantly less self-absorbed. Before, I was in the habit of straightening my hair, but now when I have 35 minutes to myself, I want to put it in a bun and sleep, or go for a walk. There’s no room, no time, no energy for vanity anymore.”

You’ve done some unconventional things: left LA., married a guy who’s not in the business, did things “out of order”…

“I don’t think it’s so crazy that we got pregnant, then got married. Or that we’re living here and not in California. I guess more than I feel like I’m being rebellious, I like that I’m in a world where this is just what makes more sense.”

 

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