by: Fred Topel
Most young actors coming off hit TV series go on to make movies or launch other series. Their success varies, but it’s rare that somebody stops cold to regroup. Keri Russell did just that after Felicity ended its four year run in 2002.
“Once Felicity ended, I took a whole year off,” Russell said. “I mean, I didn’t read a script. I didn’t audition. I didn’t want to act anymore. I took a whole year off and I moved to New York and just kind of read books and figured out what I wanted to do with my life. And then this movie, [ The Upside of Anger ], was the first job I took back. I took a whole year off, did this movie and then from that I did the Hallmark movie, [ The Magic of Ordinary Days ] and then the next thing I did was that Spielberg miniseries, [ Into the West ]. And then I just finished this Neil Labute play.”
Russell said the stress of weekly television overwhelmed her. She chose not to do much film work in her hiatuses. Though she did film a role in We Were Soldiers and TV’s Cinderelmo while Felicity was running, she turned down much more.
“During my hiatuses, there were definitely opportunities, but I look back on the type of movies that they made and I don’t regret any of them. There was nothing that was out of this world. So I don’t regret it.”
While other actors are going from show to show with movies in between, Russell cannot fathom that lifestyle. “I would go crazy. The thing that I saw in myself, I just started this huge thing of self protection where I was guarding everything I did. I didn’t want to be around people. And there was a huge part of my life that I’m cutting off from, but you kind of have to because so many people need you and you’re around people at this performance level so often that I didn’t want to do that anymore. So seeing my girlfriends and doing whatever, just [being] a normal kid, really helped me gain some of that back, kind of take control a little bit more. But I don’t know how people do it. I know I can’t. I need a little bit of hanging out with friends and family.”
When it came time to play stressed out teenager Emily Wolfmeyer in The Upside of Anger , Russell had already done the method research. Emily is a ballet student aspiring to go to the top dance school. Russell also has personal experience in the ballet world, and uses sweat to deal with her own stress.
“I like physical exercise. Growing up as a dancer and when you’re in something at such a young age, I think it kind of sticks with you. So a good run always helps me, always. Or anything like that, a yoga class or going dancing with girlfriends. But I do all the other stuff too, like I eat. The other day my girlfriend called in tears here in L.A. and she was like, ‘I’m having such a bad day.’ We went and I ate this amazing, expensive, really nice dinner. And sometimes that makes me feel better. Or meditating or anything like that.”
Since the film is more about the relationships than the dance routine, the choreography of Russell’s few ballet scenes were relatively simple, but still required specific concentration. “Luckily, the part of the routine that I did was a lot of arms, but you do have to have a background. With ballet it’s so rigid, there’s a certain way you have to hold your head. If you hold your arm in a certain way, your head has to be angled this way. I mean, it’s very minute little rigid things so they were lovely to help me work it out.”
Acting while thinking about the physical part was “really f*cking hard. When I was doing the scene, the actual performance in the blue tutu, Mike [Binder, the director] kept coming up to me going, ‘Smile.’ I was like, ‘I can’t! My feet are bleeding through my shoes! You f*cking smile!’ He’s like, ‘Look like you’re enjoying it,’ but I was like [gasping]. You really experienced so much, it’s hard. Ballet is a very rigorous thing. It’s amazing what they do. You tear your body apart but it was hard to smile.”
Getting back on point shoes brought back all the old foot blisters Russell developed during her dance days, though they are now healed in the year since shooting the film. “They heal through time. Actually, when that was over, we finished, let’s say in October. That New Year’s Eve, my girlfriends and I all went to Jamaica and I just kept thinking, ‘My feet are a mess. I’m going to have to show my feet in the beach. They’re not going to be healed yet.’ And they were just coming back around.”
Russell also sports straight hair in the film. Changing her hair was a no no during the TV days, but now it was welcomed. “I think Mike wanted it straight. Mike originally wanted us to all have light, red hair. He had this idea that we were all going to be this family of redheads, which I get the point visually. That would be very visually something to have in this house. He wanted it to be like oh, that’s that house with the pretty redhead girls. But red is such a hard color to manufacture. They kind of put this rinse in it but in some lights it looked a little more red than others, and Alicia [Witt]’s hair is red. But no, he had seen some picture of me where I had some hair straight. I don’t know what it was. It was like a premiere or something.”
Catch the new Keri Russell in The Upside of Anger , in theaters March 11.