What a freshman year! Felicity star Keri Russell closes the book on first season

From: The LA Daily News 5/23/1999
by: Glenn Whipp

This is the last interview Keri Russell is going to do – at least until August.

“I’m basically a loner,” the 23-year-old actress says with a laugh, “so the last nine months have been a little surreal for me.”

The last nine months have seen Russell transformed from a promising unknown to a Golden Globe winner and one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in the World. This all comes courtesy of her starring role on “Felicity,” the engaging coming-of-age drama on the WB that stands out from other teen fare because of its consistent quality. “Clueless” this isn’t.

The show, which depicts the life of a young woman who impulsively followed her high-school crush to college in New York, also distinguishes itself with its (relative) realism. Unlike, say, “Dawson’s Creek,” where teens talk as if they’ve swallowed a thesaurus, the young people on “Felicity” often fumble with the English language, trying to articulate feelings they’re only beginning to understand.

In other words, they’re believable – if impossibly attractive – teen-agers.

Viewers – at least young women, the demographic core courted by the network – have responded, making “Felicity” one of the few hit shows of this past season. (It’s ranked in the top 10 with female teens.) And Russell, playing the impetuous, endearing, navel-gazing title character, has become a star more or less overnight.

Russell wasn’t exactly the girl-next-door type that the show’s creators wanted for the role. She tried to oblige, dressing down the day of the audition by wearing jeans, a baggy sweater and her curly hair in a plain bun. Didn’t work. They still thought she was too pretty.

“The character was originally intended to be played by someone who was plain-looking,” says executive producer J.J. Abrams, who created the show with Matt Reeves. “Keri is gorgeous. She was too attractive to play Felicity, yet she couldn’t have been more right. She is so natural, funny and engaging.”

And tired. That’s why she’s taking a break this summer. We recently talked to the personable Russell about her sudden fame, her show’s success and why her emerald green eyes are still smiling over Ireland.

Daily News: You’re not making a movie this summer. Was there any pressure to keep the career momentum going?

Russell: There is a peripheral pressure, but it’s not something I really, truly feel the need to do. To me, quality of life is so much more important than making some bad movie. And if I honestly felt that I had to do a movie this summer or my career would be over, it would just be a joke.

DN: It’s not as if the past year has been a waste.

Russell: Right! Things have gone so well. I just need to take a little time to enjoy a little bit of it.

DN: What have you been doing since “Felicity” finished last month?

Russell: Just traveling. I went to Ireland, where I made a movie last summer (“Mad About Mambo,” due in October) and I just had to go back and see all the things I couldn’t see when I was there. The people are so cool, so spunky and full of life. It’s an amazing country.

And I just got back from Hawaii. Basically, I’ve been visiting all the people I love who I couldn’t see during the season. Yosemite is next. And I’m going to get as many massages as humanly possible and eat all the great food I can.

DN: With the show’s success, you must have been offered a lot of scripts.

Russell: A lot, yes. And that’s a big part of the problem. What’s out there right now is kind of discouraging, especially after being spoiled with something as creative and amazing as “Felicity.” It’s hard to read scripts now.

DN: What are you seeing?

Russell: Well, last year, I got offered horror movies. This year, they’re moving more toward high-school, bad-taste humor. Cheap stuff. Bad versions of “Heathers.”

DN: And what would you like to see?

Russell: I love a good story. The best movie I’ve seen in the past two years was “A Walk on the Moon.” It’s a story with real people, something that makes you feel like you want to be a better person.

DN: Do you think you’ll ever find something like that?

Russell: I hope so. But who knows? I don’t even know if I’ll remain an actor. I want to have kids. I want to keep traveling. There’s so many things I haven’t seen yet . . . a million things.

DN: Has “Felicity” made you a better person? Certainly, it must have made you a different person.

Russell: I don’t have a new fancy car or a big house. (Russell shares a Westside apartment with her long-time boyfriend, Tony Lucca, who she met on the Disney Channel’s “Mickey Mouse Club.”) I still have the same best friends, the same boyfriend and my family still likes me.

I guess the biggest change is my accessibility to people. I have to be open and accepting of people all the time no matter who they are or if they’re not so great. Something I’m learning is patience and tolerance of people . . . strange people.

DN: Journalists.

Russell: (Laughs) Yeah.

DN: The night you won the Golden Globe you looked a little worn-out backstage.

Russell: I don’t remember much about that night. It was so surreal to have all that attention focused on me. I was so emotionally spent from all the attention and the flashbulbs. It’s just really numbing.

DN: Didn’t you celebrate at all?

Russell: I went to the Miramax party for a few glasses of champagne and I was in bed by 11. I had to be at work the next morning at 6. So I didn’t think I was that special, you know. I still had to wake up at the crack of dawn the next morning.

DN: A lot has happened to Felicity this year. Do the writers ever consult with you about the character?

Russell: J.J. and Matt tell me when they’re deciding on a big story. Like, they told me when they were going to have Felicity lose her virginity before they wrote the script. They were like, “What do you think about that?” And I’m like, “I think that’s awesome!” But you know what? If I said I didn’t like it, I don’t think they would have changed it. These guys know what they’re doing.

DN: Do you know what they have in store for Felicity’s sophomore year?

Russell: Not a clue. They’re working as we speak. The only rumor I’ve heard is that I might be an R.A. (a resident adviser at the dorm).

DN: And how do you feel about the last episode? Felicity has to make a pretty tough choice between the two guys in her life.

Russell: It’s a real shocker. That’s all I’m going to say. When we were doing the read-through for it, we were like, “What! Oh my gosh!”

DN: But not shocking in, say, a “Melrose Place” sort of way.

Russell: No. We have a ways to go before we get there. But this being a network television series, nothing would really surprise me. It’s just kind of the nature of the thing. I tell everyone not to get too attached to any character or relationship. You just never know.